Jeepers, Creepers, It’s Mister Peepers

Mister Peepers was one of the first popular sitcoms.  It aired from July of 1952 until June of 1955. The show starred Wally Cox as Robinson J. Peepers. Peepers was a junior high school science teacher. A great cast surrounded him including history teacher Harvey Weskit (Tony Randall), Harvey’s wife Marge (Georgann Johnson), county nurse Nancy Remington (Patricia Benoit), English teacher Mrs. Gurney (Marion Lorne), and athletic coach Frank Whip (Jack Warden). (In the pilot, the coach was played by Walter Matthau.) Peepers developed a relationship with nurse Nancy, and her parents (Ernest Truex and Sylvia Field) also became part of the cast.

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The show featured some slapstick as well but it was not the primary form of humor. In one episode, the uncoordinated Mr. Peepers was playing basketball in the gym alone and somehow got stuck in the basket. In order to fulfill the evening obligations that he promised, he brings Mrs. Gurney’s flower club into the gym so he can lecture to them about potting soil while playing chess with a rival school’s champion as promised to Mr. Gurney.

Photo: wikiwant.com

Mr. Peepers is kind. In one episode, after injuring his finger, absent-minded Mrs. Gurney tries to help by bandaging it.  In addition to using half a roll of tape, Robinson informs Nancy that she bandaged the wrong finger.

Mister Peepers is a likable guy. He has some eccentric characteristics which make us like him even more. For example, he has an elaborate ritual to get his locker to open; on bring your pet to school day, he has to hide a cow; and sometimes he does things we all want to. On one episode, he comes upon a hopscotch board on the sidewalk and just like we would want to do, he plays it not realizing his girlfriend is watching him. However, Robinson has a bit of rebellion and sarcasm that keeps him from being too much of a goody-two-shoes.

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Tony Randall’s character Harvey was supposed to be a small role, but the producers liked him so much he became a regular. He is best friends with Robinson but they couldn’t be more different. Harvey is a lady’s man. However, Mr. Peepers only has eyes for Nancy even though it takes her a while to realize he is interested in her. The couple ties the not in 1954, producing a huge ratings boost.

In real life, Cox was experiencing the same situation when he married Marilyn Gennaro about the same time. When Benoit became pregnant in real life, she was also pregnant on the show.

When the Peepers found out they were having a baby, American Character Dolls Co wanted to make a “Peepers Baby Doll” in 1955. Polling indicated that viewers were hoping for a girl, so it went into production. Mister Peepers was cancelled before the doll debuted, but the company sold it anyway, although they did change the name.

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The show was aired live with an audience of 2500 at the New Century Theatre in New York. Preserved on 16mm kinescopes, there are currently 102 of the original 127 episodes in existence.  The kinescopes are being preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and a DVD set has been produced.

The Ford Motor Company needed a summer replacement on Thursday nights so Mister Peepers debuted then. NBC decided it was too much pressure to do a live show, so it was cancelled. Fans were irate. After 2000 people called to complain and 15000 letters were received, the network had second thoughts, but their schedule was full.

MR. PEEPERS — Aired 09/15/1953 — Pictured: (l-r) Wally Cox as Robinson Peepers, Tony Randall as Harvey Weskitt (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

However, that fall, an opening occurred when Doc Corkle was cancelled after only three episodes. How bad does a show have to be to get axed after three episodes in 1952? I don’t know, but the summary of the show is that “Doc is a dentist plagued with money problems, teenage daughter problems, and a screwball stepsister Melinda.”

It says a lot about the quality of Mister Peepers that it was rated so highly and watched by so many fans because it was up against Private Secretary with Ann Sothern and The Jack Benny Show on Sunday nights. Tough competition.

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Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Critics liked the show and it was nominated for best situation comedy for the Emmys in 1953, 1954, and 1955. Wally Cox, Tony Randall, and Marion Lorne were all nominated as well. Each of the years the show was nominated it went up against Our Miss Brooks, Burns and Allen, and I Love Lucy which won in 1953 and 1954; Make Room for Daddy won in 1955. NBC made Wally Cox postcards which they handed out to tourists on the lot.

