I had intended to read at least a couple of books for The 1965 Club but it didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately work seems to have taken over my life at the moment and, although I have carried on reading (and enjoying my reading) I have found it difficult to find the time or enthusiasm to blog much. I have been trying to read as many of other people’s posts over the last week though.
I never really decide what to read for our Year Clubs until it comes to the crunch but I was considering the following: The Drought by J. G. Ballard; The Wedding Party by H. E. Bates; Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick; Closely Observed Trains By Bohumil Hrabal; I was also considering re-reading one of my favourite books, The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. Other books from 1965 that I had read before were God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut; Stoner by John Williams; Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor; Ariel by Sylvia Plath and The Boarding-House by William Trevor. It certainly was an interesting year for books. However, in the end I noticed that The Odd Couple by Neil Simon was first published and performed in that year as well and so decided to read that for the ’65 Club.
I’m sure just about everyone of a certain age is familiar with The Odd Couple—it was initially a play, then there was a film version, then a TV-series that ran for five seasons in the ’70s, a film sequel, a ‘Female Odd Couple’, some cartoons and apparently another TV series starring Matthew Perry from Friends. It was quite successful.
My main experience was with the film version starring Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon but I’m sure I also saw some of the TV episodes when I was younger. I really enjoyed the film when I last saw it and I also enjoyed the film sequel from 1998, also starring Matthau and Lemmon, but I did wonder how much I would enjoy just reading the play. It was no problem as Neil Simon is a brilliant writer of dialogue. For those of us in the U.K. I would imagine that much of our view of New York comes from Simon….and Woody Allen…and Friends…So, it’s probably not very realistic but Simon’s play is a funny read.
The Odd Couple takes place in a single New York apartment owned by Oscar Madison (Matthau). Oscar is a bit of a slob, especially since his wife left him; he’s a wise-cracking, cynical, fun-loving kind of a guy who just wants to drink and play poker with his friends every Friday night. Felix Ungar (Lemmon) is a neurotic, obsessive cleaner who, as we discover at the beginning of the play, hasn’t turned up as he’s been thrown out by his wife. Here’s a bit of dialogue from the beginning of Act I; Oscar has just had a phone-call from Frances, Felix’s wife, and Oscar has let the others know that Felix and Frances have split up. Vinnie et al. are the other poker players.
VINNIE. They were such a happy couple.
MURRAY. Twelve years doesn’t mean you’re a happy couple. It just means you’re a long couple.
SPEED. Go figure it. Felix and Frances.
ROY. What are you surprised at? He used to sit there every Friday night and tell us how they were fighting.
SPEED. I know. But who believes Felix?
VINNIE. What happened?
OSCAR. She wants out, that’s all.
MURRAY. He’ll go to pieces. I know Felix. He’s going to try something crazy.
SPEED. That’s all he ever used to talk about. “My beautiful wife. My wonderful wife.” What happened?
OSCAR. His beautiful, wonderful wife can’t stand him, that’s what happened.
MURRAY. He’ll kill himself. You hear what I’m saying? He’s going to go out and try to kill himself.
SPEED. (To MURRAY.) Will you shut up, Murray? Stop being a cop for two minutes. (To OSCAR.) Where’d he go, Oscar?
OSCAR. He went out to kill himself.
Of course Felix soon turns up. His friends are concerned for him but Felix is not really the type of person to commit suicide—it’s too messy. When the other friends leave, Oscar and Felix talk. They’re completely opposite personalities but they’re still friends. Here’s some more dialogue:
FELIX. I can’t help myself. I drive everyone crazy. A marriage counselor once kicked me out of his office. He wrote on my chart, Lunatic!…I don’t blame her. It’s impossible to be married to me.
OSCAR. It takes two to make a rotten marriage. (Lies back down on the couch.)
FELIX. You don’t know what I was like at home. I bought her a book and made her write down every penny we spent. Thirty-eight cents for cigarettes, ten cents for a paper. Everything had to go in the book. And then we had a big fight because I said she forgot to write down how much the book was…Who could live with anyone like that?
And so the easygoing Oscar invites Felix to stay. When Act II starts the whole apartment is clean and tidy and Felix is serving drinks and nibbles to the poker players. Much of the humour is in watching these two completely incompatible people trying to live together and fail as they get on each others nerves. Oscar just wants a good time whilst Felix is content acting like a ’50s housewife. When Gwendolyn and Cecily, a.k.a. the Pigeon Sisters, make an appearance tempers realy start to flare. Here’s some dialogue where they’re arguing.
OSCAR. (With a pointing finger.) I’m warning you. You want to live here, I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to hear you and I don’t want to smell your cooking. Now get this spaghetti off my poker table.
FELIX. Ha! Haha!
OSCAR. What the hell’s so funny?
FELIX. It’s not spaghetti. It’s linguini!
(OSCAR picks up the plate of linguini, crosses to the doorway, and hurls it into the kitchen.)
OSCAR. Now it’s garbage!
Well, they argue and Oscar throws Felix out but it works out alright in the end as Felix is taken in by the Pigeon Sisters. I should read more of Simon’s plays and watch his films again.