Tony Randall

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Tony Randall

Randall in 2003
BornArthur Leonard Rosenberg
(1920-02-26)February 26, 1920
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
DiedMay 17, 2004(2004-05-17) (aged 84)
New York City, New York, USA
Years active1940s–2003
Spouse(s)Florence Gibbs
(1942-1992; her death)
Heather Harlan
(1995-2004; his death; 2 children)
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Tony Randall

Randall in 2003
BornArthur Leonard Rosenberg
(1920-02-26)February 26, 1920
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
DiedMay 17, 2004(2004-05-17) (aged 84)
New York City, New York, USA
Years active1940s–2003
Spouse(s)Florence Gibbs
(1942-1992; her death)
Heather Harlan
(1995-2004; his death; 2 children)

Tony Randall (February 26, 1920 – May 17, 2004) was an American actor, comic, producer and director, best known for his role as Felix Unger in the television adaptation of Neil Simon's play, The Odd Couple.[1][2]


Early years

Randall was born Arthur Leonard Rosenberg, to a Jewish family, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of Julia (née Finston) and Mogscha Rosenberg, an art and antiques dealer.[3] He attended Tulsa Central High School.[4]

Randall attended Northwestern University for a year before traveling to New York City to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. He studied under Sanford Meisner and choreographer Martha Graham around 1935. As Anthony Randall, he worked onstage opposite stars Jane Cowl in George Bernard Shaw's Candida and Ethel Barrymore in Emlyn Williams's The Corn Is Green. Randall then served for four years with the United States Army Signal Corps in World War II, refusing an entertainment assignment with Special Services. Then he worked at the Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland before heading back to New York City. Prior to his appearance in "Candida", Randall worked as an announcer at radio station WTAG, Worcester MA.[5]


Randall began his career on the stage, appearing in minor roles on Broadway, and supporting roles on tours. In the 1940s one of his first breaks was playing "Reggie" on the long-running radio series I Love a Mystery. In 1946, he was cast as one of the brothers in a touring production of Katharine Cornell's revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street.[6] His first major role in a Broadway hit was in Inherit the Wind in 1955 portraying Newspaperman E. K. Hornbeck (based on real life cynic H. L. Mencken). In 1958, he played the leading role in the musical comedy Oh, Captain!, taking on a role originated on film by Alec Guinness. Oh, Captain! was a financial failure, but a personal success for Randall, who received glowing notices and a Tony Award nomination for his legendary dance turn with prima ballerina Alexandra Danilova.


Randall (left) with Jack Klugman in the publicity photo of The Odd Couple, 1972.

He is perhaps best known for his work on television. His breakthrough role was as history teacher Harvey Weskit in Mr. Peepers (1952–1955). He had the starring role in an NBC-TV special The Secret of Freedom which was filmed during the summer of 1959 in Mount Holly, New Jersey, and broadcast on the network during the fall of 1959 and again in early 1960.

After a long hiatus from the medium, he returned in 1970 as fussbudget Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, opposite Jack Klugman, a role he would keep for five years. The names of Unger's children on The Odd Couple were Edna and Leonard, named after Randall's sister and Randall himself. In 1974, Randall and Jack Klugman appeared in television spots endorsing a Yahtzee spinoff, Challenge Yahtzee. They appeared in character as Felix and Oscar, and the TV spots were filmed on the same set as The Odd Couple.

Subsequently, he starred in The Tony Randall Show, in which he played a Philadelphia judge, and Love, Sidney. In the TV movie that served as the latter show's pilot, Sidney Shorr was clearly written as a gay man, but his character's sexuality was made ambiguous when the series premiered. Disappointed by what he perceived as censorship (plus the series' lack of acceptance), Randall refused to star in any more television shows.

Randall was the host during the breaks for the October 30 – November 2, 1987 free preview of HBO's short-lived premium channel Festival.[7]

In September 1993, Randall and Jack Klugman reunited once again in the CBS-TV movie The Odd Couple: Together Again reprising their roles as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. The story began when, after Felix ruined plans for his daughter Edna's wedding, his wife Gloria threw him out of the house for 11 days, which left him no choice but to move back in with Oscar and to help him recover, getting him back in shape after throat cancer surgery left his voice very raspy.


He starred as nearly all of the leading characters in the 1964 cult classic film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, co-starring Barbara Eden. The film received an Oscar for William J. Tuttle's makeup artistry.

Randall's other film roles included Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957) Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), The Mating Game (1959), Pillow Talk (1959), Let's Make Love (1960), Boys' Night Out (1962), The Brass Bottle (1964), Hello Down There (1969), The King of Comedy (1983) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990).

