Klugman Remembers 'Odd Couple' Partner with Book
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Jack Klugman and Tony Randall where television's odd couple for just five seasons in the 1970s, although syndication makes it seems like they've been around forever. Tony Randall died in 2004. Jack Klugman battled throat cancer for years. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg paid a visit to Mr. Klugman, who's written a memoir about his friendship with his other half.
SUSAN STAMBERG reporter:
Here's the message on Jack Klugman's answering machine in Malibu.
(Soundbite of answering machine)
Mr. JACK KLUGMAN (Actor): So I missed your call, big deal. Leave a message and I'll get back to you. I'm old.
STAMBERG: Feisty, gruff, even grouchy on tape and TV, in person, 84-year old Jack Klugman is a rumply teddy bear. His apartment overlooking the Pacific, is lined with photographs of him with some fellow actors.
Mr. KLUGMAN: Somebody said, write down the list of the stars that you've worked with. So I wrote them down. Even I was impressed. I mean, Bogart, and Garfield, and Cobb, Henry Fonda.
STAMBERG: But the actor Jack Klugman is most associated with is Tony Randall, his fussy, fastidious, roommate on the Odd Couple.
(Soundbite of the Odd Couple)
Mr. TONY RANDALL: (Acting as Felix Unger) Oh! No, no, no! What are you doing?
Mr. KLUGMAN: (Acting as Oscar Madison) Cleaning up.
Mr. RANDALL (as Felix Unger) You're cleaning up?
Mr. KLUGMAN (as Oscar Madison) I'm cleaning up the icebox.
STAMBERG: Why do you think the Odd Couple was such a hit?
Mr. KLUGMAN: First of all, the Damon and Pittheus story has always been appreciated, even Brokeback Mountain. Two guys, whether they're or whatever, that love each other, that's the secret of that play. You must love each other, but you can't live together. If you don't love each other, there's nothing. What I used to do at the series about Wednesday [unintelligible] it'd be very funny, but where is the love scene? Where is the scene were I say, Felix, you've gone too far now. I love you, but I can't go that far? Without that love scene, there's no problem; there's no conflict.
STAMBERG: The Klugman/Randall connection didn't begin as a love story. First, Tony Randall wanted Mickey Rooney to play Oscar. Then when producer Gary Marshall brought Klugman in, their first rehearsal was no love fest. Something Klugman did in one scene bothered Randall.
Mr. KLUGMAN: You mustn't yell, he said. I said to the guy, Marshal: look, it hasn't cost anybody any money except the plane fare, which I'll give you back. But I can't work with this guy. And Tony said, why not? I said, well, I wouldn't have the chutzpa to tell you how to act. How are you telling me how to act? He said, well, I'm only trying to help.
(Soundbite of the Odd Couple)
Mr. RANDALL: (As Felix) I'm not mad at you.
Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) What time is it?
Mr. RANDALL: (As Felix): 3:30.
Mr. KLUGMAN: (As Oscar) You're not mad at me? I'm mad at you!
STAMBERG: Jack Klugman and Tony Randall became friends in their five TV seasons together, but they didn't socialize much outside of work. Then in 1989, Klugman got throat cancer. During surgery, his right vocal cord was cut. He had no voice.
Mr. KLUGMAN: When one gets ill, his relationship moves up a notch or dissolves. And when I got ill, it moved up a notch. He was the first one there and he just devoted himself. I guess he knew how I felt about being an actor without a voice.
STAMBERG: Time passed, Klugman's phone rang. Jack, Tony calling. Randall asked Klugman to join him on stage for a single performance of the Odd Couple to benefit Randall's National Actor's Theatre.
Mr. KLUGMAN: When he called me I said, what are you smoking? I can't even talk to you on the telephone. But I was going to a teacher who said, tell him in six months you can do it.
STAMBERG: And six months later?
Mr. KLUGMAN: I did it. I went on. But before Oscar comes on, there are four poker players getting big laughs with normal voices; and I said, Tony, they won't hear me. They'll hear you. I promise you they'll hear you. I'll mike you and they'll hear you. So I said my first line, and I heard them moving in their seats uncomfortably, and I knew they couldn't hear me. I said, what am I doing here? It's like a free fall. I thought I would die. But I did go on and on, and finally, about two minutes later Felix said, what do you have to eat? I said, I have green sandwiches and brown sandwiches. He said, what's the brown? I said, it's either very new cheese or very old meat. And they laughed, and I knew the could hear me. They adjusted their hearing
STAMBERG: In his memoir, Tony and Me, Jack Klugman says he always felt more comfortable on stage than in life. He did theatre in New York in the early 1950s.
Mr. KLUGMAN: It was a great time. I saw Death of a Salesman five times. I paid $1.80. I used to walk down Broadway, and I'd look up 8th Avenue, and you would see plays by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, all these wonderful people for $1.80. I saw Streetcar 17 times. And every time I got in trouble or I didn't know how to handle a situation, I would go see Marlon and I would say, ah, you have to have courage. You have to have the courage of your conviction.
STAMBERG: In 1959, it took courage for Jack Klugman to sing in the musical, Gypsy. He auditioned for Broadway belter Ethel Merman.
Mr. KLUGMAN: She really wanted me. So she sang to me very quietly, and her voice cracked, and she went flat. But there was such love in it. She made such contact with me that I picked up the second chorus and I swear I sounded like Caruso. I heard people have religious experiences, and that's what I must have had. I just loved her. She was just my kind of gal.
(Soundbite of music from Gypsy)
STAMBERG: Gypsy led to Klugman's biggest break. Producer Gary Marshall saw the musical and tapped him for the Odd Couple, the start of his huge TV career and his life changing friendship with Tony Randall.
Mr. KLUGMAN: When he died, then I realized how much he had given me, how much he had opened me up to let my kids in. I never let anybody in before. I didn't know how much I loved him, how much he really meant to me until he left. That's why this book is written.
STAMBERG: Jack Klugman's book is called Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.
I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
(Soundbite of the Odd Couple)
Mr KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) Tell me what is love, Dear Abby?
Mr. RANDALL: (as Felix) What is love. What is love. Love is, love is, love is-two people running hand in hand through the fields, with the music playing-and they're running, and they're running, and they're running...
Mr. KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) That's not love, that's a toilet paper commercial.
MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host: And I'm Steve Inskeep.