“It’s universality is obvious. Who among us, sometime in his life, hasn’t shared living quarters with another human being?…The play represented everyone in the world, including, I imagine, astronauts in space for weeks at a time.”
Neil Simon on his play/screenplay The Odd Couple
While my post on Scent of a Woman showed a movie that was first based on a character, In Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the initial inspiration seems based more on a situation. Of course, the characters were part of what made the situation interesting, so maybe it’s unfair to divorce the two. Speaking of divorce…
“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 cost of alimony, which they were both paying. What inevitably happened to these two 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 off 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 the 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 clearer, which was probably broken from lack of use. Hence an idea was born.”
Introduction by Neil Simon in The Odd Couple I & II The Original Screenplays
Neil’s brother Danny was a gifted comedy writer who worked alongside people like Jackie Gleason, Red Buttons,Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner and Larry Gilbert (Tootise). He was eight years older than Neil and taught Neil a lot about writing. He taught others as well.
“I learned a few things on my own since, and modified some of the things he taught me, but everything, unequivocally, that I learned about comedy writing I learned from Danny Simon.”
Back in the 80s & 90s Danny gave workshops on comedy writing. I met him once in L.A. and wanted to attend his workshop but didn’t for one reason or another. But I have always wonder what kind of things he covered in the workshop. Can’t find out much about it online, either. But if anybody did, I’d love to hear about it. Danny did the workshop for 15 years so I’d surprised if there isn’t a book of material or some CDs kicking around somewhere.
Danny originally started to write what became The Odd Couple but couldn’t get past the 14 page mark. Danny later told the Post, ”Neil thought it was the greatest idea ever and kept calling me up every four weeks to see how the play was coming, But I kept looking for excuses not to write it.” He eventually told his brother, ”Doc, I’ll never get around to writing this play. You better take it.”
Neil took it and ran and it became Neil’s most preformed play. In the last year it’s probably played somewhere near where you lived. Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Art Carney, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are just a few of the hundreds of actors who have played Felix and Oscar. Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno were the original Broadway cast of The Female Odd Couple. There were other spin-offs as well such as The New Odd Couple and even an animated series. Neil reportedly paid Danny 10% of the royalties from the play.