Drawing: Neil Simon

Drawing of writer Neil Simon

Proclaimed by TIME magazine as ‘the patron saint of laughter,’ writing colossus Neil Simon passed away in late August 2018, aged 91. Considered the most popular playwright since Shakespeare, I drew this sketch of Neil and sent it to him a year earlier, hoping to have it signed, but it was returned with a letter form his office saying that Mr Simon was no longer able to fulfill requests for autographs, but did appreciate my letter and drawing.

Neil dominated Broadway like no other playwright over the past half-century. In the New York Times obituary, Charles Isherwood wrote “Mr Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling.” Hardly a year passed from 1961 to 1993 without a new Simon production. His unparalleled career spanned four decades, with over 30 plays and musicals, starting with COME BLOW YOUR HORN in 1961 until 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY in 2001. He also wrote as many screenplays, mostly adaptations of his theatre scripts.

His breakthrough play was BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1963), followed by a string of smash hits, THE ODD COUPLE (1965), PLAZA SUITE (1968), THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1971) and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1974). His final play was ROSE’S DILEMMA in 2003, produced off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. From 1965-1980 Neil’s plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other writer of the era. In 1966 he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.

His arsenal of sarcastic wit with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living involving typically imperfect characters, unheroic figures who are at heart, decent human beings were the hallmarks of his work. He has more combined Oscar (4) and Tony Award (17) nominations than any other writer, winning three Tony’s for THE ODD COUPLE, BILOXI BLUES (1985) and a Special Award in 1975 for his overall contribution to American Theatre. His Academy Award noms were for THE ODD COUPLE (1969), THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1976), THE GOODBYE GIRL (1978), which did win a Golden Globe and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1979). He also won four Writers Guild Awards and received four Emmy nominations among his many accolades that included the Pulitzer Prize for Drama LOST IN YONKERS in 1991. He was the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named after him in 1983.

I was very fortunate to collect Neil’s signature a few years ago, when he signed and dedicated a poster from his 1988 farce Rumors for me.

Drawing: Roddy Doyle

Autographed drawing of writer Roddy Doyle

With eleven novels, two collections of stories, a memoir of his parents, eight children’s books, a number of plays and screenplays and an opera translation, Roddy Doyle is firmly established as one of Ireland’s best-loved writers. Described as ‘an entertaining evening of sprawling conversation’, his UK and Ireland speaking tour arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on London’s Southbank just days before the coronavirus lockdown.

The website provided a nice, concise summary: “From THE COMMITTMENTS to THE GUTS there’s no mistaking the rich humour, authentic dialogue and contemporary crossover of Roddy’s writing with a knack for perfectly and intimately portraying everyday Irish life in a remarkably concise form of prose.”

Initially his first three novels were written while he worked as an English and Geography teacher. THE COMMITMENTS, set in Northside, Dublin was published in 1987. It tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young music fanatic who assembles a group of working class youths to form a soul band named ‘The Commitments’. Roddy wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film version with established comedy duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, winning a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay. The acclaimed musical-comedy-drama, directed by Alan Parker has achieved cult status. From 2013-2015, a stage version played the West End at the Palace Theatre.

THE COMMITMENTS was the first of The Barrytown Trilogy series, followed by the equally successful THE SNAPPER (1990) and THE VAN (1991). Both have been adapted for the screen. In 1993 Roddy became a full time writer. That year his novel, PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA, looking at Dublin life in 1968 from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, won the Booker Prize.

I met Roddy at his signing session after the March speaking event, where he kindly autographed my portrait sketch.

Drawing: Mike Figgis

Autographed drawing of filmmaker Mike Figgis

One of the most innovative filmmakers in the business is Mike Figgis, the British director, screenwriter, musician and composer. After initially working in theatre as a director and performer he made his feature film directorial debut with the neo-noir thriller STORMY MONDAY in 1988 featuring Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting and Melanie Griffith. Six years later he directed Terrance Rattigan’s THE BROWNING VERSION based on Terrance Rattigan’s 1948 play with Albert Finney in the lead role. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA for Mike’s screenplay.

The following year he received two Academy Award nominations for Direction and Adapted Screenplay for the romantic drama LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Nicolas Cage starred as a suicidal alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death after being fired from his LA law firm. It was based on the semi-biographical novel by John O’Brien, who shot himself two weeks after signing away the movie rights. His father said the novel was his suicide note. The low budget film was shot on 16mm with Mike composing his own musical score. Nicolas loved working with the smaller camera, said it was less intimidating and allowed the actors give more relaxed, nuanced performances. He won the Best Actor Oscar.

TIMECODE (2000) is an experimental film with a ensemble cast that included Salam Hayek, Stellen Skardgard and Holly Hunter. Four continuous 93 min hand-held takes were filmed simultaneously by four cameramen beginning at 3pm on 19 November in 1999 with the cast improvising, using a predetermined structure. It follows a group of people in an LA office, prepping a movie. The screen was divided into quarters to show each take.

