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Introduction: A Couple of Odd Couples Anyone who has ever read anything about my career probably knows the oft-told story of how The Odd Couple was born. The birth was the result of the union of my brother Danny and his friend Roy Gerber, an agent, who, in the early sixties, were each divorced. They decided to move in together to save expenses, helping to defray the costs of alimony, which they were both paying. What inevitably happened to these new roommates is that the fights and squabbles they had recently left behind, after their marital breakups, suddenly resurfaced in their own new relationship in the apartment they now shared. The odd thing about this odd couple was that Roy and Danny were having the same problems with each other as they did with their wives. Perhaps worse. The point being that if you have annoying traits, habits and idiosyncrasies, you bring them with you no matter where you go. Felix (my brother Danny) was the stereotypical "housewife," who puffs up cushions immediately after someone gets up from a chair or tells you to eat your slice of pizza over the dish to avoid leaving crumbs on the floor. Oscar (Roy Gerber) was the complete opposite. He would rather leave crumbs on the floor well past the following Christmas than to get out a vacuum cleaner, which was probably broken from lack of use. Hence an idea was born. Then it was written, rehearsed, put on a Broadway stage, transferred to the screen by Paramount Pictures, then made into a television series that has been roaming around the world, day and night, for the past thirty years and will probably continue to do so for at least another thirty years. There is hardly asingle day that The Odd Coupleisn't playing somewhere in the world. It was a na tural from the day it was born.
Eventually it spawned a female counterpart, not so ironically called The Female Odd Couple. It was virtually the same play, the same situations, only I rewrote the dialogue completely to be sure this was a play about women, who no doubt suffered the same traits, habits and idiosyncrasies as men. And were no more patient in dealing with it.
As the years went on and the play showed no sign of slowing down, I began to wonder, why this longevity? Why is it still being played in theaters all over the world, translated into every language possible and often repeated in those same theaters like clockwork every few years? Each new generation was brought to the play by their parents or possibly saw the original film on television. It suddenly occurred to me. It's not so much that audiences wanted to see it. The answer was that so many people wanted to play it. Every actor or would-be actor, every high school student, college student, every salesman or dentist, every hairstylist or schoolteacher wanted to play Oscar or Felix, or Olive and Florence. Schools do it constantly, breeding as many Oscars and Felixes as fast as the giant pods produced human counterparts in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Samuel French, the company that leases the play on my behalf, sends me its royalty statements periodically. In almost every statement The Odd Couple and now The Female Odd Couple outdistances all my other plays by a wide margin. Amateur groups are probably the largest source of requests to do either of the two plays. For years now, people stop me on the street or in a restaurant and say in passing, "Hi, Mr. Simon, I was Oscar in high school," or a middle-aged woman extolls her personal joys in having performed Olive in The Female Odd Couple.
The first Odd Couple film still shows its stage origins. The play, obviously, was written for the stage and I felt there was no need to intrude too many outdoor locations. The two men, in a sense, were trapped together in a five-room apartment and that was the battlefield for their daily encounters. From breakfast to dinner, from morning till night, they couldn't pass each other anywhere in the apartment without incident. It was the arena for their daily, almost nonstop irritations. Felix complained of Oscar's cigar, which fell out of the ashtray, probably on purpose. Oscar bemoaned Felix's clearing of his sinuses, usually at two in the morning, making a sound that was annoyingly similar to a moose call in Canada.
Its universality is obvious. Who among us, sometime in his life, hasn't shared living quarters with another human being? It didn't matter whether they liked each other or not. Eventually their silent anger became audible, complaining how one whistled in the kitchen, and usually the same awful tune, while the other one claimed control of the TV clicker and blipped through a hundred stations in six seconds constantly through the night. Who hasn't experienced sheer hatred for the sounds his roommate made while he was eating? The play represented everyone in the world, including, I imagine, astronauts in space for weeks at a time.
The title was the first thing I thought of but was almost vetoed by my producer for fear people would think this was a gay play. In 1964, it would be hard to find a gay play and gays weren't actually called gays as yet. I fought for my title primarily because it was already part of our language. A short husband married to a taller wife would immediately be dubbed an odd couple. For a play, the name was easy to remember. What I never anticipated was that, in due time, it became a phrase no longer used for its original meaning. Once the play reached the stage and the film opened in movie houses (both enormous hits), when someone said "the odd couple" for its original intent, it was taken as a reference to the theatrical Odd Couple. It suddenly was appearing in magazines and newspapers. We would see the president of the United States shaking hands with a smiling ruler of Russian, and the caption underneath the photo told us this was "The Odd Couple." For thirty-five years now I have been receiving free publicity, all over the world, for a phrase I borrowed from the English language. To a lesser degree, a photo of two elderly men smiling at the beach was sometimes captioned, "The Sunshine Boys." I've seen small motels around the country called "Plaza Suites." I've never claimed title or royalties for that. I just liked that they were putting the name of my play and film into the audience's minds. A picture in the sports pages of a New York Yankee watching a ball going out of sight over the left field fence has the caption underneath saying, "Lost in Yonkers." A warning to other writers: If you plan to use the colloquial English language as a title, make sure your play or movie is a very good and popular work. Just titles don't cut it.
If this were 1967 instead of 1999, The Odd Couple would have made a perfect sequel on the heels of the first one. Only sequels weren't being made back then. Think of all the Batman pictures that would not have been made, of the Indiana Jones follow-ups we would have missed or the Star Trek sequels that are being rolled out as I write this. I'll leave the judgment issue of those films to the reader. I'm not a critic. I wish The Odd Couple II was made back then because Walter and Jack would have been younger men and the picture would have had the same energy as the first one. If you missed The Odd Couple II at your local Cineplex, see how it reads instead of how it was on the screen. But to make it work in your heads, you must visualize Walter as Oscar and Jack as Felix.
When we made the sequel, we were facing another problem. Prior to filming, Walter and Jack had made Grumpy Old Men, which was quite funny, then Grumpier Old Men, which was also quite good, followed by Out to Sea. In a sense they're all spinoffs of The Odd Couple but I take no umbrage. Mostly because no one sent me any. But I think being last on line after three previous movies with Walter and Jack playing ostensibly the same kind of characters, and then following up with The Odd Couple II, was a bridge too far. There was still one more problem. Anyone from the ages of ten to forty grew up with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall being Oscar and Felix on TV, and damn brilliantly, I might add. So what, asked the younger generation, were Walter and Jack doing in The Odd Couple? I can understand their plight.
Today The Odd Couple proliferates on TV screens from the networks to cable, under different names and different combinations of people, all living in the same apartment, house or office, much younger but doing, to some degree, what Walter and Jack did thirty some years ago. I don't watch them because there's usually a basketball or baseball game on somewhere. I don't get royalties, but hey, how much did Shakespeare make out of Shakespeare in Love? Not a farthing, I guess, but it was good publicity for him.
The two Odd Couples are not the only films I made with Walter and Jack. I guess I did about five each with one acting without the other. Everyone should be so lucky. I loved every minute of each film but I would have to honestly say that the success of The Odd Couple movie is probably the greatest thrill I've had in my career.
This introduction was written on a typewriter. There are some things a writer just hates giving up.
Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures Corporation
Introduction copyright © 2000 by Neil Simon