Goodbye Eugene- hearing the news of your passing has given us the “Biloxi Blues.”
Whether we were “Barefoot in the Park, while “Lost in Yonkers” or hitching a ride home from “Brighton Beach” we waited to hear Jonathan Schwartz “Playing our Song,” on WQXR American Standard Radio. Marvin Hamlisch played Carole Bayer Sager’s lyrics to his music with his particular Zip-a-dee-doo-dah enthusiasm. We swayed along and knew all the words. Your collaborations with Mike Nicols and Gene Zaks prolifically chronicled our youth. Oh Neil, we got hooked when we read your name amongst the credits as we watched Sgt. Bilko, played with such guile on The Phil Silvers show. We waited to hear your interviews with Joan Hamburg on 77 WABC to learn what play was next to be “Broadway Bound.” Her interviews typically came at the end of her show after the bargain shopping and food segments. (Shout out to Shelly Fireman, my forever friend and his spin on delicious Italian fare.) Even if we left the house to spatzere around our favorite thrift shops we heard your familiar very New Yawkish sounding voice broadcasted live. The two of you had a repartee we so enjoyed, although we considered you quite the “Odd Couple.”
We marveled at the big city duplex apartments with sunken living rooms, and gilded cage appeal that set the stage for many of your playbooks. Was Willy’s (Walter Matthau) apartment at the beaux arts Ansonia really that big? We thought it could possibly the best pad ever to play hide and go seek. Did Jane Fonda actually run around “Barefoot in the Park” as she pleaded with Robert Redford to try again to save their marriage? We wanted to live in her apartment as soon as we moved to the Village. We knew we didn’t want to live uptown and become a “Prisoner on Second Avenue.” We weren’t sure you could top the episode when Felix Unger walked into Oscar Madison’s cluttered apartment to try to get back together with Gloria. You certainly did when you portrayed the classic “Northeast distributor of Guilt,” and had Molly Picon threaten to keep her head in the oven over the troubles with her bachelor sons.
Our take away quote of yours is “ if you can go through life without experiencing pain you probably haven’t been born yet.” RIP Neil Simon- we’re sure you’ll be filling them with laughter in Suite 203-04 during your “Chapter Two.”