Wally Cox was an interesting guy. He was a brilliant man who studied acting with Stella Adler. His roommate was Marlon Brando whom he had been best friends with since grade school. His mother and grandmother were writers, and his dad was in advertising. Before he was able to earn a living in acting, he taught the lindy hop for $1.50 a lesson and made cuff links and tie clasps. While doing part-time jobs, he began doing standup at clubs like The Blue Angel and Village Vanguard.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will remember him only for his appearances on Hollywood Squares and as the voice of Underdog the cartoon hero. He was also famous for a Jockey Shorts commercial when he quipped, “Outside I might look like Wally Cox but inside I feel like Tyrone Power.” He passed away much too early, dying from a heart attack at 48.

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Although Wally Cox was not Mister Peepers, their humor was similar. Cox wasn’t brash but he experienced life with a quiet subtle manner and was a genuinely funny guy. In discussing his time on the show, Cox said, “Mr. Peepers put me on the map and I love him.” I’m sure like many actors who were stereotyped early in their career, it was a bit of a love/hate relationship.  I’m sure you will love him too if you are able to watch some of the episodes.  Retro TV aired them in the past, but I don’t see the show on its current schedule. I also found the DVDs on amazon.com. Happy viewing!

This Doctor Made House Calls Every Monday Night

As we wind up our blog series, “The Movie Came First,” we finish with a show from the late seventies, House Calls. The original movie hit the big screen in 1978. The description of the movie is that Charley is a surgeon who’s recently lost his wife. He embarks on a tragicomic romantic quest with one woman after another until he meets up with Ann, a single woman, closer to his own age, who immediately and unexpectedly captures his heart.

House Calls (1978) movie posters
Photo: cinematerial.com

Walter Matthau played Charley and Glenda Jackson was Ann. Art Carney and Richard Benjamin were cast as friends and doctors who work with Walter. Max Shulman and Julius Epstein wrote the screenplay.

Jump ahead to 1979 and we find House Calls on the television schedule. The writers/creators are still Julius Epstein and Max Shulman. The same four top characters are featured but I thought it was interesting that only three of them got new names. Instead of Charley Nichols, we now have Wayne Rogers as Charley Michaels, Lynn Redgrave took on the role of Ann Anderson in place of Ann Atkinson. Charley’s coworkers are Amos Weatherby played by David Wayne where the original character was Amos Willoughby but Benjamin’s Norman Solomon role is now Normon Solomon, just one vowel change played by Ray Butenika. If there is a meaning behind the names, I never learned about it. Charley and Normon are the Hawkeye and Trapper of the hospital community and Willoughby is the senior doctor who tries to reign them in and doesn’t fire them only because they’re such good doctors.

In this version of the story, Charley and Ann are dating. He’s a surgeon at a San Francisco hospital and she is the new administrative assistant. He doesn’t like to conform to rules, while she insists on it, so while they are dating in their personal life, they often butt heads in the work life.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Redgrave and Rogers had a great chemistry and apparently the relationship of the three doctors provided a lot of funny situations. Providing additional humor were practical head nurse Bradley played by Aneta Corsaut, an older but enthusiastic candy striper Mrs. Phipps played by Deedy Peters, and everyone’s favorite character to hate, Conrad Peckler (Mark Taylor), the executive who was trying to bring order to the hospital.

Fans and critics liked the show; Redgrave was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but lost the Emmy to Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons in 1981.

1980 TV Guide Ad Mash "Christmas" EPS House Calls "Christmas" EPS CBS TV |  Tv guide, 1980s tv shows, Holiday movie

CBS scheduled the show for Monday nights after MASH, Rogers’ previous show. Its competition was Monday Night Football/Baseball on ABC and The Monday Night Movie on NBC. The show stayed on Monday nights for its final two years up against Flamingo Road on ABC and depending on the time of year, Monday Night Football or Dynasty on NBC. The first season it was in the top 20; the second year, it jumped to the top ten and the third season it was in the top 30.

During season three, Lynn Redgrave left the show. There is some confusion as to why she left. Universal Television claimed there was a dispute about her salary; Redgrave insisted it was because the studio would not allow her to breastfeed her baby between takes.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Her leave was explained on the show by Charley reading a letter out loud to the staff that she had gone back to England to marry her former husband. After more than two years of the relationship developing between Ann and Charley, I’m guessing that the audience didn’t buy the abrupt ending of their romance. Sharon Gless was brought in as Jane Jeffries who develops a similar relationship with Charley. I’m also assuming that fans weren’t thrilled to think Charley would jump right into a new relationship with Ann’s replacement and the chemistry just wasn’t the same. The network cancelled the show after season three even though it was still in the top 25.

