Monday, October 7, 2019

The Odd Couple: Six Feet Under

Jack Klugman and
Tony Randall.
The Odd Couple premiered on September 24, 1970.  It ran for five seasons on the ABC network, and was the first of several sit-coms by producer Garry Marshall (previously entombed here at Six Feet Under Hollywood). 

The series brought together childhood friends Felix Ungar (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) who decided to share an apartment together after both of their marriages ended in divorce.  Honestly, I never understood how these polar opposites became friends in the first place. 

Klugman and Randall weren't the first to have played these parts of course, having been preceded by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the 1968 feature film.  Matthau had reprised the role he first brought to life on Broadway in 1965, in which a post-Honeymooners Art Carney originated the role of Felix.  The more you know.

Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar.
Now I have to admit I've never gotten around to seeing the movie.  But I grew up watching the reruns, and for me, Klugman and Randall are The Odd Couple.  No disrespect to any of the actors who either preceded them or followed in their footsteps (and that's a very long list). 

The Actors

Tony Randall
was born on February 26, 1920 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He served his country during World War 2 as a Signal Intelligence Officer in the Army. 

After the war, he went to work at the Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland, a point I wouldn't have brought up if not for the fact that I grew up about ten minutes away.  Until now, I had no idea of his association with it.  But he soon left for New York City and the Broadway stage.  His early roles included productions of Inherit the Wind (1955-57), Oh, Men! Oh, Women (1954) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1946).

Jack Klugman was born on April 27, 1922 in Philadelphia.  Like Randall, he served in the Army during World War 2.  Afterwards, he also moved to the Big Apple to pursue an acting career, sharing an apartment with his old friend Charles Bronson.

His first big role was on Broadway in 1952, playing the part of Frank Bonaparte in Golden Boy.  He also appeared in the original production of Gypsy in 1959.  On the silver screen, he appeared in the classic film 12 Angry Men as Juror Number Five (1957).  He'd also appear in four memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone, tying fellow Zone actor Burgess Meredith.  Watch Klugman discuss those episodes and Rod Serling here.  In 1965, Klugman actually replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway as Oscar Madison.  Talk about a revolving door.

The Series

The series was filmed on the same set as the 1968 feature film.  While the first season would make use of a laugh track, the series would gain a studio audience the following year.  This change required a larger set to allow for three cameras.  Subtle differences between the seasons are noticeable.

It was a welcome relief to Klugman, who later recalled "we spent three days rehearsing the show. We sat around a table the first day. We tore the script apart. We took out all the jokes and put in character. The only reason we leave in any jokes is for the rotten canned laughter. I hated it. I watch the shows at home, I see Oscar come in and he says, 'Hi,' and there is the laughter. 'Hey,' I think, 'what the hell did I do?' I hate it; it insults the audience."

Timeslot changes cursed the series throughout its run.  It struggled in the Nielsen ratings and faced cancellation every year.  But viewers stuck with it, suspending its sentence at least four times.

But by 1975, the series was over.  The final episode was indeed a farewell, as Felix remarried his ex-wife Gloria.  You can watch the final scene, wherein Felix and Oscar say goodbye, here.


Tony Randall died in his sleep on May 17, 2004.  He was buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. 

This one can be a little hard to find, so those looking for it might use this photo as a reference point.  Just look for the columbarium shown top right and walk down the hill.

Jack Klugman died of cancer eight years later on December 24, 2012.  Merry Christmas.  He had first been diagnosed with it in 1974, and had even lost a vocal cord to it following surgery.  For the final twenty years of his life, Klugman had limited speaking ability.

He was buried 3,000 miles away from his Odd Couple partner, at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Village in Los Angeles.


  • In 1974, Randall and Klugman were hired as pitchmen for the board game Challenge Yahtzee.  In addition to doing a spot filmed on The Odd Couple set, their pictures appeared on the box.

  • Felix's children were named Edna and Leonard, named for Randall's sister and Randall himself.

  • In 1985, Garry Marshall brought the series back with an African-American cast, starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson.  Watch the intro here.

  • In 1993, Garry Marshall revived the characters in a made-for-TV movie called The Odd Couple: Together Again.  View it in its entirety here.

  • Randall and Klugman appeared together in a series of commercials for Eagle Ranch Tortilla Chips.  Watch one here.  Randall does most of the talking, as Klugman's throat cancer was already affecting his voice.  Here's another one.

  • The series was released on VHS (remember those?) in 1991.  Here's an ad for it.

  • Randall's death was reported by Entertainment Tonight.  Watch it here.  It comes in at the 1:39 mark.  Similarly ABC News reported on the passing of Klugman here.

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