The hand prints of Tony Randall in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

Pillow Talk was the first of three movies in which Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Randall all starred. Randall, by all accounts, ended up with the best lines ("It takes an early bird to take a worm like me"; on the crying Doris Day: "I never knew a woman that size had that much water in her", etc.). The other two are Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1963). Elements from the plots of these films, particularly Pillow Talk, were parodied in the 2003 comedy Down With Love, with Renée Zellweger in the Doris Day role, Ewan McGregor in the Rock Hudson role, and David Hyde Pierce as the Tony Randall character, with Randall himself playing McGregor's Boss.


In 1991, he founded the National Actors Theatre (ultimately housed at Pace University in New York City) where starred in The Inspector General(1994), Three Men on a Horse (1993), and gave his final stage performance in Luigi Pirandello's Right You Are (If You Think You Are) in 2003.

Periodically, he performed in stage revivals of The Odd Couple with Jack Klugman including a stint in London in 1996. The following year, Randall and Klugman reunited to appear on Broadway in a revival of The Sunshine Boys. From 1988 to 1990, he appeared in John Dexter's production of M. Butterfly.

Guest appearances

On September 4, 1955, Randall and Jack Klugman appeared together with Gena Rowlands in the episode "The Pirate's House" of the CBS anthology series, Appointment with Adventure.

Randall was a frequent and popular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and often spoke of his love of opera, claiming it was due in no small part to the salaciousness of many of the plotlines. He also admitted to (actually bragged about) sneaking tape recorders into operas to make his own private bootleg recordings. He would often chide Johnny Carson for his chain-smoking, and was generally fastidious and fussy, much like his Felix Unger characterization. He seemed to have a wealth of facts and trivia at his disposal, and he told Carson that the secret was simply "to retain everything you were supposed to have learned in elementary school." At the time of his death, Randall had appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show 105 times, more often than any other celebrity.

Randall appeared frequently on What's My Line?, Password, The Hollywood Squares, and the $10,000 and $20,000 Pyramids. He also sent up his somewhat pompous image with a single appearance as a "contestant" on The Gong Show in 1977.

First aired on October 11 of 1980, Randall was a guest star on the 5th and final season of The Muppet Show. This was the 100th episode of the show.

Randall, along with John Goodman and Drew Barrymore was one of the first guests on the debut episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien on 13 September 1993. He would also appear in Conan's 5th Anniversary Special with the character PimpBot 5000. Randall was also a frequent guest on both of David Letterman's late-night shows Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Show with David Letterman, making 70 appearances, according to his obituary in the Washington Post; Letterman said that Randall was one of his favorite guests, along with Regis Philbin.

On November 7, 1994, Randall appeared on the game show Jeopardy!, as part of a Special Edition Celebrity ''Jeopardy!'' episode, playing on behalf of the National Actors Theatre. He came in second place after General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and before Actress Stefanie Powers, with a final score of $9,900.[8]

In 1999, Randall was featured in the Simpsons episode "Maximum Homerdrive" (season 10, episode 17). A picture of Randall is seen on a wall of fame in a steakhouse, displaying the only two persons who have finished a 16-lb. steak called "Sir Loinalot".

Other creative activities

In 1973, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman recorded an album called "The Odd Couple Sings" for London Records. Roland Shaw and The London Festival Orchestra and Chorus provided the music and additional vocals.[9] The record was not a chart-topper but is a highly sought-after item for many Odd Couple fans.[10]

A noted raconteur, Randall co-wrote with Mike Mindlin a collection of amusing and sometimes racy show business anecdotes called Which Reminds Me, published in 1989.

In keeping with his penchant for both championing and mocking the culture that he loved, during the Big Band era revival in the mid-1960s he produced a record album of 1930s songs, Vo Vo De Oh Doe, inspired by (and covering) The New Vaudeville Band's one-hit wonder, "Winchester Cathedral." He mimicked (and somewhat exaggerated) the vibrato style of Carmen Lombardo, and the two of them once sang a duet of Lombardo's signature song "Boo Hoo (You've Got Me Crying for You)" on The Tonight Show.

He was an avid fan of the opera and quite knowledgeable on the subject. He was a frequent guest on the Opera Quiz intermission features of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.


Randall was an advocate for the arts. During the summer of 1980, he served as the celebrity host of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts in Central Park, New York City.

