Felix Ungar: "I think I'm crazy."
Oscar Madison: "If it makes you feel any better, I think so too."
—from "The Odd Couple"
The sound of audiences laughing at his material provided the affirmation that his own childhood denied him. My favorite film adaptation is "The Odd Couple," released in 1968 and starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Characters Oscar Madison and Felix Unger cohabit Madison's New York apartment while Unger and his wife endure a separation. Madison is a total slob who is driven insane by Felix and his obsessive neatness.
Mike Nichols won his second Tony Award for directing the Broadway version of the play. "Barefoot in the Park" made Robert Redford a star. And Burt Bacharach scored his musicals. His plays enjoyed 9,000 performances on Broadway in a 15-year period (1965 to 1980), with four running simultaneously in 1966. He wrote "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues," "Lost in Yonkers," "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," "Plaza Suite" and many more.
Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927. His salesman father left and returned repeatedly. Eventually the family dissolved and Neil was shuffled off to live with relatives. Several of his plays, including "Lost in Yonkers," draw from his early life experiences. Simon was awarded a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for that play.
After his discharge from the Air Force, he began writing comedy sketches for Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar. His first play, "Come Blow Your Horn," was written in 1961 and enjoyed 677 performances.
Simon wrote about middle class people, their foibles and funny mannerisms, and the struggles of families, marriage, and everyday living. After his first wife died of cancer in 1973, he married actress Marsha Mason and wrote what he considered his favorite play, "Chapter Two," based on their marital strife. "Biloxi Blues" was developed from Simon's own military experiences in Denver.
Simon died recently at age 91. From a relatively impoverished and dysfunctional upbringing, Neil Simon rose to the top of his profession as a playwright. He took the everyday agony and unhappiness surrounding him, and turned it into professional success through good humor, hard work and immense natural talent. Perhaps it is hyperbole, but one critic called him the most prolific playwright since Shakespeare.
There is a common misconception that rich, successful Americans inherit their place in society from their similarly wealthy parents. While exposure to handling financial issues can provide a leg up, a person must develop his or her own financial and career success, regardless of background. Many times, the desire to escape and deal with dysfunctionality or poverty can provide remarkable financial motivation to achieve.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.