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BellaOnline's Classic Film Editor


Write What You Know

Guest Author - Amber Grey

"Write what you know." It has always been sound advice every writer sticks to when asked about their craft. And if there is one writer who holds true to that phrase, it is Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon. With taking moments and relationships from his personal experience and people he knows, Simon has created a unique voice for how human beings interact with one another in a wide range of intimate relationships. For example, it is interesting to note that "The Odd Couple" was inspired by the situation his brother Danny encountered while living with agent Roy Gerber. And as with every writing process, each project culminates into its own unique experience. Such as it was when Simon wrote "The Goodbye Girl" (1977).

The nugget of an idea was formed while Simon was honeymooning with his then-wife and actress Marsha Mason when the couple was talking over the prospect of doing a film together. Over dinner, they briefly discussed and agreed upon the idea that it had to be a contemporary romance with an old-fashioned feeling to it. Once they were back in New York, preparing to relocate to California, Simon gradually integrated California into his budding screenplay. The working title for the film was "Bogart Slept Here" - a reference to the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood where actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood would stay after they received their "big break." Another conversation would take place that would help develop the idea even further and it was between Simon and Dustin Hoffman. The conversation was about how his life dramatically changed after the success of "The Graduate" (1967) and the plot was set. Or so he thought. At that point, "Bogart Was Here" was about an off-Broadway actor who was married with a child. The theme was how a big break can affect a family and a relationship between a husband and wife.

After the script was finished, rehearsals began with Robert De Niro cast in the title role of "Elliot." But as the rehearsals progressed, the lack of chemistry between De Niro and Mason was evident. Not only was there no chemistry but De Niro was not connecting with the script at all.

De Niro was let go and they went to look for someone else as a replacement. Enter Richard Dreyfuss. From the moment he shook Dreyfuss's hand, Simon knew he was the right one. But the script was not. Simon, who was more than familiar with rewrites, rewrote the entire script. Afterwards, Simon ended up with what we know as "The Goodbye Girl" (1977), a film about an unemployed dancer and her daughter who are forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor. One particularly comical scene where Elliot appears in an off-off-Broadway production of "Richard III", was inspired by a real-life event. It was at a time when his wife was appearing in a similar production of the Shakespeare classic, that eventually bombed. As Simon watched the play from the wings, he noted the experience and later used it.

In an interview with "The Telegraph" in 2010, Simon insisted that he will not stop writing as he was quoted, "I'm still at it all the time. I'm 82 and I'm still playing around with a new play. Whether I get it done or not really doesn't bother me. I'm having fun with it, I stay with it."
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