1982 Press Photo-Sharon Gless-House Calls - Sitcoms Online Photo Galleries
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In an interview on “Pop Goes the Culture,” Rogers discussed the show. He said that he loved his time on House Calls. He related that the pilot had been filmed with another actor and for whatever reason, they needed to replace him and called Rogers to see if he was willing to take over the role.

He said he truly enjoyed working with Redgrave and she was very gifted. He wasn’t sure how much of her firing had to do with the baby demands and how much was subterfuge for more money, but she was managed by her husband at the time and the entire situation backfired. Rogers especially loved her use of language, and they would sometimes improvise tongue twisters into the script.

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He said like MASH, the show took a serious subject and turned it on its head. One of his favorite episodes had to do with medical marijuana. The older Willoughby was growing pot in the hospital for his patients’ use. He said it was a very funny episode. Rogers wrote two episodes and directed three of them. He talked about one of the shows he wrote, “Institutional Food” which he took a different take on hospital food which was always stereotyped as bad. In this situation, the hospital had a Mexican chef whom everyone liked. He didn’t have a green card and was getting ready to be deported, so the hospital staff was trying to come up with a solution. Finally, Charley decides to adopt this man as his son so he could continue to cook for them.

Rogers was very upset they took the show off the air. They were currently the eleventh most popular show when it was cancelled. He said he wrote a letter to the head of the network programming and to Bill Paley to protest. Paley invited him to lunch in his private quarters but refused to put the show back on the air.

I did find several episodes of the show on YouTube but did not see the DVDs available. I have to admit I saw this show infrequently and never saw the original movie, so I will add that to my list of things to watch in the future. This one sounded like a fun show, but I guess if I’m going to watch Wayne Rogers as a doctor, I’d rather continue watching reruns of MASH. It makes you wonder how long the show would have lasted if the network had not fired Redgrave.

Heigh-Ho Louis Nye!

Finishing off our “Men of November” series is Louis Nye.  If you watched television in the sixties, you will recognize Louis, but you might not know why.

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Born Louis Neistat in Connecticut in 1917, he was the son of parents who emigrated to the US from the Russian Empire and became naturalized citizens in 1911. Louis wanted to get involved in acting but his grades weren’t good enough for him to participate in the drama club.  He opted for work on WTIC Radio instead. He also joined the Hartford Players.

The work on local radio led to his decision to move to New York City to work on the radio, often on soap operas. Nye married songwriter Anita Leonard in 1940. Unlike many Hollywood couples, they remained married until Nye’s death.

**FILE** Steve Allen, third from left, and some of the original cast members of the popular 1950’s television show, “Steve Allen Show,” gathered in Beverly Hills, Calif. in this Oct. 4, 1990 file photo to honor Allen and to celebrate the re-broadcast of 100 episodes of his show on HA! TV Comedy Channel. They are, from left: Tom Poston, Don Knotts, Allen, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington Jr., and Bill Dana. Nye died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with lung cancer, his son, Peter Nye, told The Associated Press on Monday. He was 92. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, FILE)

World War II interrupted his career. He was assigned to run the recreation hall in Missouri. He would entertain troops and was able to meet Carl Reiner, who had a similar sense of humor, and who was also part of Special Services performing in shows across the Pacific.

With Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows Photo: nytimes.com

After the war ended, he returned to New York, getting jobs on television and appearing on Broadway. His first tv role was on The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. He appeared on several shows during the fifties but was best known for his work on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show and the New Steve Allen Show. He became close to the entire cast which included Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington Jr., Dayton Allen, Gabriel Dell, and Bill Dana. Nye often portrayed wealthy citizens during the “Man on the Street” sketches. When he took on the role of Gordon Hathaway, the egotistical Country Club snob, saying “Hi-ho Steverino,” Allen often cracked up. When the show moved to Los Angeles, Nye went with it.

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His first recurring role was that of dentist Delbert Gray on The Ann Sothern Show in 1960 and 1961. He was very busy during the sixties, appearing on a variety of shows including The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Show, Mike Douglas, The Munsters, Jackie Gleason, and Phyllis Diller. From 1962-66, he would pop in on The Beverly Hillbillies as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled stepson of banker Milburn Drysdale.

