When Neil Simon's 23rd play, Broadway Bound, opened in New York City last week, TIME Theater Critic William A. Henry III judged it the best American play of the 1980s. He happily proclaims that news in his cover profile of the playwright, which was written with reports from Los Angeles Correspondent Elaine Dutka. Says Henry: "There is a saying in the theater that there's nothing wrong with Broadway three hits won't cure. In any season that Neil Simon brings out a play, the problem is one-third solved."
Henry, a onetime actor who performed in Simon's Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park in small New Jersey productions in 1966 and 1967, recalls that the lines always drew laughs. Henry notes, however, that Simon, like many practitioners of comedy, is not an outgoing, knock-'em-dead kind of interview. "He is not a performer. He has more of the temperament of a professor or an accountant. In conversations, what you get is first-draft Neil Simon. The words are intelligent, authoritative and sometimes funny, but not burnished, not like his plays."
Simon responded differently when Photographer David Hume Kennerly arrived on the interview scene. Kennerly, who was official White House photographer during the Ford Administration, shot this week's cover. Says Henry: "I was shy, distant and respectful with Simon, and I got shy, distant, respectful responses. But Kennerly burst in like a rocket and was full of jokes. I was fascinated to see Simon joke back. They got along famously in mock combative style."
Henry, who won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1980 when he was with the Boston Globe, delights in his visits to Way-Off Broadway—regional theaters where the work may lack Broadway sheen, but can be imaginative and daring. "My predecessor at TIME, Ted Kalem, used to say, 'When I go to a theater in Cleveland, they don't ask what's happening in Detroit.' Well, times have changed, and now when I go to Ashland, Ore., they do ask me what's happening in San Diego."
The author of Visions of America, a book about the 1984 election, the versatile Henry is as steeped in his knowledge of politics as he is in the arts. He is a frequent guest on television and of late was seen twice on the CBS network, commenting after President Reagan's press conference on the Iranian arms crisis and then, one morning last week, on the career of Cary Grant. By day, he wrote this week's cover story.