Posts Tagged ‘The Odd Couple’

“Plays are about conflict. Plays are about people not getting along.”
Edward Albee


“Behavior interests me more than anything. I think in any play that I’ve ever written the people all have options to behave in another way; they don’t, and that’s what makes it so funny and so poignant. It’s generally people who get themselves in all of the problems…Generally in a lot of my plays, two people are in major confrontation with each other, like in The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park or The Sunshine Boys.”
Neil Simon
The Playwright’s Art

In that same interview with Simon he also said, “Generally speaking, when a play opens, 95 percent of what’s up there is what I have approved of. With a film, I’m at mercy of the director, and what comes out on the screen is about 10 percent of what I approved of.” Not sure how much he approved of in The Sunshine Boys (1975), but George Burns did win a Best Actor in a Supporting Role as part of a vaudeville duo who can’t stand his partner.

P.S. The Odd Couple was not only a Broadway play, a movie in 1968, a popular TV show in the 70s, but has been remade into several other plays and TV shows including the female and the African-American versions. In 2015, yet another version hits TV.

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Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) —A character comes to a fork in the road and a choice must be made. Take the high road (the healthy responsible choice) or the low road (unhealthy, irresponsible choice). If the character chooses the right thing you really don’t have a story.
Everything I Learned In Film School (Tip #1)
Neil Simon on Conflict

Scott W. Smith

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Today is history in the making here at Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. This is my first post from an airplane.  So with thanks to US Air’s go-go in air internet service, here is the first post coming to you from somewhere in the clouds over  Pennsylvania, (I think that’s where I am.)

Today’s post follows my last post well because there was a reference yesterday to both Rocky and Neil Simon. (How often does that happen?)

First the Rocky part—About 30 minutes ago I took off from Philadelphia on my way to Minneapolis, on my way to a video shoot. Now the Neil Simon part:

Props to any writer out there who’s had their worked produced on Broadway. But did you know that Neil Simon once had three different plays on Broadway—at the same time. That’s quite a feat. The other day I was reading the screenplay for The Odd Couple and thought I’d compare that opening with the opening of the play.

The Odd Couple screenplay opening:


It is a block filled with Chili restaurants, parking lots and third rate hotels. Into view comes FELIX UNGAR, walking aimlessly along the street. He wears a tan linen suit, rumpled, his tie askew and his top button on his shirt is open. His eyes are blurry and ringed with lack of sleep. His hands are in his pockets and he walks without purpose and in no particular direction. He is oblivious to the world around him. Suddenly his eyes squint at the glare of an electric sign on top of the marquee of a small, cheap hotel. Felix stops and looks up to the top of the hotel. He turns and looks around the street… possibly a last look at the world that doesn’t even seem to need or want him. He enters the hotel.

The Odd Couple play’s opening:


Time: A warm summer night.

Scene: The apartment of Oscar Madison’s. This is one of those large eight-room affairs on Riverside Drive. in the upper eighties. The building is about 35 years old and still vestiges of its glorious past. High ceilings, walk-in closets and thick walls. We are in the living room with doors leading off the kitchen, bedrooms, and a bathroom, and a hallway to other bedrooms. Although the furnishings have been chosen with extreme good taste, the room itself, without the touch and care of a woman there these  past few months, is now a study in slovenliness. Dirty dishes, discarded clothes, old newspapers, empty bottles, glasses filled and unfilled, open and unopened laundry packages, mail and disarrayed furniture abound. The only cheerful note left in this room is its twelfth floor window. Three months ago, this was a lovely apartment.

RISE: The room is filled with smoke. A poker game is in progress. There are six chairs around the table but only four men are sitting. They are simply, MURRAY, ROY, SPEED, and VINNIE…..

Which do you think is the more effective open? The play doesn’t start with Felix—or even Oscar. The movie opens with a man at the end of his rope. I’m siding with the movie open.  Looking back, I wonder which one Neil Simon prefers.

Related Posts:

Neil Simon on Conflict
Neil Simon on Critics
Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Descriptive Writing- Pt 5, Setting (tip #26)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0) Touches on where Neil Simon learned to write. (He didn’t go to college.)

Scott W. Smith

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“When I was 12 or 13, I wrote a spec M*A*S*H episode.”
Jane Espenson

So I was over at screenwriter John August’s website yesterday and he had a quote there from screenwriter Jane Espenson, so I went to her site and found that she started blogging again after taking a little sabbatical from blogging. Jane’s credits are extensive; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Gilmore Girls, The O.C., Star Trek; Deep Space Nine, Caprica—you get the picture.

But before all those credit, and before her graduate and undergraduate work in linguistics at Berkeley, Espenson was raised in Ames, Iowa. I poked around a little and found this quote from an interview Espenson did with Roz Kaveney.

“I grew up in Ames, a small town in Iowa very far from the TV industry, and I always knew I wanted to write for TV. I was a big fan of Barney Miller and Starsky and Hutch, and The Love Boat. I knew which shows were guilty pleasures and which were the well-written ones. The nice thing about Barney Miller or M*A*S*H or The Odd Couple is that the characters are well defined. You knew how the characters would react: you could imagine a scenario in your head and have an insight as to how it would play out. A show that is a guilty pleasure has wonderful moments that make you laugh and fall around but does not have such well-defined characters.”
Jane Espenson
Reading the Vampire Slayer, Roz Kaveney

Something to mull over for those of you interested in writing for TV. And from the odd connections section, that means the writer of Big Fish (John August) went to college (Drake/Des Moines) just about 30 minutes away from where the writer of 23 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer went to elementary school in Ames. Not quite sure what that means, but if I don’t point those things out who will? But the bottom line is writers come from everywhere.

If you are wondering how Espenson made the transition from Ames and Berkeley to Hollywood— she was a part of the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship. The group that helps with “talent deveolpment and diversity” in the film/TV industry. (I’m guessing that means women, African-Americans, Hispanics, etc.) The long-running program is currently accepting production associates April 1-16, and submissions for the 2011 Televsion Writing program opens May 2010.

I guess the other take-away from  Espenson’s quote is writing well defined characters is good. (Though some “guilty pleasures” air as well.) Years ago, Lew Hunter recommended the book to me Writing the Character-Center Screenplay by Andrew Horton. In the first line in the preface, Horton writes, “Strong characters hold our interest in life and on the screen.” That’s true of Buffy and all those wacky characters in Big Fish, and hopefully in the screenplay you are writing.

Bonus triva— Buffy fans know that in season four there was an episode titled Goodbye Iowa (which wasn’t written by Espenson, go figure).

Scott W. Smith

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“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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