In addition to its myriad of other benefits, like having a public forum for my complaints, writing a blog like Stargayzing provides a useful repository for my endless piles of accumulated pop culture detritus. The Joan Collins cookie, Sonny and Cher windbreaker, and the Henry Winkler book collection, have all enjoyed first class treatment here. Which brings me to my latest addition to the collection: the letter from Tony Randall.
The actor will forever be remembered for playing Felix opposite Jack Klugman’s Oscar on The Odd Couple TV show (1970-1975). Prior to that, Randall had enjoyed years of success as a character actor in Hollywood, with co-starring roles in films like The Mating Game with Debbie Reynolds (1959), Let’s Make Love with Marilyn Monroe (1960), and Pillow Talk (1959) and Send Me No Flowers (1964), both with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.
But Tony’s dream was not in film or television, but to create a theatrical repertory company that had a permanent home on Broadway. After many years of working to make this happen, his wish finally came true in 1991 with the creation of the National Actors Theater, which depended on corporate largess to fund its annual budget. I came into possession of this letter because I worked directly for Steve Ross, the Chairman of (then) newly formed Time Warner, Inc., which had contributed $250,000 to Randall’s effort. I probably took the letter home to draft a response for Mr. Ross, who was known for his loquaciousness and endless letter writing, frequently writing thank you letters to thank you letters. While this may have seemed endearing to the recipients, it made his staff crazy.
With Steve Ross, the need to be loved was at least as deep as his pockets. Randall’s missive is interesting not just for its content but because it would seem to have been personally typed by the actor on a manual typewriter. There is simply no other way to explain it as a real personal assistant would be fired for work this shoddy; no liquid paper for Mr. Randall. I also love the mid-century theatrical syntax: “Did I ever tell you the one about…” It’s pure Tony Randall, you can surely hear his voice in the language, and I’m sure that’s why I saved the letter. Now I’m happy to share it with all you Odd Couple fans. By the way, Randall did make his dream come true and the National Actors Theater survived for a few year with a string of productions, several of which received praise. The enterprise ended with the actor’s death in 2004. Along the way, there were a few missteps, like Randall’s 1994 production of The Government Inspector, where the 73-years old actor played a 23-year-old romantic lead. This from David Richards’ New York Times review:
“Tony Randall has devoted himself so tirelessly to the fortunes of the National Actors Theater that you’d like to grant him the occasional indulgence. The company is his, after all, and if he wants to take tickets at the door, direct Ibsen or even sell pina coladas in the lobby at intermission, that is his right. He’s earned it.
Nonetheless, why, oh, why did he ever cast himself as the lead in “The Government Inspector,” the splendid comedy by Nikolai Gogol that opened last night at the Lyceum Theater? Playing an opportunistic wastrel Gogol described as “a young man, about 23 years old, lean and slim,” Mr. Randall is relatively lean, moderately slim and exactly 50 years too old for the part. Putting the make on a foolish provincial lass, he pleads at one point: “Look, I’m on my knees. Didn’t you hear them crack?” It’s not the only line to take on unwanted resonance under the circumstances.”