Since 2008 Mike has been Professor of Film Studies at the European Film School, teaching summer seminars in Saas-Fee in Switzerland. He is also an Associate at the London Film School.

Mike signed and returned my quick portrait sketch after I sent it to his London-based production company, Red Herring.

Drawing: Ben Elton

Autographed drawing of writer Ben Elton

British writer, actor, director and comedian extraordinaire Ben Elton is currently back on a live stand-up tour of the UK, his first since 2004. Ben’s style has been described as left-wing political satire. He was part of the ‘alternative comedy’ movement in the 1980’s, which made a conscious break with the mainstream comedic style that often incorporated racist and sexist material and avoided the reliance on a standardised structure of a sequence of jokes with punch lines.

Early in his career he became the writer for two successful TV series; THE YOUNG ONES and BLACKADDER, often appearing in them, while continuing stand-up on stage and screen. He has written 16 novels, most of which have appeared in the UK’s Top 10 best seller lists, including six No.1’s. He writes in the dystopian, comedy and crime genres, winning awards for POPCORN (1996) and HIGH SOCIETY (2002). POPCORN was adapted for the stage, winning an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

In 1985 he began a writing partnership with Richard Curtis, creating BLACKADDER II, BLACKADDER THE THIRD, and BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH with Rowan Atikinson in the title role. All became international hits, winning four BAFTA’s and an Emmy. He appeared in his own TV shows in the 1990’s, including BEN ELTON: THE MAN FROM AUNTIE (a take on the popular 1960’s MAN FROM UNCLE series and ‘Auntie’ is a nickname for the BBC) and THE BEN ELTON SHOW.

In 2016 he returned to television, writing the Shakespearean parody UPSTART CROW with David Mitchell as the Bard. He followed that with two more series and a stage version, which opens early next year at London’s Gielgud Theatre. Ben has also written two West End musicals; the Olivier Award-winning WE WILL ROCK YOU in 2002, featuring the music of Queen and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, LOVE NEVER DIES in 2010.

As part of his current UK tour he stopped off in London for a night, a couple of weeks ago at the Lyceum Theatre, where he also kindly signed and inscribed this quick portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: David Mamet

Autographed drawing of writer David Mamet

Prominent American playwright David Mamet was in London earlier this year to direct his contentious dark comedy BITTER WHEAT at the Garrick Theatre. Based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which sparked the MeToo movement, it run from June to September, featuring John Malkovich’s return to the West End after thirty years, as Hollywood studio boss Barney Fein and his fall from power. David attracts frequent debate and controversy, and was once quoted, “Being a writer in Hollywood is like going to Hitler’s Eagle Nest with a great idea for a bar mitzvah.” Often described as the prime chronicler of the macho males and power struggles, his distinctive writing style, involving cynical, street-wise dialogue has become known as ‘Mamet speak.’ David’s 1983 play about four disparate real estate agents, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, which premiered at the National Theatre in London, won the Pulitzer Prize and the subsequent Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play. Four years later SPEED-THE-PLOW also won a nomination for Best Play.

David has written a number of major screenplays, including my favourite, THE VERDICT and WAG THE DOG, both Oscar and Golden Globe nominated. He also wrote the script for the 1992 film version of GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS.

David signed my portrait sketch as he arrived for the BITTER WHEAT press night at the GarrickTheatre.

Drawing: Salman Rushdie

Autographed drawing of writer Salman Rushdie

Indian-born British author Sir Salman Rushdie’s career has been both celebrated and controversial. His second novel MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, written while he was still a copywriter at the advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather ‘catapulted him into literary notability’. It follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children during the birth of the modern Indian nation. The novel won the 1981 Booker Prize and was selected as the Best of the Bookers from all the previous winners at both the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the prestigious award, the latter was voted by the public.

His most controversial work was his fourth novel THE SATANIC VERSES, also shortlisted for the Booker, published seven years later. It was seen by some as an irreverent depiction of Muhammad, resulting protests in many countries and death threats were made against him. His books often focus on the role of religion in society and conflicts between faiths and non-faiths. He combines ‘magical realism’ with ‘historical fiction’ based on the connections between Eastern and Western civilisations.

Sir Salman’s fourteenth novel QUICHOTTE, inspired by Miguel de Cervantes classic work DON QUIXOTE was published this year and also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He joined the five other finalists for a reading at London’s Royal Festival Hall the day before the Prize announcement, where he signed my portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Richard Curtis

Autographed drawing of writer Richard Curtis

One of Britain’s most successful comedy screenwriters and film directors, New Zealand-born Richard Curtis is equally known for humanitarian work. While completing a first-class Arts degree at Oxford University, he teamed up with Rowan Atkinson in the Oxford Revue, a collaboration that would be responsible for creating some of the UK’s most memorable comedy. Initially with Rowan and then Ben Elton, Richard wrote every episode of the BAFTA-Award winning BLACKADDER series from 1983-1989, in which Rowan starred in the title role. They teamed up again for the MR BEAN series from 1990-1995. Richard also wrote THE VICAR OF DIBLEY for Dawn French in 1994, the same year his film FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL won international acclaim. The resulting Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for his screenplay catapulted Richard to prominence.

