Sam Simon left a big impression on those he worked with during his long run as a comedy writer, director and producer.
The co-creator of “The Simpsons” also made sure that his legacy would endure well beyond the screen, thanks to his well-documented effort to give away most of his fortune after he was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer in 2012. Simon died March 8 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 59.
Dan Castellaneta, a stalwart of “The Simpsons” as the voice of Homer and many other characters, also worked with Simon on three other series: Fox’s “The Tracey Ullman Show” and “The George Carlin Show” and ABC’s “Sibs.” Here Castellaneta shares memories of the writer-producer he credits with changing the course of his career. — Cynthia Littleton<
“I first met Sam while we were doing “The Tracey Ullman Show.” My first memory of him from those days was that although he had already been in the business for a while, he was still kind of a wunderkind.
He’d be sitting there with all these experienced guys — Jerry Belson, Jim Brooks — and there’d be times when people would be stuck for a line. I’d see Sam thinking and talking to himself, and then he would say something. At least 70% to 90% of the time, it would be a really great, succinct line. He directed a lot of ‘Tracey Ullman’ shows and we always had a blast working with him. Sam could interface with anybody, because he had such a wide variety of interests. He loved theater and movies and sports — we even talked about comicbooks. That’s what I remember most about Sam. He was a really funny, charismatic guy.
On ‘The Simpsons,’ he was incredibly influential in terms of how the room was run, and in terms of the tone of the show. He brought on a number of writers who are still with us today. (Current ‘Simpsons’ showrunner) Al Jean was a protege of Sam’s. Sam was our primary director for the first two or three years. He was instrumental in fine-tuning the voices. Sometimes I would come up with a voice for a character, and he would go, ‘Eh.’ We would keep at it and finally find the right one.
Sam was a really good director, because he was great with actors. He was very relaxed, but he constantly came up with ideas, and he was always open to ideas. He made it a great atmosphere to work, and on top of that, he was just fun to be around.
Sam was just instrumental in laying the template for how things run on ‘The Simpsons.’ To this day, we’re still working with his template.
Sam was very influential in my life and my career. I even wrote him a little note once to say that I was thankful for what he’d done. When somebody of his talent and ability says, ‘You’re good,’ that does a world of good for your confidence. Most actors don’t have that much confidence. I will always be very appreciative of his support.”