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In the seventies, he could be seen on shows such as Laugh-In, Love American Style, Laverne and Shirley, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island. He was offered a permanent role on Needles and Pins in 1973. The show only lasted for 14 episodes. The series was about the garment industry. Women’s clothing manufacture Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) works with a group of employees including characters played by Nye and Bernie Kopell.  It didn’t receive great reviews and many of the writers said it talked about the garment industry but showed very little and was set in one small spot, inhibiting what plots were even available.

During those decades Nye would also get offers on the big screen from time to time but most of the roles were smaller cameo parts. However, he appeared with a lot of celebrities in these epics including Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, and Jack Webb.

He also recorded several comedy albums using several of his characterizations. One of his most successful LPs was “Heigh-Ho Madison Avenue.” It parodied market research, advertising agencies and post-WWII society.  Some of the pieces on the album include “The Gray Flannel Blues,” “The Ten Commandments of Madison Avenue (Plus Big Bonus Commandments),” and “The Conspicuous Consumption Cantata.”

Asea on the Love Boat
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He continued to keep busy in the eighties on a variety of shows including Here’s Boomer, Aloha Paradise, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, and St. Elsewhere.

Curb Your Enthusiasm Photo: youtube.com

His last role was another recurring one where he played Jeff Garlin’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm from 2000-2005. Nye passed away from lung cancer in 2005.

I’m not sure what to think about Nye’s career.  I think in the right role, he would have excelled in a television comedy or a big screen epic which he never had the opportunity to do. He was multi-talented and appeared on Broadway, in clubs, and on the radio, and he created comedy albums as well as appearing in movies and television. However, I often read quotes of his where he said he only wanted to be funny at parties and always considered himself a serious actor. He was so brilliant and funny with his 15 accents and wide range of characterizations that he seemed pigeon-holed as a comedy character actor early in his career. I wondered if he was sad that he never had the chance to appear in a classic drama, or if he accepted his successful career for what it was, just being thankful he was in the entertainment industry for his entire working life.

Photo: wikifandom.com

Since we cannot ask him directly, all we can do is tip our hats to him in appreciation for the decades of laughter and entertainment he provided for us. Thank you, Mr. Nye.

Celebrating Fifty Years of The Odd Couple

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The Odd Couple debuted in 1970. Today we are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with fifty fun facts.

