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Neil Simon Celebrated in PBS’ “The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor”

Washington, D.C. — “The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor” celebrates Neil Simon, one of America’s foremost playwrights, humorists and screenwriters. The program airs Monday, November 20, 2006, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide. Taped at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 15, the 90-minute special features tributes and comic testimonials from a star-studded cast of Simon’s friends and colleagues including Jason Alexander, Christina Applegate, Lucie Arnaz, Matthew Broderick, Richard Dreyfuss, Heather Headley, Patricia Heaton, Jane Kaczmarek, Robert Klein, Nathan Lane, Robert Redford, Paul Reiser, Jonathan Silverman and Allen Toussaint. The program will also include an assortment of classic film clips from Simon’s career.

Upon learning that he had won the 2006 Mark Twain Prize, Simon remarked, “I am awed, thrilled and delighted to receive The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize.......it makes up for my losing the Samuel Clemens Prize.”

Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927. For more than four decades, his plays have invigorated the stage with poignant stories and zany characters known for their family-based New York settings. He has authored more than 40 Broadway plays since 1961, ranging from humorous, lighthearted conceits (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) to deeper, autobiographical works (Chapter Two, the Eugene trilogy featuring Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound). Simon contributed librettos to such hit musical comedies as Sweet Charity, Promises, Promises and They're Playing Our Song. As a screenwriter, he has had more than a dozen major motion pictures produced, including The Goodbye Girl and Lost in Yonkers. Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his extraordinary ability to create humor from the good things and bad in the lives of everyday people. He has been showered with more Academy and Tony nominations than any other writer and is the only playwright to have had four Broadway productions running simultaneously. His plays have been produced in dozens of languages and have been wildly popular from Beijing to Moscow. Simon is the recipient of three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Drama Desk Award, an American Comedy Award, a Golden Globe and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Of Simon, the late actor Jack Lemmon said, “Neil has the ability to write characters—even the leading characters that we’re supposed to root for—that are absolutely flawed. They have foibles. They have faults. But, they are human beings. They are not all bad or all good; they are people we know.”

Neil Simon is the ninth recipient of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Past recipients of the prize have been Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004) and Steve Martin (2005).

“The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor,” celebrating Neil Simon, is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C.; The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Mark Krantz Productions; and Comedia. Executive producers are Robert Kaminsky, Peter Kaminsky, Mark Krantz and Cappy McGarr. WETA executive producers are Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson.

Major funding for “The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor,” celebrating Neil Simon, is provided by Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service. Corporate sponsor is Merrill Lynch. Media partner is USA TODAY.

The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was created in 1998 by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mark Krantz, Peter Kaminsky and Bob Kaminsky to recognize the art of humorists who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain*. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Simon will be presented a copy of an 1884 bronze portrait bust of Mark Twain, sculpted by Karl Gerhardt (1853-1940). The bust and its images are courtesy of the Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

The Kennedy Center, as the nation’s center for the performing arts, recognizes and presents all of the performing arts including opera, jazz, musical theater, drama, ballet and dance, as well as symphony and all kinds of smaller musical ensembles performing every imaginable kind of music.

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television. WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “In Performance at the White House,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The Civil War,” and coming September 2007, “The War.” Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available on the Web site at weta.org.

*"Mark Twain Prize" TM/© Chase Manhattan Bank and Richard A. Watson as trustees of The Mark Twain Foundation Trust under license authorized by CMG Worldwide Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 46256 USA.

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