Gene Saks

Gene Saks

Gene Saks, a prolific actor-director who teamed up with playwright Neil Simon on hit Broadway shows and movie productions such as The Odd Couple and Brighton Beach Memoirs, has died. He was 93.

Saks, who won three Tony Awards for his direction, died from pneumonia on Saturday at his home in East Hampton, New York, according to his son Daniel.

Saks’ hits also included many without Simon. Among them were the musicals Mame (1966), starring Angela Lansbury and his then-wife Bea Arthur; Half A Sixpence, starring British pop star Tommy Steele (1965), and I Love My Wife (1977), as well as such comedies as Enter Laughing (1963) and Same Time, Next Year (1975).

The Simon-Saks collaboration had its beginnings in 1963 when Simon asked Saks – then a Broadway actor – to come to New Hope, Pennsylvania, and critique Barefoot in the Park.

Simon didn’t need much help. The play – under Mike Nichols’ direction – turned out to be one of Broadway’s biggest hits of the 1960s, running for more than 1,500 performances.

But three years later, when Simon was preparing the film version of Barefoot in the Park, he persuaded producer Hal Wallis to hire Saks as director of his first movie. The film, which starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, was a huge success.

Besides the famous trilogy of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, their work together on Broadway included California Suite, Lost in Yonkers, ‘Rumors, ‘Jake’s Women” and the female version of The Odd Couple.

Their other films were The Odd Couple, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, ‘The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Brighton Beach Memoirs.

“I don’t believe every director can direct every play,” Simon once mused. “But Gene and I have had such a common point of view that my instincts tell me lately, ‘Go with Gene.'”

In a 1987 interview, Saks explained his affinity for Simon: “Aside from Neil’s wit, his brightness and his ability to characterise, he writes about things I know about and care about. We both came from middle-class, first-generation Jewish families, and our humour springs from the same roots.”