Fifty Fun Facts

  • 1. Although the show was based on The Odd Couple, a movie written by Neil Simon, Simon did not want his name associated with the television show. However, once he began watching it and realized the quality of the show, he changed his mind and made an appearance during the fifth season in “Two on the Aisle.”
  • 2. The Odd Couple was based on Simon’s brother and a friend of his who were living together and having some conflict. While watching their interactions, he decided it would be a great idea for a play.
  • 3. The Odd Couple had many lives: it began as a play, was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1968, a tv show in 1970, a revised play about women, another tv show starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon in 2015 which was on the air three years.
  • 4. In 1982, an African American version of the show was created starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. Called The New Odd Couple, it wasn’t new because it used the original eight scripts from the Klugman-Randall series. It was canceled part way through the season.
  • 5. The show was developed by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson.
  • 6. The Odd Couple first aired on Friday, the 13th (November 13, 1970).
  • 7. Garry Marshall appears in four different episodes: the one mentioned in fact #3 and as a drummer and as Man 1 and Man 2.
  • 8. Garry’s sister Penny Marshall played Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner. On her last appearance, she marries a man named “Sheldn” (the “o” had been eliminated from his birth certificate. Sheldn was played by Rob Reiner, Penny’s husband at the time. Garry and his sister Ronnie played Myrna’s siblings Werner and Verna in the same episode.
  • 9. Oscar’s ex-wife Blanche was played by his real wife, Brett Somers. During the show Brett Somers and Jack Klugman got a divorce in real life.
  • 10. The Odd Couple ran on Broadway for 964 performances.
  • 11. In 1985, Simon rewrote the play with female leads, Olive and Florence. Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers were the leads.
  • 12. Originally Dean Martin and Art Carney were considered for the part of Felix.
  • 13. Both Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam were considered for the role of Oscar.
  • 14. Actor Richard Stahl appears in nine different episodes as nine different characters.
  • 15. Jerry Paris, Jerry Helper from The Dick Van Dyke Show, directed 18 of The Odd Couple episodes.
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  • 16. Oscar plays poker regularly with a group of guys including Murray, Roy, Speed, and Vinnie. Sometimes Felix is allowed to play with them.
  • 17. Murray’s wife who is often talked about but seen in only one episode is Mimi.
  • 18. A cartoon was created for Saturday mornings called “The Oddball Couple.” Spiffy and Fleabag, a cat and dog, are based on Oscar and Felix.
  • 19. The first season was filmed in the same apartment as the 1968 move with one camera and a laugh track. Randall hated that set-up and the next year they began using three cameras and filmed in front of a live audience.
  • 20. Oscar and Felix were said to live at 1049 Park Avenue in New York which was a real address. The actual building was used during the opening credits and exterior shots. Usually a 1966 Ford four-door station wagon or a red VW Beatle are often seen outside the building. The actual tenants got mail for Oscar and Felix.
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  • 21. One problem the producers had was how to show Oscar was a slob and Felix a neatnik. They couldn’t have the kitchen or living room messy because obviously Felix would keep it clean. Finally, they decided to create Oscar’s bedroom and it was always a mess.
  • 22. During the first season of the show, the guys date two English sisters, the Pigeon sisters, who live in the same apartment building.
  • 23. The Odd Couple was not a ratings success and every season, it was up for cancellation. The summer rerun ratings saved it each year.
  • 24. For some reason, there were inconsistent stories on the show about how Felix and Oscar met. One episode said they were childhood friends. Several references talk about how they met in the army. One episode told the story of how they met while serving on jury duty together.
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  • 25. Howard Cosell was brought onto the show to help boost ratings. That was a bit of a gamble since Cosell was voted most loved and most hated sportscaster.
  • 26. Tony’s middle name is Leonard and his sister’s name is Edna. Those were the names given to Felix’s two children on the show.
  • 27. Monty Hall showed up twice on the show. He and Oscar had been college roommates.
  • 28. Oscar’s favorite meal is lasagna with French fries and Boston cream pie is his favorite dessert.
  • 29. Don’t let Oscar order pizza. When he orders one with the works, it includes a fried egg on top.
  • 30. Felix and Murray played in a band that featured 1930s music called The Sophisticatos. In one episode they had to play country music and changed their name to Red River Unger and his Saddle Sores.
  • 31. Oscar’s middle name is Trevor.
  • 32. When Elinor Donahue was hired to play Miriam, Felix’s girlfriend, her last name was Welby. Donahue worked on Father Knows Best with Robert Young who later went on to star in Marcus Welby MD.
  • 33. Klugman and Randall recorded an album “The Odd Couple Sings” for London Records.
  • 34. ABC always wanted guest stars on the show to boost the ratings, so the writers started including guest stars that would not boost the ratings, opera singers and ballet dancers for instance, which drove the network crazy.
  • 35. In one episode, singer Richard Fredericks is injured playing in one of Oscar’s soft ball games so Oscar has to stand in for Fredericks in Rigoletto, an opera that Felix was producing.
  • 36. Like Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, Jack and Tony used to crack each other up. On one episode they dress as a horse to appear on Let’s Make a Deal. Klugman had to hide himself because he was laughing so hard.
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  • 37. Klugman’s favorite episode was when the two friends made an appearance on Password with Allen Ludden and Betty White. Felix, who had always wanted to be on the game show, caused a lot of problems on the show and eventually they threw him off the show. His adlib when that happened was “Oh, boy, what a gyp.” Klugman said that was how he felt when Tony died.
  • 38. You can always tell when Felix is really upset because he begins honking.
  • 39. In one episode, Dick Clark plays himself as a radio DJ. He calls Oscar to let him know he has won a new car.
  • 40. Both Willie Aames and Leif Garrett play Leonard, Felix’s son. They would both go on to successful careers and they would both act in the same show again when they appeared on Family.
  • 41. When Oscar tries a dating service, he uses the fake name of Andre La Plume and ends up on a date with Felix’s ex-wife.
  • 42. When Oscar saves Felix’s life, Felix attempts to play “Home on the Range” on his saxophone to thank him.
  • 43. On one episode, the train breaks down in a tunnel. Felix decides to entertain the passengers with an improvised hand puppet he calls Harvey Hankie.
  • 44. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall promoted several products together. They did commercials for the game Yahtzee and their photo was on the box for years. They also did a promotion for Eagle Snacks and Yoplait yogurt.
  • 45. Klugman believed in syndication of the show. He convinced Randall to give up part of his salary for the syndication rights. It was the right move, and they made a lot of money after the show was cancelled.
  • 46. Both Klugman and Randall were up for Emmys every year the show was on. Jack won in 1971 and 1973. When Randall won in 1975, the show had been cancelled and he mentioned during his acceptance speech that he wished he had a job.
  • 47. The final episode had two planned endings. Felix and his ex-wife are getting remarried and Oscar is getting his home back. If the series didn’t get picked up, the marriage took place. If the series did get picked up, the wedding was cancelled by Gloria because Felix was so picky about the wedding details.
  • 48. In 1993, Randall and Klugman worked together filming a television movie called The Odd Couple: Together Again. Klugman had gone through throat cancer treatments and this was written into the movie script. The plot of the movie is Felix helping Oscar recover and becoming overly involved in his daughter’s wedding.
  • 49. Although Klugman didn’t appreciate what the show meant to people when it first began, later in life, he said “he would have people come up and tell him, ‘I grew up with you. I sat on the couch with my mother or my father, and we laughed with you.’ And suddenly the people have faces, and names, and feelings. It’s been invigorating! You know, you don’t count on that; you don’t know that you’re really entertaining people or having an effect on people’s lives. I had a guy from Sports Illustrated who did an interview with me say he became a sportswriter because I was a sportswriter on The Odd Couple. Yeah, it’s like wow, you’re kidding. Now I’m getting this in person, and I really love it.”
  • 50. Randall and Klugman became life-long friends while working on the series. They developed a close bond. Because they both had a lot of character, they became close and helped take care of each other in old age.

