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Odd Couple Essay, Research Paper

Themes and characters are most often the key factors that

influence a writer’s work. Most of the time the author has no control

over this influence. This is clearly shown in Neil Simon’s play, The

Odd Couple. Not only is Simon’s own life depicted in his play, but

also the lives of those close to him, can be parallel to his work. Neil

Simon’s life is depicted in his characters and themes of his play, The

Odd Couple.

Marvin Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927. His

father, Irving, was a salesman in Manhattan’s garment district; his

mother Mamie worked in Gimbel’s department store. The family moved to

Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan, when Simon was young.

Irving was an errant husband who occasionally abandoned the family

altogether, leaving Mamie, a frustrated and bitter women, alone to deal

with Neil and his older brother Danny. Eventually, the parents were

divorced, and Neil went to live with relatives in Queens. From an

early age, he exhibited a quick wit and an active imagination. He

loved films and was often asked to leave the theater for laughing to

loud. In high school, Simon was sometimes ostracized as a Jew, an

experience that would later inform his work. Meanwhile, he and his

brother began collaborating on comedy material that they sold to

stand-up comics and radio announcers. Simon graduated from DeWitt

Clinton High School in 1944 at the age of sixteen(Magill2216).

He entered New York University under the US Army Airforce

Reserve Program. Throughout his military career, he wrote for

many military newspapers. Discharged in 1946, Simon took a job in the

mail room at Warner Brothers in New York, where Danny worked in the

publicity department. The brothers were soon hired to write for

Goodman Ace of CBS, and over the next decade they provided material for

many popular comedians. During the summers of 1952 and 1953, they

wrote sketches for a professional acting company at Camp Tamiment, in


At Camp Tamiment, Simon fell in love with a young actress named Joan

Baim, and the couple was married on September 30, 1953. Five years

later, Joan gave birth to a daughter, Ellen; a second daughter, Nancy,

was born in 1963(Magill2261).

2 In 1956, when Danny Simon moved to California to be a

television director, Neil stayed in New York and wrote for many

popular television shows. He also adapted broadway plays for

television. By the later 1950’s, however, he wanted more independence

than television writing could offer. He began writing a play of his

own. For three years, he wrote and revised his first full-length play,

Come Blow Your Horn. In 1965, Simon had a second smash hit with The

Odd Couple, which ran for two years and earned him his first Tony


In 1972, Simon faced an awful personal tragedy. His wife,

Joan, was diagnosed with cancer and after fifteen gruesome

months, she passed away. After twenty years of happy marriage, the

lost effected him deeply. Later that year, Neil met an actress named

Marcia Mason, who he later married. Although the marriage wasn’t as

special as it was with Joan, they had a good marriage that lasted nine


In 1974, Simon received a special Tony Award for his

contributions to the American theater. In 1983, he received a

singular honor. The Nederlander Organization renamed a broadway

theater after him.

By the 1990’s, through four decades of diligent writing, Simon

had developed great skill and technique. With the monumental

output already behind him, he has claimed his position in the history

of American theater(Magill2262).

The Odd Couple was Neil Simon’s second and one of his most

successful full- length plays. It opens when Oscar’s Friday

night poker game is interrupted by the news that Felix, one of the

game’s regulars, has left his wife after sending her a suicide

telegram. When Felix arrives, his every move is interpreted as a

suicide attempt. Oscar calms him down and suggests he moves in with

him. But Felix is a hyper- allergic, fanatic for organization and

cleanliness, while Oscar is a cigar-smoking, compulsive slob. The

characteristics that drove each of them to leave their wives soon have

them at each other’s throats. Although, they still feel it is a good

idea to live with each other in order to save money for alimony and

child support. Oscar tries to loosen

3 Felix up by inviting the neighboring Pigeon sisters to

dinner. Oscar promises Felix that he will be home at seven o’clock to

help him with dinner, but casually walks in the door close to eight.

Not to mention the girls are also late, all of which results in the

dinner being destroyed. The party turns out a disaster, and the next

day Oscar kicks out Felix because of the conflicting habits. This

causes Oscar a great deal of guilt to have to do this to his best

friend. Felix returns for his clothes later that night during the

poker game announcing that he is moving in with the Pigeon sisters.

Felix and Oscar discuss the happenings of the night before and the rift

in their friendship had been repaired. As the poker games resumes,

Oscar cautions his pals to use coasters and ashtrays. This shows the

effect Felix has had on Oscar in their short time living together.

