Rewrites: A Memoir

Rewrites: A Memoir

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by Neil Simon

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Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Goodbye Girl, The Out-of-Towners, The Sunshine Boys — Neil Simon's plays and movies have kept many millions of people laughing for almost four decades. Today he is recognized not only as the most successful American playwright of all time, but also as one of the greatest.

More than the humor,


Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Goodbye Girl, The Out-of-Towners, The Sunshine Boys — Neil Simon's plays and movies have kept many millions of people laughing for almost four decades. Today he is recognized not only as the most successful American playwright of all time, but also as one of the greatest.

More than the humor, however, it is the humanity of Neil Simon's vision that has made him America's most beloved playwright and earned him such enduring success. Now, in Rewrites, he has written a funny, deeply touching memoir, filled with details and anecdotes of the writing life and rich with the personal experiences that underlie his work.

Since Come Blow Your Horn first opened on Broadway in 1960, few seasons have passed without the appearance of another of his laughter-filled plays, and indeed on numerous occasions two or more of his works have been running simultaneously. But his success was something Neil Simon never took for granted, nor was the talent to create laughter something that he ever treated carelessly: it took too long for him to achieve the kind of acceptance — both popular and critical — that he craved, and the path he followed frequently was pitted with hard decisions.

All of Neil Simon's plays are to some extent a reflection of his life, sometimes autobiographical, other times based on the experiences of those close to him. What the reader of this warm, nostalgic memoir discovers, however, is that the plays, although grounded in Neil Simon's own experience, provide only a glimpse into the mind and soul of this very private man.

In Rewrites, he tells of the painful discord he endured at home as a child, of his struggles to develop his talent as a writer, and of his insecurities when dealing with what proved to be his first great success — falling in love. Supporting players in the anecdote-filled memoir include Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Walter Matthau, Robert Redford, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Maureen Stapleton, George C. Scott, Peter Sellers, and Mike Nichols. But always at center stage is his first love, his wife Joan, whose death in the early seventies devastated him, and whose love and inspiration illuminate this remarkable and revealing self-portrait. Rewrites is rich in laughter and emotion, and filled with the memories of a sometimes sweet, sometimes bittersweet life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Gwen Verdon "Rewrites is courageously honest and revealing. We all lived, through Neil, a life full of laughter, wonder and sorrow."

Mike Nichols "Neil, while telling the absolute truth, makes things both funnier and more positive. And then I realize with a pang that this is truly how it was. I miss it. I miss it all."

Steve Martin "Neil Simon has created that rare thing: an autobiographical page-turner. It's a funny and moving work. I cried till I laughed."

Hal Prince "A life in the theater is often a refuge from childhood demons. Neil Simon has charted his escape route in this characteristically straightforward, self-critical, and compassionate autobiography of his early years."

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Simon has built his playwrighting career by creating funny, indelible characters. Who can forget Oscar Madison and Felix Unger? This illuminating memoir, which takes Simon into the 1970s, reveals his creative influences, as well as his personal triumphs and tragedies. He is brutally honest in describing his bouts with writer's block, and he's not afraid to admit that directors and actors have often helped him complete some of his most endearing plays. He confides, for instance, that the third act of The Odd Couple went through numerous rewrites and was salvaged only after director Mike Nichols suggested Simon not set the act in the middle of a poker game. Simon's forthright account of his work with Bob Fosse on Sweet Charity illustrates how two immensely talented individuals can work through their differences to create a highly successful show. Anecdotes about actors Simon has worked with make for particularly entertaining copy, and his description of George C. Scott's erratic behavior while he starred in The Gingerbread Lady shows how a playwright's success can hinge on the whims of a troubled actor. However, many digressions, though humorous, distract from the story at hand. Simon's account of his family and personal life beyond the theater lacks resonance, particularly when dealing with his experience with psychotherapythe only section of the book written in the third person. While this memoir won't bring down the house, in general it's a well-told tale by a man whose talent, diligence and luck have made him Broadway's shining son. 100,000 first printing; Reader's Digest Condensed Book; Fireside Book Club main selection; first serial to Reader's Digest; author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
A memoir from America's best-known (and probably best-paid) playwright.
Kirkus Reviews
The prolific master of Broadway fun hops over the footlights to recall much—but not all—of his personal history.

