Neil Simon Rewrites: A Memoir By Neil Simon; 978-0-684-82672-0; Hardcover; $25; Autobiography; 400 Pages; Publication Date: 1996; Published by: Simon & Schuster.
Where do you begin when writing about the master playwright? Act I, Scene I, little Marvin Neil Simon is born on July 4, 1927, in the Bronx, New York, to Irving and Mamie Simon! The stage was set to portray the life of a craftsman who had honed his pencil to a sharpness that had never been seen before on the American stage with an insight which was humorous, anecdotal, and realistic.
Neil Simon narrated how his life's journey took him from high school to college and into the show business world, a journey which would make anyone envious.
Neil was satisfied with the first play he had written. When he embarked upon a journey seeking acceptance by a producer, he heard different comments about reworking his play. Through that first play, he discovered the world of rewrites! "Come Blow Your Horn" was rewritten "a zillion times," according to Neil, before it was accepted on Broadway and proved to be a successful debut for this budding playwright! Many of those producers on Broadway would encourage him, but at the same time would instill a need for perfection. A re-write would always consume him right up to and including opening night for many of his plays.
Simon's career as a writer began as early as 1948, when he and his brother Danny wrote for radio and television. Together, they wrote sketches for Phil Silvers, Gary Moore, Jerry Lewis, and others. After he and his brother separated, Neil began writing for the New York theater on his own.
Discovering Neil Simon and the plays he wrote is only one feature of "Rewrites." What made this book outstanding were the shared inside workings of how a play evolves from script to presentation. Authors generally are not given enough accolades when they write outstanding pieces of literature. Earning of awards which are bestowed upon those who are connected with "Broadway" in recognition of a job well done may be enough for some, but what really drove Simon to keep creating is what this book is about. When the third act of a play does not work, it is the job of the author to correct his masterpiece and make it work!
Was the play funny? Did the audience laugh in the right places? Did the actors do their jobs? Neil Simon shares names, places, and has developed a primer for the neophyte author. We, the reading audience, get to share his agonies and successes with the same feeling he had when he penned the words.
Many times you'll erupt in laughter without realizing it. Neil has that uncanny ability for descriptive writing that sets the scene, shows the action, and delivers the punch line.
Throughout the book, he talks about the love of his life, Joan Baim. Neil discloses some of his foibles with honesty and forthrightness. He is aware that if Joan were alive today and read this book, he would be in big trouble.
Since this is not a novel but a memoir, it is not out of place to tell how this story ends. Truthfully, you cannot read the last six pages without tears clouding your eyes as Neil describes Joan's battle with cancer that took her life in 1973 at the age of 40.
This is a classic book which is truly a tribute to Neil Simon's wife Joan and their family. The actors along the way in his plays illuminate the stages in which he had grown. "Rewrites" is highly recommended for aspiring authors, playwrights, or anyone who wants a backstage view of what goes on behind the scenes of a famous playwright.
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Clark Isaacs is an accomplished book critic who is published in local newspapers and national book review lists. He is a member of the faculty of Mohave Community College in Kingman, Arizona. Visit Clark Isaacs at http://clarkisaacs.ning.com and tell him what you would like to have him review.