Laughter on the 23rd Floor Notes

Marvin Neil Simon is one of America’s best-loved and most well-known playwrights. Nominated for more than a dozen Tony Awards over the course of his career, he has won three as a playwright — The Odd Couple (1965), Biloxi Blues (1985), and Lost in Yonkers (1991) — and one special Tony Award in 1975 for his contributions to the theater.

Born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, to Irving and Mamie Simon, he grew up in Washington Heights during the Great Depression. His was a challenging childhood: his parents would fight over their marriage and finances, and his father would abandon the family for months at a time. During these troubled times, he and his brother Danny, his first writing partner, would frequently live with relatives. To put his troubles aside, he could often be found hiding in the cinema, where he would frequently be asked to leave for laughing too loud.

At the age of 16, he graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School and signed up for the Army Air Force Reserve at New York University and was eventually sent to Colorado. It was at this time that he started writing, serving as the sports editor of the Lowry Field Base magazine, the Rev-Meter, and also taking classes at the University of Denver.

After his stint in the military, Danny got Neil a job in the mailroom at Warner Brothers where he worked for two years before quitting to pursue a writing career. In 1955, he collaborated with Danny on a series of sketches for the Broadway show Catch a Star! (although only Danny was credited). Most famously, the brothers wrote scripts for the television series Your Show of Shows, for which he earned two Emmy Award nominations. Later he also wrote for The Phil Silvers Show.

Neil’s first major solo success was in 1961. Come Blow Your Horn was an enormous success that ran on Broadway for nearly 700 performances. Little Me (a musical with Sid Caesar, the star of Your Show of Shows) and Barefoot in the Park (with Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley) quickly followed, building his reputation as a great comic writer and earning him his first Tony nominations. In 1965, his play The Odd Couple would earn him the first of his Tony Awards and become one of his most celebrated works ever.

For the next 20 years, Simon would return to Broadway again and again with shows ranging from the now classic plays like Plaza Suite and The Sunshine Boys to the musicals Sweet Charity and Promises, Promises. In 1983, Brighton Beach Memoirs, the first play in his autobiographical trilogy (often referred to as the “Eugene plays”) opened to critical acclaim, further cementing his legacy as one of America’s greatest modern playwrights. This play was followed in 1985 by Biloxi Blues, a story about his time in the Army, and then in 1991 by Lost in Yonkers, a play about two brothers sent to live with their grandmother and aunt that won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In April 2012, Lost in Yonkers’ first New York revival was produced by TACT with Cynthia Harris starring in the role of the grandmother.

Simon’s play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which debuted on Broadway in 1993, was also inspired by real-life experiences; in this case, his work as a staff writer on Your Show of Shows. With a title inspired by the fact that the show’s writers worked on the 11th and 12th floors — 11 plus 12 equals 23 — the play featured a stellar cast of actors such as Nathan Lane, J.K. Simmons, and Ron Orbach (who appears in today’s production in the Sid Caesar-inspired role of Max Prince originally performed by Lane).

Simon’s work continues to be successfully revived and performed in theaters around the world, most recently on Broadway in 2011 with a revival of Promises, Promises starring Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes.