As long as we are celebrating Independence Day, we might as well also remember a couple of the brilliant individuals who were born on July 4th.
Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born on July 4, 1883, in San Francisco. Rube would become a cartoonist, sculptor, inventor, author, and engineer. The son of Hannah (Cohn) and Max Goldberg (who was a police and fire commissioner),
Rube’s only art instruction was with a local sign painter. He did, however, achieve a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley in 1904, and went to work for the San Francisco Water and Sewer Department. Six months later he resigned and got a job with the San Francisco Bulletin as a cartoonist. The new career carried him to New York, and to a lifetime of making people laugh. He even created such things as animated “newsreels” (in 1916) of everyday situations.
His lasting fame has come from the absurd drawings he produced prolifically of fantastical devices meant to do everyday tasks. The one which became a postage stamp is “Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin,” originally published in Collier’s in 1931.
Mr. Goldberg won a Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning in 1948, the Gold T-Square Award from the National Cartoonists Society (of which he had been a founding member and first president) in 1955, and the Silver Lady Award from the Banshees in 1959. And of course he inspired the international Rube Goldberg Machine Contests.
Marvin Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, to Mamie and Irving Simon, and would become a playwright, screenwriter, and author. He wrote the kind of commentary-on-life comedy that keeps one laughing years after seeing it.
After time in the Army Air Force Reserve, Neil Simon, known to his friends as “Doc,” began writing scripts for radio and early tv. (His older brother Danny was also such a writer.) He would become a part of the golden stable of creative talent working on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, including Mel Brooks (who had his 95th birthday last week), Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Selma Diamond (may their memories be for a blessing).
In 1961 his first play was produced, Come Blow Your Horn, which was a success. He followed that with Barefoot in the Park (1963) and the one which won him his first of three Tony awards, The Odd Couple (1965). He would have four successful productions running simultaneously on Broadway in 1966, and in 1983 had a Broadway theater named after him (an unusual honor for one still alive). He wrote some 30 plays with a hand in 19 more, a couple dozen movies, countless tv shows and adaptations, and two memoirs.
We lost Rube Goldberg on December 7, 1970, and we lost Neil Simon on August 26, 2018. Both lived long lives productively inspiring us all to look hard at our situations and laugh.