“I’m a neurotic nut, but you’re crazy!”

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Today we learn about the story behind The Odd Couple.  I think that this show is one of the most under-appreciated shows out there. It came at a time when shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and M*A*S*H were being acclaimed for their sophisticated writing and depth of characters.  The Odd Couple achieved these same credentials. Garry Marshall learned the importance of character-driven scripts during his time writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Ironically, Marshall wrote 18 scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 18 episodes for The Odd Couple.

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In March of 1965, the play debuted. Written by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple was based on the real-life experiences of his brother Danny. The play ran for 966 performances and was nominated for a Tony that year. In 1968, a movie was made starring Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger. Simon signed away his television rights. When Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson developed the series, it was listed as “Neil Simon’s Odd Couple. Simon objected to his name being associated with the show, because he said he did not know what the writing would be like. His name was removed, but he did come to appreciate the series, and he had a cameo role in the episode “Two on the Aisle” in 1974.

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The show was on the air for five years from 1970-1975, producing 114 episodes. Tony Randall was hired first.  Both Dean Martin and Art Carney were considered for the part of Felix. Randall was pushing for Mickey Rooney to get the role of Oscar.  Martin Balsam was also under consideration. Garry Marshall fought hard for Jack Klugman, and eventually Klugman received the part. Both Randall and Klugman had starred in different versions of the play.

The show was on the verge of cancellation every year, but the summer ratings were always so high that the show continued to be renewed. Jack Klugman had high hopes for the syndication of the show, and he convinced Tony Randall to give up part of his salary for syndication rights. Klugman was right; in the 1980s, the show was on the air on several channels. Although the show never cracked the top 30, critics liked the show and it was nominated for an Emmy three times for Outstanding Comedy Series. Both Klugman and Randall were nominated for Emmys every year the show was on the air for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Performance; Klugman won in 1971 and 1973 while Randall took home the award in 1975.

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This was the memorable introduction to the show each week:

“On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (A door slams shut, only to reopen and we see someone angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”

Bill Woodson narrated the opening. The actions of the two leads during the credits changed a bit from year to year but centered around Oscar being a slob and Felix being a neat freak.

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There were several variations about how Felix and Oscar met.  As you can see in the opening, they were mentioned as being childhood friends. However, in the first season, one of the episodes recalled a murder trial where Felix and Oscar were jurors, claiming they met then.  Later several episodes mentioned them meeting in the Army. In Season 3, the word “childhood” was removed from the opening segment.

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During the first season, the show was filmed in the same apartment as the movie version. It was done with one camera and a laugh track.  For the second and subsequent years, three cameras were used, and the laugh track was replaced by a live audience.

Oscar and Felix lived at 1049 Park Avenue, an existing address in New York. The actual building was used for the opening credits and exterior shots. Almost all the exterior shots feature two cars: a 1966 Ford 4-door station wagon and a red VW Beatle. Fans still visit the building, and occasionally mail is delivered for Oscar or Felix.

