TV audiences may best remember Tony Randall as buttoned-up Felix Unger in the popular show The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975. Randall enjoyed an extensive TV career that included regular appearances on talk shows, series and his own sitcom The Tony Randall Show. In 1991, Randall created the National Actors Theater, a New York-based repertory company devoted to American and British classics.
Actor Tony Randall was born Leonard Rosenberg on February 26, 1920 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduating from Northwestern University where he studied drama, Randall moved to New York City to attend Columbia University and train at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse. He was soon drafted into the Army to serve in the Signal Corps during World War II. When the war was over, Randall resumed his career as a radio actor, most notably in the role of Reggie on the adventure serial I Love a Mystery.
Randall made his name on Broadway in the 1950s, starring in the musical Oh, Captain and Inherit the Wind. He also found success in the early days of television co-starring as school teacher Harvey Weskit in Mr. Peepers (1952-1953). For playing the sidekick to Wally Cox's shy Mr. Peepers, Randall earned an Emmy nomination and became a popular TV star.
While busy acting in the the theater and television, Randall also made his film debut in 1957 in Oh, Men, Oh Women, and followed that film with the comedy Pillow Talk in 1959 and Lover Come Back in 1961. Though he received his share of forgettable starring film roles, including Fluffy in 1964, he earned critical acclaim for his work in the film The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.
The Odd Couple
While Randall played many characters in his long career, audiences may best remember him for his role starring as buttoned-up Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, which was based on a Neil Simon play about two divorced men living together. As the fastidious photographer Felix, Randall was the perfect neat freak foil to his roommate, the lovable slob sports writer Oscar Madison, played by Jack Klugman. The show ran from 1970 to 1975 and won both actors Emmy awards for their portrayals of the classic TV characters.
In addition to appearing on numerous game and talk shows, Randall enjoyed an extensive television career that included his own short-lived TV series called The Tony Randall Show (1976) and Love, Sidney (1981-1983).
Active in several liberal and humanitarian causes, Randall often put his career on the line to let his opinions be known. He delivered an anti-Vietnam speech in the late 1960s and had been known to speak out against the dangers of cigarette smoking. He was also the National Chairman of the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, which raised funds for an incurable neuromuscular disease.
In 1991, Randall created the National Actors Theater, a New York-based repertory company devoted to American and British classics. He invested $1 million of his own money and raised funds to support the staging of the works of playwrights including Ibsen, Chekhov and Arthur Miller. Although theater critics were not always favorable to his productions, Randall remained committed to presenting classic stage productions and keeping ticket prices affordable for theater fans. He also continued to act, starring in what he said was his favorite role, playing an American diplomat who falls in love with a male spy disguised as a woman in David Henry Hwang's 1988 play M. Butterfly.
Off stage, Randall received media attention in 1995 when he married Heather Harlan, a woman 50 years his junior, after the death of his longtime wife and companion Florence. Randall met Harlan while she was an intern at the National Actors Theatre. They had two children together.
Randall's health faltered in December 2003 when he underwent triple heart bypass surgery and contracted pneumonia. In May 2004, he died in his sleep in New York at the age of 84. After his death, the lights were dimmed on Broadway to remember the beloved stage and television actor.
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