He followed that with the very popular NOTTING HILL and BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY. He made his directorial debut with LOVE ACTUALLY in 2003, earning a Golden Globe nomination for his screenplay. It featured a Who’s Who of UK actors and has become a modern day Christmas staple. In 2007, Richard was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship.

In response to the famine in Ethiopia, Richard and comedian Sir Lenny Henry founded ‘Comic Relief’ with the highlight of the appeal being Red Nose Day, a biennial telethon alternating with its sister project ‘Sports Aid’. To date it has raised well over £1 billion.

Richard also established ‘Make Poverty History’ and organised the Live 8 concerts with Sir Bob Geldof to make people more aware of poverty, particularly in Africa and pressure G8 leaders to adopt proposals for ending it.

It’s always nice to meet Richard, who has always been very pleasant and chatty. He happily signed this quick portrait sketch I did of him as he arrived at Wogan House for a guest appearance on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show in March to promote this years Comic Relief appeal activities, which included the telecast of his short film ONE RED NOSE DAY AND A WEDDING reuniting many of the original cast.

Drawing: Kenneth Lonergan

Autographed drawing of writer Kenneth Lonergan

American film director, screenwriter and playwright Kenneth Lonergan was in London recently, visiting Wyndham’s theatre where his play THE STARRY MESSENGER opened last month with Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern. The original 2009 off-Broadway production also featured Matthew and Kenneth’s wife, J.Smith-Cameron.
Kenneth’s playwriting prowess came to prominence in 1996 with THIS IS OUR YOUTH, followed by THE WAVERLY GALLERY three years later, earning him a Pulitzer Prize nomination and LOBBY HERO in 2002. All three plays collected Tony Award nominations for their respective revivals.

Kenneth’s most notable film work is YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016), both written and directed by him and both included Matthew in their cast. He received Academy Award Best Original Screenplay nominations the two films, collecting the Oscar for the later. He also won the BAFTA Award. David Fear, writing in Rolling Stone said that MANCHESTER proved Kenneth was “practically peerless in portraying loss as a living, breathing thing without resorting to the vocabulary of griefporn.” In 2002 he co-wrote Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), once again receiving Academy recognition with an Original Screenplay nomination.

It was great to meet Kenneth at Wyndham’s Theatre, where he kindly signed my drawing.

Drawing: Daniel Kaluuya

Autographed drawing of actor Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya’s status as a ‘rising star’ was bolstered last year when he received the British Academy’s Rising Star Award. Born in London to Ugandan parents, Daniel was raised on a council estate. He wrote his first play at the age of nine and started his acting career in improvisational theatre. He featured as part of the original cast of the British teen comedy drama TV series SKINS, co-writing some episodes.

His entry into mainstream theatre drew plenty of attention, playing the lead role in the Royal Court’s 2010 production of SUCKER PUNCH by Roy Williams. The play and cast received rave reviews with Daniel winning both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for his performance as Leon, a young boxer.

Daniel’s International screen breakthrough was his role as photographer Chris Washington in the horror GET OUT in 2017, for which he received Academy Award, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Award nominations. He followed that with Marvel Studio’s blockbuster BLACK PANTHER, playing chief of the Border Tribe, W’Kabi.
Daniel signed for me at the Gala Screening of Steve McQueen’s heist film WIDOWS, which opened last years BFI Londo Film Festival at Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square.

Drawing: Barry Jenkins

Autographed drawing of writer and director Barry Jenkins

After his critically acclaimed debut feature MEDICINE FOR THE MELANCHOLY in 2008, American director and writer Barry Jenkins took an eight year hiatus from feature filmmaking, working as a carpenter and co-founding an advertising agency ‘Strike Anywhere’. The 39-year-old’s return to the feature film fold was meteoric with the LGBT coming-of-age triptych MOONLIGHT, described by Vanity Fair as “an aching drama of identity that captivated film lovers in 2016.” The script was written by Barry and Tarell Alvin McCraney, based on Tarell’s unpublished play.

Both won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and it eventually won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards after a dramatic few minutes when LA LA LAND was initially announced. Barry was also nominated for Best Director and is only the second black person to direct a Best Picture winner, after Steve McQueen won for 12 YEARS A SLAVE three years earlier. MOONLIGHT also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – DRAMA.

Barry is once again in the awards spotlight as we head into the season’s final month. His latest film IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name is included in both the BAFTA and Oscar nom list with Barry once again being honoured for his writing. He has already collected the National Board of Review and Critics’ Choice awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

I was lucky enough to meet Barry after a Gala Screening of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK at the BFI London Film Festival’s Embankment Cinema last October. When I asked him to sign my drawing, he warned me that his handwriting was the worst in the world and didn’t want to ruin my artwork, so he used the space under the sketch. I think you’ll agree he was a tad modest. His hand and screen writing skills are just right.