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Posts Tagged ‘Scent of a Woman’

“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.”
Neil Simon
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.”
Woody Allen

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.

Scott W. Smith


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“(Scent of a Woman) is my favorite only because I feel like I matured and the movie reflects that.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman

Before Bo Goldman won an Academy Award as a screenwriter he had to experience his own personal life of ups and downs.

His father owned a chain of department stores which afforded Goldman an opportunity to attend prep schools and prepared him for Princeton University. He spent three years in the Army. All of those experiences would come in handy years later in writing Scent of a Woman.

But in the meantime while still in his twenties had his first play performed on Broadway. He was on the fast track. “First Impressions ran about three months. Then I was ten years trying to get my second one on Broadway,” Goldman told William Froug in Zen and the Art of Screenwriting.

That’s when things got tough for Goldman. “I was young and had a large family. And you know the old story about Broadway; You can’t make a living, you can only make a killing. I was starving, and when my parents died around 1970, 71, 72, I kind of bottomed out…It was humiliating.”

He wrote for TV including a Christmas show for PBS that was successful, and at the same time wrote a screenplay about marriages he saw breaking up which was a new trend. It took nine years to get Shoot the Moon made but the script became a calling card and got the attention of director Milos Forman who was having trouble with a script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Goldman stepped in to get his first produced film credit, as well as his first Oscar. (Shared with Lawrence Hauben, and based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play written by Dale Wasserman.)

He won his second Oscar four years later for Melvin and Howard.  Scent of a Woman was released in 1992, 13 years after is second Oscar. Goldman explained to Froug where the concept for Scent of a Woman (1992) came from;

“I had been estranged from most of my family, and still am from the ones I grew up with and my long-lost brother, who made millions in mortgage brokerage, became an alcoholic, and had a terribly tragic life. Then I got this SOS from another brother of mine who said the once-rich brother was going to need conservator. He was living in a big expensive New York apartment, a year behind on rent, and had no money at all. I went there and found him living in a kind of shabby elegance. The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer, to strike a phrase. A week later, I came back to California and got a call from Martin Brest, who showed me this sort of forgotten Italian movie, Profuma di Donna. I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman. The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

Of course, Al Pacino brought that character to life (and, believe it or not, is Pacino’s only Oscar-winning performance)—a character forged from Goldman’s life in prep school, experience in the military, his father, and a brother who had gone from riches to rags.

That process that Goldman talked about is a perfect example what I wrote about in Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C).

And how about that phrase of Goldman’s—”The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer.” Fine writing and good inspritation for you to write about the characters who have crossed your path who are living in their equivalent world “of shabby elegance” and riddled with moral cancer. Audiences will always find those creatures facinating to watch. (Noah Cross in Chinatown and Gordon Gekko in Wall St. come to mind.)

Scott W. Smith

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