(Bruce Weber’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/29; via Pam Green.)
Gene Saks, an actor who switched to stage and film directing in midcareer, winning three Tony Awards and becoming the leading interpreter of the plays of Neil Simon, died on Saturday at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 93.
The cause was pneumonia, his wife, Keren, said.
As a director, Mr. Saks focused on comedy, and he excelled with the kind of snappy, battle-of-the-sexes material that might be termed the theater of repartee. He often said he was concerned that laugh lines be not simply jokes but also expressions of character; nonetheless, he was known for his comic instinct and for helping actors with line readings and timing to make a scene work. That said, he was never a cutup or a wit.
“He could direct actors to be funny, but he wasn’t funny himself,” said Emanuel Azenberg, who produced nine Broadway shows directed by Mr. Saks, including eight written by Mr. Simon. “He would say, ‘This is funny,’ in a very serious way. And you’d laugh, because that was funny. All of those fundamentals — pacing, timing, line readings — that had to do with: If you said it this way it would be funny, but if you said it another way it wouldn’t be funny. That’s what he was good at.”