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February 26: Tony Randall

February 26, 2016

randall_reflowActor Tony Randall (Arthur Leonard Rosenberg), best known for his role as the fastidious Felix Unger in the TV series based on Neil Simon’ play The Odd Couple, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on this date in 1920. Randall studied theater and dance in New York prior to serving with the Signal Corps during World War II. He landed his first roles on Broadway in the 1950s and on television in the 1960s, but it was not before his five-year stint with Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple, which premiered in 1970, that Randall became a household name. His fame was reinforced by frequent appearances on late-night talk shows. (“I was on the Johnny Carson show, I believe, 114 times,” Randall said, “and aside from those times on the air, I never spoke to him. I never met him.”) Randall was the first television actor to play a gay lead character (not quite out of the closet), in the series, Love, Sydney (1981-3). He then became “the only person on earth who didn’t suspect Tony Randall was gay,” according to Marie Claire magazine. “I don’t think he knew people thought that,” said his second wife, Heather Harlan Randall (who was 48 years his junior; they had two children together). “It just wouldn’t have occurred to him. He was very secure in his masculinity, which is why he wasn’t afraid to play effeminate roles.” Randall was active in progressive causes and was the founder and artistic director of the National Actors Theatre in 1991, which sought to bring classic theater back to Broadway, beginning with a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Broadway dimmed its marquee lights in Randall’s honor upon his death at 84. To see an excerpt from The Odd Couple, look below.

“Everyone town of 100,000 in the United States should have a Classical Theater supported by the town, or the state of the county, or the Federal Government, as they have in every civilized country.” —Tony Randall