Almost all literary work has been critiqued at some time or

another. This holds true for Neil Simon’s, The Odd Couple. In

the statement made by Edythe McGovern, “It really does not matter that

the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, are both men.

They could be women, or they could be a married couple in the

traditional sense,” she feels that any relationship would’ve been

just(McGovern39). In the play, Oscar and Felix argue constantly, so

much that they could be labeled as acting like “an old married couple.

If they were actually married, this wouldn’t have such a humorous

value. This is proven in the quote from The Odd Couple:

“Felix: It’s so much harder on the women, Oscar. She’s all

alone with the kids. Stuck there in the house. She

can’t get out like me. I mean, where is she going to

find someone now her age? With two kids?”(Simon545).

This quote proves again the importance of Oscar and Felix both being

males. Simon presents his characters realistically and lets the laughs

come where they will when it becomes apparent that males when placed in

certain situations, behave in some ways that could be labeled as

feminine(McGovern38). This quote also proves Felix’s insecurity

towards his break-up. He must make himself feel that this is hurting

his wife

4 Frances, more than it is hurting him. It is obvious that it

is he who can’t “make it alone.”

“Felix has learned nothing from his failed marriage: he

continues making the same mistakes in his relationship with

Oscar(Bennet1160). This statement, made by critic Bennet, can go both

ways. Felix may still be making the same mistakes in his relationship

with Oscar, but that is only because neither is able to compromise,

especially Felix. On the other hand, Felix has learned something from

his failed marriage. This can be proven in the following quote from

The Odd Couple:

“Faults?……We have a maid who comes in to clean three times a week.

And on the other days, Frances does the cleaning. And at night, after

they’ve both cleaned up, I go in and clean the whole place again. I

loused up the marriage. Nothing was ever right. I used to recook

everything. The minute she walked out of the kitchen, I would add salt

or pepper. It’s not that I didn’t trust: it’s just that I was a better

cook.”(Simon549) >From his failed marriage, Felix has learned that he

is too particular about everything. He also knows that this is why

Frances left him, because he is aware of his faults but is powerless to

change his ways.

The Odd Couple, just like many other works of literature, can

be connected to events in the author’s life. Needless to say,

Neil Simon’s life greatly influenced the writing of his play, The Odd

Couple. To start off, the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix

Ungar, are based mainly on his brother Danny, and their mutual friend

Roy Gerber, respectively(Simon143).

“At about the same time Danny broke up with his wife, Arlene, Roy broke

up with his wife Connie. Their breakups led to a new union, more

famous and longer- lasting than their two marriages


5 This new union in many ways resembled the one of Felix and

Oscar. Danny was careful about his money and adored his children

dearly. He watched every penny he made as security for the future of

his two children, in many ways just like Felix. Roy on the other hand,

was a fun loving man who didn’t worry about organization and wasn’t too

careful with his money. The two men had alimony and child support to

pay. Danny thought it would be a good idea if him and Roy moved in

together to cut back on expenses(Simon143). A way that Simon himself

influences one of his characters, is his inability to share his

emotions. Oscar is presented in the same way, afraid to share his


Themes, as well as characters, are effected by the author’s

life. A main theme in The Odd Couple is importance of family.

This same theme often appears in the life of Neil Simon. When Neil was

a young boy, his father left him and the rest of his family. His

mother always seemed to indirectly blame Simon and Danny for this

misfortune. Simon didn’t have a prominent father figure, so by having

Felix perceived as a devoted father, he was making up for the lost love

and bond he could have shared with his father. Although Oscar isn’t a

bad father, he doesn’t seemed as attached to his children on the

outside. This could be a way for Simon to describe his

father(Simon145). Divorce is an important part in the significance of

family. Simon’s parents were divorced when he was a young boy. His

friends, brother, even himself were all divorced at least once. He had

been around divorce all of his life, which explains why it acts as such

an important part in his play.

All of Neil Simon’s plays, including The Odd Couple, are to

some extent a reflection of his life, sometimes

autobiographical, other times based on the experiences of those close

to him. Such elements that are effected by the author’s life are

themes and characters, as seen in The Odd Couple. When an individual

reads a play of Simon’s, although grounded in his own experience, you

are provided only a glimpse into the mind and soul of this private


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