This is an intelligent and diverting memoir, artfully constructed. The work of crafting Simon's first dozen or so plays, from Come Blow Your Horn and Little Me to The Sunshine Boys and The Good Doctor, is presented in the order of their creation. The periods of Simon's life that they recall do not fall so neatly in order, and yet the memories that eddy around the landmarks of the plays are somehow all the more effective without strict chronology. There is a funny set piece on young Neil's sexual initiation. His native wit is as abundant as ever, but he can easily write a simple declarative sentence without punctuating it with a gag. There are poignant glimpses of a childhood in a strangely inoperative family, of a sometimes loving, always complex relationship with gagwriter brother Danny. Simon hasn't much use for agents or their advice on business deals. (Following such advice, he "never saw a dime, a nickel, or a penny" from the TV series of The Odd Couple.) There are third-act problems, out-of-town rewrites, and missing stars. Though there are no lessons on how to be funny, the book is full of clues on the craft of playwriting. There are deft character sketches, but, by far, the most touching parts of Simon's story deal with his love for wife Joan. With her early passing some two decades ago Simon brings down the curtain. Not covered: military escapades, much of life as a TV gag writer, and later uxorial adventures. There are more plays, of course, so let's have the next installment soon, Mr. Simon.

Neil Simon delivers, from the heart, a fine portrait of the artist.

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Simon & Schuster
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0.93(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

Meet the Author

Neil Simon is the writer of more than forty Broadway plays, including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Out-of-Towners, and Lost in Yonkers, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Rewrites 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
likesprovocativebooks More than 1 year ago
This is very funny, candid, engaging, and leaves with a lot to think about... loss, the creative process, and how each loops back into life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The insights in this book about becoming a successful playwright make the book more than a five star work. I do not remember reading or hearing a better discussion of what comedy is and should be about. The book also has many beautiful insights into how to be and have a wonderful spouse. Those scenes from a marriage are often well worth restaging in your life. This book is a fascinating series of skits, sketches, and one liners masquerading as a memoir. Although Mr. Simon was (with difficulty) able to transcend his training as a gag and sketch writer to learn playwriting, he made little attempt to learn autobiography for this book. Instead, he fell back on his most natural way of communicating, the humorous story. That approach provides the reader with the unexpected bonus of many funny stories and good laughs. The time period covered is Mr. Simon's life from age 30 to 46, with occasional visits to his earlier years. You will never read or watch a Neil Simon play in the same way after reading this memoir. You will find yourself in closer touch with the bittersweet parts of these comedies as a result . . . and with your own innermost self. If you have seen or read Chapter Two, you already knew that Mr. Simon had lost his first wife to cancer at a young age. What I did not realize is what an overwhelmingly tragic event this was for him. The marriage had been a magnificent one for two people who were deeply devoted to and supportive of one another. In a sense, the comedy in this book is simply there to heighten your ability to appreciate the real subject, the tragic loss. The jokes are like the gravediggers' scene in Hamlet, to relieve the heaviness of the ultimate atmosphere. Mr. Simon is very candid in this memoir. He describes having his brother help him hire a lady who rented by the hour for his first sexual experience, having once asked his wife for his freedom (and then changing his mind 5 minutes later as she calmly went along), and a lot of very bad business decisions. He also describes the psychological problems that could plague him and others on Broadway. He also describes things using the 'f' word a lot that offends many people. Perhaps the most revealing parts are the ways that he mines every memorable encounter in his life into a play. It is as though playwriting is his way to get control over his fear of life. As a writer, I was riveted by his detailed description of how he came to write Come Blow Your Horn as his first play, and to learn his craft through many painful rewrites. No one would ever have gone through what he did if you knew what was coming. Mr. Simon's very great dislike of Hollywood was a powerful spur into playwriting that drove him relentlessly. In the process, he brilliantly describes the insights that others shared with him, and that he learned. He became addicted to having people read the material aloud, so that he could hear their reactions. As soon as that occurred, he could ruthlessly edit and rewrite material -- even 'forgetting' what he had written originally to write something better rather than trying to fix flawed approaches. Apparently, Mr. Simon's genius is that he rewrites much better than