A manservant in a white uniform opened the door to reveal Neil Simon standing in the entrance of his ranch-style house high in the manicured hills of Bel Air.
There was no waiting routine to endure, because there are no pretensions when Neil Simon gets into the act. His record as America's most successful playwright might make him a logical target for verbal sniping, but one hears only favorable comments. "He is such a nice man," people will tell you, and they are right on the mark. Neil Simon
I've been through therapy three different times in my life. The first two times were for very different reasons, and I wasn't in long, becuase I wasn't prepared for it.
The first time I went I was 26 years old, which was the year after I got married the first time.That was sort of a traumatic time in my life, because I had just ended a working partnership with my brother which had lasted since I was 16 years old. So when it ended, it sort of threw me into a tizzy. Also, there were all sorts of other problems: My wife and I were newlyweds, and all that.
My main symptom was extreme claustrophobia. If I would get into any kind of an enclosed situation, I would feel awful.Airplanes were the worst place for me and elevators second. So I just thought I would try to see what was the cause of this problem and get relief, because it was horrible not being able to travel anywhere.
At any rate, when I first went into therapy - when I was working on "The Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca - I used to go to the doctor in the morning. It annoyed me because I had to be there at 9 o'clock; my session lasted until 9:50 and I had to be at work at 10. I was the therapist's first patient, and he would often come in late and just deduct the time he missed from the fee. So I would be getting only 25 or 30 minutes sometimes. And there were a couple of times he fell asleep, which is the ultimate rejection.
I continued to see this man for about six months, but the chemistry was not right. So I didn't go into therapy again for 14 years.
Then I went because I had reached that critical age in life, 40, when all sorts of strange things start to go on, I guess, in a man's mind.
I felt very troubled, so I saw a second doctor, but I hated him; I mean, I truly hated him. So I went screaming from his office -after about three months - saying I'd never go through this again.
The only time therapy really meant anything to me was when my wife got ill, four years ago, and I knew she was going to die. It was a very rough time, and I needed some kind of help. I found a woman therapist who has turned out to be the most influential doctor in my life. She is just terrific. I went to her for 2 1/2 years and stopped when we moved out to California from New York. My experience with her made up for all the bad experiences. I still talk to her and call her.
Her philosophy seemed the most unique thing in the world to me, because I didn't know it was okay to like yourself. I had been brought up thinking that liking yourself was a selfish thing: You don't do things for yourself; you do things for other people. I discovered that the more you deny yourself, the more you start to put yourself down and not like yourself, the less chance you have of getting better.
With all the things that kids do, from masturbation to whatever, there comes such guilt feelings that you have to say, "Wait a minute, these are not such terrible things I've done, no matter what." Even lying in bed one night and thinking, "I'd like to kill my mother, or kill my father," and picturing the dagger going in their back. You think, "What a terrible persion I must be." But you learn in therapy that you're not a terrible person, because we all, at times, have these feelings.
My family was constantly being broken up. It would have been easier if my father had just left and then stayed away: then we would have adjusted to a new life. But he used to come and go and come and go. My parents broke up maybe 10, 12, 15 times during my childhood, and each time it seemed final.
So my life was on a yo-yo emotionally, because as a 5-year-old kid, I would say, "Oh, terrific, Daddy's back and everything's going to be wonderful"; and then, bang, two months later I'd hear the yelling and the screaming and he'd be gone.
They had very violent kinds of fights and things, which was a frightening experience for a kid: You'd put a pillow up to your head to shut it out. It's the worst kind of thing to hear that going on between your parents. Basically that was the most traumatic thing in my childhood.
I felt sort of caught in the middle. You feel like you're double-crossing one parent to like the other because they hated each other so much. And they sort of used this, because one would play me off against the other. So I had great guilt feelings about liking or disliking either one of them.
When I first went into therapy I feared my humor was all based on the defensive attitude I had toward the world. My way of dealing with things was humor, and I knew my humor was coming out a lot from my neuroses.
So, being very naive, I said, "Gee, if the doctor cures me, I'm going to lose my sense of humor and I won't be able to write any more. I will have less impulse, less reason to use this outlet of humor." But this reasoning wasn't true. If anything, therapy enhances your sense of humor, because it gives you a broader perspective on what life is and who you are.
I think most people think that if you go and have a successful analysis or therapy, you don't have problems any more. Well, you do but you just learn how, when they come up, not to let them get as bad as they were, not to let them take hold of you or take charge. You learn that at some point you've got to say, "Hey, wait, that's enough."
I don't think therapy is something everybody could really use. There are some very fortunate people in the world who don't have as many neurotic problems as other people.
Getting along with other people is just a byproduct of getting along with yourself. For example, I knew my claustrophobia all existed inside of my mind. I would see other people on a plane reading newspapers and talking, so obviously it wasn't the surroundings that were at fault, but how I was dealing with them. So it's when you learn to deal with yourself that you can deal with the surroundings and the other people.
I would say most of my therapy was pleasurable.I mean, even when one would break down and strat to cry, it was pleasurable, because it meant you were getting somewhere.
Just recently I was feeling very depressed, as I do every time I finish a project - we had just finished shooting a movie, I always take a dip emotionally, because so much energy goes into the work, and then it ends.
For a while I felt so bad I wished I could spend a lot of time speaking to my therapist in New York, but, knowing I couldn't, I just flirted for a moment with the idea of finding a doctor out here. "Well, my brother was so and so; I met my mother when I was 7...." I just wouldn't go through all that again. CAPTION: Picture, "I was afraid I'd lose my sense of humor," Neil Simon confesses of his misgivings over consulting a therapist.