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Many of the show’s details were adapted from real life. Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife and just happened to be his ex-wife in real life. Oscar and Klugman both followed horse racing. Oscar wrote for the New York Herald.  The Herald did exist from 1835-1924 when it merged with the Tribune.

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Felix’s kids were named Edna and Leonard. Tony Randall’s middle name was Leonard, and his sister’s name was Edna. Felix moved out of the house November 13, Garry Marshall’s birthday. Randall and Felix both had an appreciation for opera and classical music.

oscar and felix

Oscar was a hot dog and beer guy while Felix was a filet mignon and red wine person.

ABC was always worried about the issue of homosexuality. As a prank, Klugman and Randall would occasionally provide improvised dialogue to send to the network just to get them worked up.

As mentioned earlier, Brett Somers played Oscar’s ex-wife. Randall’s ex-wife Gloria was played by Janis Hansen. Pamela Ferdin had the role of Edna, while the role of Leonard was played by two different actors who would both go on to become teen idols: Willy Aames and Leif Garrett.

Al Molinaro played Murray the cop, the guys’ friend and one of the regular poker players. Penny Marshall played Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner. Elinor Donahue played Miriam Welby who was Felix’s girlfriend until the last season. The last episode of the series reunites Felix and Gloria who remarry.

There were many celebrity guest stars on the show for the five-year run, and many of them played themselves. Some of the famous faces to appear on the show include Martina Arroyo, Roone Arledge, Dick Clark, Roy Clark, Howard Cosell, Richard Dawson, Richard Fredricks, Monty Hall, Hugh Hefner, Billy Jean King, Allen Ludden, Jaye P. Morgan, Bobby Riggs, Bubba Smith, Betty White, Paul Williams, and Wolfman Jack. Garry Marshall shows up four different times on the show–as a drummer, as Werner Turner, and as Man 1 and Man 2.

Two of the best-loved episodes were “Password” and “Fat Farm.”

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In “Password,” Oscar Madison  is invited to be a celebrity guest on Password after he runs into the show’s host, Allen Ludden, and his wife, Betty White, at a restaurant. Because  Felix loves Password, he begs Oscar to accept the invitation, and to bring Felix along as his partner. During the taping, Felix overthinks every clue. When Oscar says “meat,” Felix says “Lincoln” (because “Lincoln loved mayonnaise”). When the password is “bird,” Felix gives Oscar the clue “Aristophanes” (because Aristophanes wrote The Birds). “If Charlie Chan had these clues, he’d be running a laundry,” Oscar grumbles. But the game isn’t a total disaster. When Oscar gets the password “ridiculous,” he gives Felix the clue “Aristophanes” right back, and Felix responds correctly. The friends lose the game but not their friendship.

In “Fat Farm,” proving he’s in top shape, Felix stands on his head and jumps onto a desk (earning Randall applause from the audience), while Oscar can barely make it through a couple of push-ups. Oscar rationalizes why he should not go on Felix’s annual two-week visit to a health camp–“I like my blubber! It keeps me warm, it keeps me company, it keeps my pants up!.” Felix wears him down, so Oscar goes along. It makes him crazy that the camp serves imaginary desserts and bans food from the bedrooms. Soon Oscar discovers a delicatessen just down the road and undertakes a smuggling operation.

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall developed a very close and life-lasting friendship during the years they appeared together as Oscar and Felix. After the show was cancelled, they continued to see each other often. They performed in regional productions of The Odd Couple from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. They appeared in commercials as Felix and Oscar for Yoplait yogurt, Yahtzee, and Eagle snacks. They even recorded an album “The Odd Couple Sings” for London Records.

On March 23, 2001, Larry King Live featured Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. This clip from the show gives us a good idea of what their friendship meant to them.

KING: Was it as much fun doing it, Tony, as it appeared there?

RANDALL: Yes, yeah. Especially working with Jack. It sounds as if I’m saying the right thing, but it’s true. But acting has always been fun for me. I’d rather act than do almost anything else.

KING: Did you — Jack, was this a natural simpatico between the two of you? It just happened?

KLUGMAN: Oh yeah, it happened so beautifully. Like, we had maybe five pages that would remain — from Monday when we read the script — five pages would remain by Friday by the time we did it.

