Playwright Neil Simon speaks during the American Theatre Wing Annual Spring Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on April 10, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Fosse/Verdon on FX centers around entertainment legends Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. But thanks to the show, we’re now hooked on the supporting character of Joan Simon. Portrayed by Aya Cash, Joan Baim Simon was the first wife of Neil Simon, the Pulitzer-winning playwright who passed away in 2018. Joan Baim Simon’s life was short, but she left a profound impact on the people who knew her.

About
DeathJuly 12, 1973
GenderFemale
SpouseNeil Simon 1953-1973
ChildrenEllen Simon, Nancy Simon
ParentsMoe Baim, Helen Baim
JobDancer
AffiliationMartha Graham Dance Company
Birth Year1932
Cause of DeathBone Cancer

Joan Baim Simon Was a Dancer

Born Joan Baim in 1932, she was the daughter of Helen Baim and Moe Baim. There’s very little known about her early life. In fact, before Fosse/Verdon, not much was known about her apart from Neil Simon’s references to her in interviews.

Baim was no stranger to the showbiz era during which Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon reigned. A dancer, Joan was a performer on stage and had worked with the legendary choreographer Martha Graham in her dance company.

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However, she gave up her stage career to focus on her family. But unlike her friend Gwen Verdon, Joan didn’t return to the spotlight after a hiatus.

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Baim Met Simon at a Camp in the Poconos

Back when he was still Marvin Neil Simon, the writer and his brother, Danny Simon, had joined Camp Tamiment, a resort in the Poconos. Pre-fame Neil and Danny used to work as a comedy-writing team trying to make it in the live television scene. The brothers would put together weekly theater performances for the resort.

Joan Baim was working at Camp Tamiment as a children’s counselor then, and that’s where she met her future husband. “The first time I saw Joan she was pitching softball,” Simon recalled. “I couldn’t get a hit off her because I couldn’t stop looking at her.”

Their courtship was swift; they married in September 1953, the same year they met.

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She Encouraged Simon to Write Broadway Plays

Joan not only knew him when he was Marvin, but also helped him become the Neil Simon. The writer initially survived by writing comedy material for comics and entertainers. She encouraged him to turn to theater, which resulted in his first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn.

“The things I couldn’t channel into any other human being—my mother, my father, my brother, anybody—I could channel into Joan, who understood,” Simon once said. “She was so open, and when I wasn’t, she’d say: ‘Why won’t you talk? What are you afraid of?’ She opened me up, and that’s what allowed me to become a playwright. She had an incredible sense of honesty. I couldn’t get anything past her.”

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Simon described his early writing years and his life with Joan—including her last days—in his autobiography, Rewrites.

Joan Passed Away of Cancer

Joan Baim Simon suffered from a bone cancer that took her life on July 12, 1973, after 20 years of marriage. Neil described her diagnosis as ”the first major unexpected blow of my life.”

Neil attended to her needs during the agonizing 15 months she battled cancer while writing one of his famous plays, The Sunshine Boys. His plays often reference his personal life, and he drew inspiration from Joan’s life in some plays as well.

Four months after Joan’s passing, the widower Neil married Oscar-nominated actress Marsha Mason in 1973. Their marriage fell apart and they divorced in 1983.

Neil had two separate marriages to Diane Lander before the couple split for good in 1998. At the time of his death on August 26, 2018, Neil was married to Elaine Joyce.

He was laid to rest in Pound Ridge, New York, next to Joan.

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Joan and Neil Have Two Daughters

Joan and Neil Simon are survived by their two daughters, Ellen Simon (born 1957) and Nancy Simon (born 1963). Neil also adopted Bryn, his third wife Lander’s daughter from a previous marriage.

When Joan passed away, Nancy was 10 and Ellen was 15. Nancy was away at camp when Joan passed away and had to be summoned back so Neil could break the news to her. Ellen canceled a student trip to Europe to be with her mother during her last months.

The girls and Neil were naturally devastated by the loss. Neil wanted to offer them a distraction from the grief by getting away from the Pound Ridge townhouse he bought as a place Joan could recover in. Nancy, to her father’s surprise, decided to return to camp, while Neil and Ellen went on a trip to Europe.

Ellen followed her father’s footsteps to become a screenwriter. Some of her credits include One Fine Day, Moonlight and Valentino, and the series Thirtysomething.

Ellen has a son, Andrew, from her first marriage to one John Leland. She was then married to Columbia University astrophysicist Jeff Bishop before he passed away in an accident. A widowed Ellen later married Michael Florimbi, a film technician and the brother of Nancy’s husband. They have a daughter, Nicola.

Nancy was an aspiring filmmaker. She was married to actor-comedian-playwright Woody Harrelson for 10 months in 1985. She later married a painter named David.

She Was Gwen Verdon’s Closest Friend

As we see in Fosse/Verdon, Joan Baim was a close confidante to Gwen Verdon during her volatile relationship with Bob Fosse. The couples were great friends and had a great relationship. In fact, Fosse used Neil Simon as a soundboard for some of his work.

Portrayed by FX’s newest phenomenon Aya Cash from You’re the Worst, Baim has proven to be a scene-stealer every time she appears on the show. Viewers are enraptured by both Verdon and Baim, playing two very different kinds of the same behind-every-successful-man-is-a-woman role.

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As we see on the show, Joan helps Gwen out with sound advice during difficult times in her personal and professional life.

One of the best Gwen-Joan moments is an emotional scene where Verdon visits Joan in the hospital. In real life, Verdon and Fosse’s daughter, Nicole, was present in the room visiting “Aunt Joan.” When they filmed the scene, Nicole Fosse was also present on set and commended the way it was portrayed.

Not only is Cash’s acting remarkable, fans are in love with her wig akin to Baim’s trademark hairstyle with a ribbon. Nicole, who’s both producer and consultant on the show, said Joan was never without the bow in her hair.

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