'Odd Couple' star Tony Randall dies at 84
Actor Tony Randall and wife Heather attend opening night of the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (AP/Stuart Ramson)
Randall died in his sleep Monday at NYU Medical Center of complications from a long illness, according to his publicity firm, Springer Associates.
Randall had developed pneumonia after undergoing heart bypass surgery in December. He was hospitalized after starring for a month in "Right You Are," a National Actors Theatre revival of Luigi Pirandello's play.
In tribute to Randall, lights at all the Broadway theaters are scheduled to be dimmed at 8 tonight.
A versatile Broadway and radio actor who made his New York stage debut in 1941, Randall first gained national fame on television in the early 1950s with "Mr. Peepers."
The popular situation comedy, which aired on NBC from 1952 to 1955, starred Wally Cox as the shy and quiet Midwestern high school science teacher Robinson Peepers. Randall played Peepers' brash and self-confident best friend, history teacher Harvey Weskit.
Randall's success in television and on Broadway in the 1950s -- including playing the cynical reporter in "Inherit the Wind," Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's long-running dramatization of the Scopes "monkey" trial -- paved Randall's way to Hollywood.
Slim, with close-cropped dark brown hair and an Ivy League, junior executive look, Randall has been described as personifying the era's urbane and somewhat confused and neurotic white American male.
In 1957, he starred in the title role of the hapless TV ad man in the film adaptation of George Axelrod's satirical "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" co-starring Jayne Mansfield as the Hollywood sex symbol he enlists for a lipstick campaign. Frank Tashlin, the film's director, said directing Randall was like playing a Stradivarius.
Randall's comedic talent continued to shine in a series of supporting movie roles.
The part of a millionaire Broadway producer in the 1959 Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedy "Pillow Talk" earned Randall praise from Time magazine for being "one of the funniest young men in movies today."
He appeared in two other Hudson-Day comedy hits, "Lover Come Back" (1961) and "Send Me No Flowers" (1964). Also in 1964, he starred in the film fantasy "7 Faces of Dr. Lao," an acting tour de force in which he played six elaborately made-up and accented roles.
But Randall achieved his most enduring fame on television, as Felix Unger, the obsessive-compulsive neat freak photographer opposite Jack Klugman's slovenly sportswriter, Oscar Madison, in the TV version of Neil Simon's hit Broadway play "The Odd Couple."
"Am I a neat freak, like Felix? No, not at all," Randall told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. "I realize that's a compliment, to be so identified with a character. But it can be annoying. It puts you in the position of being typecast."
In an earlier interview with The Times, Randall described Felix "as compulsive about everything. The only thing I'm compulsive about is my work."
Jerry Paris, the actor-turned-director who directed early episodes of "The Odd Couple," praised Randall in a 1971 TV Guide article for being "one of the few great ones I've worked with."
Randall, Paris said, was "always thinking ahead [and] aware of all that's gone on, on both sides of the camera. And inventive. Give him a prop, he worries it, he plays with it, until he makes it work into a very special kind of way. Nothing is ever taken for granted. The man is constitutionally creative."
Although it has been rerun constantly over the years, "The Odd Couple" was not a hit during its run on ABC from 1970 to 1975.
"It never got out of the bottom 10," Randall said in a 1998 interview. "For five years we were on the air, and five years we were canceled every 13 weeks. But in those days it was a little bit different. There was a guy at the network named Martin Starger and he said, 'This is a good show, I'm not going to cancel it,' and he pulled for us. Today, nothing like that happens. Either you hit the big ratings immediately, or you're out. To nurse a show along and believe in it, that's unknown today."