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Tony Randall & Jack Klugman’s Extraordinary Friendship

By Andrew Burgon /
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November 25, 2013


Tony Randall Jack Klugman friendship
Image by ABC Television (eBat item photo front press release) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tony Randall & Jack Klugman Were the Odd Couple On and Off Screen Yet They Made Amazing Inroads into Each Other’s Life

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman will be forever associated with the television series, The Odd Couple. Tony Randall was Felix Unger, the commercial photographer who was meticulous and obsessed with cleanliness. Jack Klugman’s character was the sloppy and messy Oscar Madison who was a sports columnist. Randall and Klugman played their respective roles brilliantly and had an amazing amount of on-screen chemistry. This didn’t go unnoticed. Jack received two Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Tony received the same honor in the last year of the show. ABC televised the show from 1970 – 1975 though the show has been in syndication for many years. The friendship they shared was legendary.

The friendship was off to a bumpy start though. During a rehearsal with the producer of the Odd Couple, Gary Marshall, Randall told Klugman he shouldn’t yell his lines. Klugman didn’t like to be told how he should act and went so far as to say he couldn’t work with Randall. Randall replied he was only trying to be helpful and I’m sure many people were glad that they got over that initial bump in the road. Then there was Jack’s cigar smoking which would make Randall, an anti-smoker, feel uncomfortable. while waiting in a limousine together to begin shooting the opening credits he found he couldn’t tolerate Jack’s cigar smoke any longer. The producer ended up getting two limousines so Tony wouldn’t have to!

Despite the fact that they were an odd couple on and off screen they found themselves both making inroads friendship-wise and found common ground. They came to respect each others talents. They shared the same passion for acting. Then there was that chemistry between them when they were acting. Randall was never one to hog the best lines. He would sometimes go to the producer and suggest Klugman say the lines instead of himself.

Tony Randall felt with passion that America needed a national theater that would devote itself to keeping American classics on stage. He founded the National Actors Theater in 1991 and was chairman till his death in 2004. He reunited with Klugman to do benefit shows to help fund the theater company. Klugman was very supportive of his pal’s dream and it was his idea for them not to take any money for themselves as they brought The Odd Couple to many major cities. The money instead would go to the National Actors Theater. One of the classics they brought back to Broadway and starred in was Neil Simon’s Sunshine Boys.

Klugman crossed the country to see every new show his friend put on. He said Randall only had to ask him to take part in a show and he would because it was such a joy to work with him. When they were working together and traveling around to different theaters they would often be asked by a house manager who gets the honor of the star dressing room. They would just shrug their shoulders neither one wanting to hold out for it.

In the many interviews they did, they were very open about how they felt about each other and spoke about each other in warm, glowing terms. Looking back over his long friendship and professional relationship with Klugman, Randall acknowledged the great effect his friend had had on his life. He felt so indebted to him. After his death Klugman said in an interview with CNN, “A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognize.”

One of the interesting things I find about this friendship is that they didn’t socialize much outside of work. Not so surprising when they were doing the Odd Couple together and putting in between 12 to 15 hours a day. After the TV series they ended up living on different coasts and they didn’t have much in common. Randall himself admitted that he wasn’t very social preferring just to be with his wife when away from work. Their friendship was relegated to a column of life marked TV and Theater and what a remarkable friendship it turned out to be.

Klugman only realized when Randall died how much he had given him. That he had never opened up and let someone in like that before. He began to truly grasp the depth of his love for Randall and how much he meant to him. That is why he wrote a book as a tribute to his friend called Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship. It’s a simple, warm and touching memoir of how their deep and abiding friendship came about. It is obvious in the book that the two men had a lot of mutual affection for each other not to mention a deep respect for each other’s talents. In the chapter “How Tony Gave My Life Back” he fondly recalls Randall’s support and encouragement to return to acting during his bout with throat cancer. He put it down partly to Randall knowing how he felt being an actor without a voice. When Randall was ill during the last few months of his life, Klugman was there by his side. They were best of friends who loved each other very much.

“The real gift that Tony’s friendship gave me was the capacity to truly trust another human being completely. And that single act changed my life. What I didn’t get the chance to tell him was that our friendship had made me a better human being.”

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman were openly public about how they felt about each other. A man who often donated the money he would have earned for his performances on stage to help support and nurture his friend’s dream. A friendship that stretches from 1970 to 2004. A memoir written as a tribute to a close friend. I dare say these two will hold the number one spot in Project Fellowship’s Hall of Fame for a long time to come.

Thanks, Jack and Tony, for your wonderful performances and for your inspirational friendship.

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