Gene Saks, award-winning director who worked with Neil Simon

by | Apr 3, 2015 | Obituaries

NEW YORK (JTA)—Gene Saks, a Tony Award-winning director best known for his work with playwright Neil Simon, has died at 93.

Saks died of pneumonia Saturday, March 28 at his home in East Hampton, N.Y., The Associated Press reported.

Saks, who directed for stage and film and also was an actor, began working with Simon in 1966, when the playwright asked him to direct the film version of Barefoot in the Park.

Over the next two decades they collaborated on film versions of The Odd Couple, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Their work together on Broadway included Brighton Beach Memoirs, California Suite and Lost in Yonkers.

In 1987, Saks told The New York Times that his and Simon’s shared Jewish background was a factor in the compatibility.

“We both come from middle-class, first-generation Jewish families,” he said, “and our humor springs from the same roots.”

Saks grew up in Hackensack, N.J., where his father ran a women’s wholesale shoe business. After graduating from Cornell University in 1943, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II , participating in the D-Day invasion.

In 1963, Saks made his Broadway directing debut with Enter Laughing, a coming-of-age comedy based on a novel by Carl Reiner.

Saks is survived by his wife, Keren, whom he married in 1980, as well as three children and three grandchildren. For nearly three decades he was married to actress Bea Arthur, best known for her roles in the TV comedies Maude and The Golden Girls. Arthur and Saks divorced in 1980. Arthur died of cancer in 2009.