Odd Couple Star in Gilroy

Jack Klugman to sign copies of his book
– a tribute to Tony Randall
Gilroy – One could not have survived without the other.

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman played a team of mismatched bachelors in “The Odd Couple.” You know Randall as the fastidiously clean photographer Felix Unger, and Klugman as the cigar-smoking sportswriter who always left his dirty dishes sitting in the sink.

On the show, you know them as childhood friends with nothing in common and old friends who couldn’t live apart. What you may not know – is how close to the truth it all really was.

They shared a television set for five years from 1970 to 1975, and after “The Odd Couple” went off the air, their friendship did not exist simply in reruns on TV Land.

When Klugman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1989 – Randall was the one who saved him.

“The real love started when I had throat cancer … He was the first one beside me at the hospital,” Klugman said in an interview Saturday.

During surgery nearly half of his larynx was removed, leaving Klugman virtually silent – his voice reduced to a whisper.

Klugman had spent the past 36 years acting. It was his life. He went from being at the top of his game to wishing for a comeback.

Tony Randall is the one who gave him the opportunity.

“I was so vulnerable,” Klugman said, his voice grating like sandpaper. “He protected me so much.”

Randall asked Klugman to debut in a reunion performance of “The Odd Couple” to benefit his fledgling theater company the National Actors Theatre.

After months of therapy, with the aid of a microphone, Klugman’s voice was strong enough for the benefit show. The night of their performance was a turning point in their friendship.

Randall coached him from the stage – backing him up, making sure Klugman got the laughs.

“He brought me back on stage. On stage!” Klugman said, the volume of his voice jumping several notches.

While the chemistry Klugman and Randall was evident in “The Odd Couple,” Klugman insists it is the result of mutual respect of the theatre, and admiration for each other as actors.

“It doesn’t come out of nowhere,” Klugman said. “Most people don’t know that I was the loner. He was gregarious. People think it’s the other way around.”

Randall taught Klugman the art of funny.

“He would push things so far. I’d say, ‘That isn’t funny.’ But it always was,” Klugman said. “He was a star. But he wasn’t really appreciated. He was so damn good.”

But their friendship did not exist within the confines of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger.

Klugman grew up never wanting to be indebted to anyone. But after their stage performance of “The Odd Couple,” he felt he owed Randall everything.

“I could give, but I couldn’t take (love.) Even with my kids,” Klugman said. “It was hard for him to take love too. I didn’t know all that until I lost Tony … I give my kids now unconditional love. I don’t expect unconditional love.”

Randall became sick with pneumonia following heart bypass surgery in Dec. 2003. Naturally, it was Klugman who came to visit Randall’s hospital bedside.

He served as a substitute for Randall at some National Actors Theatre functions.

When Randall died May 17, 2004, Klugman was lost. He felt he left some things unsaid.

“I never knew how important our relationship was until he left,” he said. “I still wait by the phone for him to say, ‘Jack, Tony calling.’ “

As a tribute, Klugman wrote “tony and me: a story of friendship,” to his dearest friend. He believes it has become more than that.

“I wrote it to say, ‘Value your friendships’ … We need to value friendship and warmth and love,” Klugman said.

A portion of the profits are going to fund Randall’s National Actors Theatre as a way to keep his spirit alive.

“If he read it I think he would love it,” Klugman said. “I think he would be very very humble.”

Klugman will be signing copies today beginning at 6pm at Wal-Mart, 7150 Camino Arroyo.

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