Gene Saks, Tony-Winning Director of Mame and Plays by Neil Simon, Dies at 93
Saks helmed the original productions of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Rags, among many other shows.
Gene Saks, the three-time Tony Award-winning director of stage and screen known for his collaborations with the playwright Neil Simon, has died at the age of 93. The cause was pneumonia.
Born Jean Michael Saks on November 8, 1921, Saks was the son of Beatrix and Morris J. Saks. He graduated from Cornell University and studied acting at both the New School for Social Research and the Actors Studio. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Saks had a wide-ranging career as an actor, appearing on Broadway in 10 productions including the original South Pacific and Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns, in which he played the temperamental TV star Leo "Chuckles The Chipmunk" Herman.
That role, in 1962, would be his last Broadway acting credit before his transition into directing. The first show he helmed was Enter Laughing, a play by Joseph Stein inspired by Carl Reiner's 1958 memoir of the same title. Saks also directed the original Broadway productions of Mame, Half a Sixpence, I Love My Wife (for which he won the 1977 Best Director Tony Award), and Rags, among several other shows.
His professional relationship with playwright Simon emerged in the 1967, when he was asked to direct the film version of Simon's play Barefoot in the Park, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Saks would go on to win Tonys for his productions of Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues. On Broadway, he also directed Simon's Broadway Bound, The Odd Couple (the female version, starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers), Jake's Women, Lost in Yonkers, Rumors, and California Suite. He helmed the screen versions of The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and Last of the Red Hot Lovers, as well. Their collaborations ended in 1993 when he was fired as the director of the Simon musical The Goodbye Girl during its out-of-town tryout.
Saks' final Broadway directing credit was William Luce's Barrymore, starring Christopher Plummer, in 1997. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1991.
From 1950-1980, Saks was married to the actress Bea Arthur, with whom he adopted sons Matthew and Daniel. He married Keren Ettlinger in 1980, who also survives him, along with their daughter, Annabelle, and three grandchildren.