Monday, December 31, 2012
Interviewing the Odd Couple
I'm thinking it all happened in the spring of 1979 when I still flourished as TV critic for The Spectator in Hamilton.
Anyway there I was chugging along the Gardiner Expressway into downtown Toronto to meet and interview Tony Randall and then Jack Klugman.
Yeah, TV's Odd Couple.
Not the first by any means --Art Carney and Walter Matthau had created the parts on Broadway. Then Walter and Jack Lemmon did the movie smash.
Tony and Jack were then recreating their TV roles in a revival of the play at the O'Keefe Centre for a short summer run and the next week were going on to Hamilton Place for an additional week.
First I had an hour with Tony --we'd never met but I was told by the publicist he could be pretty difficult.
He was staying at the King Edward hotel as I recall and I nervously tapped on the door. Tony opened on the third tap saying "You are 2 seconds late, kidoo." Yeah, I knew I was in for a rough ride.
First off he despatched his very sweet wife to the bathroom saying "I smell cigaret smoke! Go smoke in there!"
I tried to make small talk saying "My favorite Tony Randall movie is The Mating Season (1959) with Debbie Reynolds."
Tony shot back "Who wrote it. What was the original title."
"H.E. Bates. Originally titled The Darling Buds Of May."
Then I said I liked him as Inspector Poirot.
"Who was the first Poirot in movies?" Tony shot back.
"Austin Trevor in three British movies starting in 1931," I answered calmly, serenely.
Randall frowned again.
"What was the first play I was in to play Toronto?"
"The Corn Is Green with Ethel Barrymore," I shot back. I wanted him to know I had done my homework.
"And the second was repertory with Katharine Cornell," I stuttered. The pressure was starting to get to me.
Eventually Tony tired of his game of cat and mouse. He'd just been up to Canada's Stratford he said but found Maggie Smith in rehearsal ever so mannered. I merely nodded.
"I have no mannerisms as you may have noticed. I always play the character."
The hour ended and Randall gave me distinct instructions how to get to Klugman on the fourth floor.
Once there I had to bang and bang. Eventually Jack waddled to the door with a drumstick in his mouth.
"Oh, it's you." he said and showed me to a cluttered sofa. There were books and magazines everywhere, a half eaten club sandwich on the floor, beer bottles on the piano and a bottle of whiskey half consumed.
"What can I get for ya," he hoarsely hollered.
Already he was having major voice problems. there had already been one throat operation and more would follow. Finally part of his larynx was removed and he learned how to talk again using breathing tricks.
Only then did it dawn on me.
Tony's suite was impeccable and he was dressed to the nines.
Jack's rooms were a disaster.
Tony really was Felix Unger. Jack really was Oscar Madison.
They were not playing parts. They were being themselves.
Jack was having none of that when I asked him. "I'm neat," he whispered although there were ketchup stains all over his rumpled T-shirt.
No matter I had my angle.
I met up with Tony once more on the set of Love, Sidney in 1981 and he remembered me.
I was on the set of Quincy with Klugman in 1983 and he agreed it had been partly based on the true stories of Toronto coroner Morty Shulman.
"My wife Brett Sommers was in a Broadway play with the star of CBC's Wojeck John Vernon and he told her about it. She told me and our show got started."
I also saw Klugman again in 1986 on the set of a series stinker called You Again? co-starring John Stamos. He seemed relieved when I assured him it would not last.
Tony Randall, who popped dozens of vitamin pills a day. died May 17 2004 aged 84.
His old pal Jack Klugman died December 25, 2012, aged 90.
Both had only great things to say about each other.