He was also active with liberal political causes. During the U.S. presidential primaries in 1972, he appeared as the featured celebrity at numerous fundraising house-parties for Democratic candidate George McGovern.[11]

Personal life

Randall's headstone in Westchester Hills Cemetery

Randall was married to Florence Gibbs from 1942 until her death from cancer in 1992. The following year, he said, "I wish I believed I'd see my parents again, see my wife again. But I know it's not going to happen."[12] He remarried on November 17, 1995, to Heather Harlan, an intern in one of his theatrical programs. At the time, Tony was 75, Heather 25. The two of them later had two children, Julia Laurette Randall (born 1997) and Jefferson Salvini Randall (born 1998), and they remained married until his death in May 2004.

In Randall's book Which Reminds Me, he proclaimed that any publicity an actor generates should be about his work, not himself. "The public knows only one thing about me: I don't smoke", he proclaimed. By 1995, Randall revised his opinion, and he made his engagement and marriage to Harlan and his fatherhood quite public. For the most part, the media treated the marriage in a light-hearted spirit, but when the two of them became parents, not everyone was convinced they were completely forthright about how the babies were conceived.[13]


Randall died in his sleep on May 17, 2004, at NYU Medical Center of pneumonia that he had contracted following coronary bypass surgery in December 2003. His remains are interred at the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York State.[1][2]


1957Oh, Men! Oh, Women!Cobbler
1957Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?Rockwell P. Hunter/Himself/Lover DollNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1957No Down PaymentJerry Flagg
1959The Mating GameLorenzo Charlton
1959Pillow TalkJonathan ForbesNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1960The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe King of France
1960Let's Make LoveAlexander Coffman
1961Lover Come BackPeter 'Pete' RamseyNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1962Boys' Night OutGeorge Drayton
1962Two Weeks in Another TownAd Lib in Lounge(uncredited)
1963Island of LovePaul Ferris
19647 Faces of Dr. LaoDr. Lao / Merlin / Pan / Abominable Snowman / Medusa / Giant Serpent / Himself
1964The Brass BottleHarold Ventimore
1964Robin and the 7 HoodsHood(uncredited)
1964Send Me No FlowersArnold
1965FluffyProf. Daniel Potter
1965The Alphabet MurdersHercule Poirot
1966Our Man in MarrakeshAndrew Jessel
1969Hello Down ThereFred Miller
1972Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)The Operator
1979Scavenger HuntHenry Motley
1980The Gong Show MoviePerformer in Tuxedo
1980Foolin' AroundPeddicord
1983The King of ComedyHimself
1986My Little Pony: The MovieThe Moochick(voice)
1987The Gnomes' Great AdventureGnome King/Ghost of the Black Lake(voice)
1988The Man in the Brown SuitRev. Edward Chicester/Miss Wilke/StewardessAgatha Christie TV Movie
1989It Had to Be YouMilton
1989That's AdequateHost
1990Gremlins 2: The New BatchBrain Gremlin(voice)
1991The BossNarrator(voice)
1993Fatal InstinctJudge Skanky
1996How the Toys Saved ChristmasMr. Grimm(voice)
2003Down with LoveTheodore Banner
2005It's About TimeMr. Rosenberg

Awards and nominations

Randall was nominated for five Golden Globe awards and six Emmy Awards, winning one Emmy in 1975 for his work on the sitcom The Odd Couple. In 1993, he received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York." Pace University granted him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 2003.


  1. ^ a b Severo, Richard (19 May 2004). "Tony Randall, 84, Dies; Fussbudget Felix in 'Odd Couple,' He Loved the Stage". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
  2. ^ a b Shales, Tom (10 May 2004). "Tony Randall, Bright, Zestful And Always Endearing.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
  3. ^ "Tony Randall Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  4. ^ Thomas Conner, "Randall's dreams of acting started in Tulsa", Tulsa World, 19 May 2004.
  5. ^ Broadcasting magazine, August 18, 1941
  6. ^ Mosel, "Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell
  7. ^ Festival Free Preview Oct 13-Nov 2, 1987 promotional mailer
  8. ^ "J! Archive". Retrieved 2011-10-03.
  9. ^ Ankeny, Jason. The Odd Couple Sings at Allmusic. Retrieved 2011/12/20.
  10. ^ WLNY-TV. The Odd Couple marathon. January 1, 2013
  11. ^ Invitation letter for "Together for McGovern at the Garden, June 14, 1972" (producer: Warren Beatty)
  12. ^ Washington Post, September 25, 2003
  13. ^ Judith Newman (July 2008). "The Odd Couple: Tony Randall and Heather Randall - May December Romance". Marie Claire. Retrieved 2008-11-22.

Further reading

External links