If for instance, he had to teach me manners, it would be Tony teaches Jack manners, and it would be four blank pages, and then we’d improvise. And he’s the best improviser in the world. He taught me how to improvise. People when they improvise, they talk, talk, trying to fill time. He would provoke — I had to teach him football, right? He knows it, he watches sports all the time. But instead of — I said, all right, now get down, so he came next to me. So, I said we’re not the Rockettes, come over here. And then he put his face right here, and I said, I don’t want to dance with you. So, he would provoke you into saying something funny. That’s true improvisation. It was wonderful. I had a great time. I learned a lot.

KING: Was it natural for you too, you and him?

RANDALL: It just clicked.

KING: It just clicked?

RANDALL: That doesn’t always happen.

KING: No.

RANDALL: It doesn’t even happen always with good actors.

KING: You could put two good actors and put them together, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work, right?

RANDALL: That’s right, that’s right.

KING: So, there has to be a natural chemistry?

RANDALL: A spark. You can’t explain, you can’t predict it.

KLUGMAN: But you also, if I may say, you both got to want the same thing, which is the best show you can put on. See, I mean, we were not interested in billing or in stardom. We wanted this to be the best show we could. And we never had any of that, I should get more, he should get more. We never, ever had that kind of argument, never. We may have discussed what’s funny to him, what’s funny to me, and we’d work it out. But it was wonderful that way. There was no jealousy.

. . .

CALLER: And I was very touched by that, and I was wondering if you could tell us how much your friendship has played a part in your life and your careers and forgive me if you’ve already talked about that.

KING: Good question. Tony?

RANDALL: Well, perhaps this is an odd thing to say. I’ve had almost no friends in my life. Very few. You count them on this many fingers, so the friendship with Jack is pretty important.

KING: Why?

RANDALL: I don’t know. I was married for 54 years. And we didn’t have children, and we were sufficient to each other. And we didn’t have friends. We were just a little world. And we were happy. And we had almost no social life. And my friendship with Jack just grew and it was about the only friendship I had.

KING: Do you agree The Odd Couple is about friendship?

RANDALL: It’s about male bonding, absolutely. That’s what the play’s about.

KING: Jack, what kind of friend is Tony Randall to you?

KLUGMAN: He’s the best.

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Tony Randall passed away in 2004 at age 84 from pneumonia following heart surgery. Following Randall’s death, Jack Klugman authored a book with Burton Rocks titled Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship which was published in August of 2005. He wanted to pay a tribute to his friend and hoped to raise money through royalties which would enable a theater to be named in honor of Randall. Klugman talks about the Broadway that existed when they were young and how it influenced each of them. He said Randall founded the National Actors Theater with $8,000,000. He worked diligently to promote it from 1991 when it opened until his death in 2004. And he paid $35,000 a week to bring local students in to expose them to good theater. After his death, it disbanded.

I could not find a Tony Randall Theater, but I was able to locate the Tony Randall Theatrical Fund which supports “nonprofit theater companies, innovative productions, initiatives in art education, and arts-based community outreach programs.”

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In commenting on Randall’s death, Klugman said “My favorite episode of The Odd Couple was one where we were on Password. They were throwing Tony off the show, and he had a great adlib. He said, ‘Oh, boy, what a gyp!’ And that’s the way I feel now. What a gyp.”

Jack Klugman died in 2012 from prostrate cancer at the age of 90.

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It’s nice to learn that Felix and Oscar were truly the friends we thought them to be in real life. With all the articles currently being written about the lack of male friendships and how detrimental that is on men’s health, these two were good role models.

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In 2005, the American Booksellers Association posted an interview with Klugman on November 3, written by Tom Nolan. Jack was discussing some of the book events he attended and what it meant to him to talk with viewers who watched and enjoyed The Odd Couple. He received intimate feedback from strangers about why the show was important to them. He said “You know you do a show, and you do the best you can. We used to work until eleven o’clock every night on The Odd Couple, to make it good. Now it’s 30 years since it’s been off the air, and I go around, and people say: ‘I grew up with you. I sat on the couch with my mother or my father, and we laughed with you.’ And suddenly the people have faces, and names, and feelings. It’s been invigorating! You know, you don’t count on that; you don’t know that you’re really entertaining people or having an effect on people’s lives. I had a guy from Sports Illustrated who did an interview with me say he became a sportswriter because I was a sportswriter on The Odd Couple. Yeah, it’s like wow, you’re kidding. Now I’m getting this in person, and I really love it.”

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We all thank you Jack Klugman and Tony Randall for the entertainment you provided and the friendship you created!