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Comic actor Tony Randall

The best of Tony Randall, who would have been 100 this year

by Kirk Fox

Tony Randall would have been 100 years old this month.

The TV sitcom legend (Feb. 26, 1920–May 17, 2004) was best known as the fussy Felix Unger on “The Odd Couple,” based on the Neil Simon play and movie. Randall’s Felix, who came to life opposite Jack Klugman as sloppy Oscar Madison, was a memorable character, with his signature honking during his allergy attacks.

But Randall had a long career outside his signature role. As a longtime TV and movie actor, he played strong supporting roles in romantic comedies in the 1960s such as “Pillow Talk” with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Later in his career, he was a frequent and popular guest on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s talk shows.

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In the clips below, we remember Tony Randall’s best performances in honor of his 100th birthday. 

1. “Mr. Peepers”

Randall left Northwestern University after one year to study acting under Sanford Meisner. He started on stage and then served in the Army during World War II. After the war, he continued to appear in theater until he landed his first major role, history teacher Harvey Weskit on the television sitcom “Mr. Peepers.” Weskit was the school playboy who is friends with science teacher Mr. Peepers, played by Wally Cox. The show aired on NBC from 1952 until 1955.

2. “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Randall’s first starring role in a Broadway hit was portraying newspaperman E.K. Hornbeck in “Inherit the Wind” in 1955. The notoriety led him to receive many movie offers and his first big screen success came with “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” in 1957. The satire of Hollywood, television, and the advertising industry featured Randall, as the titular advertising copywriter, and actor and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. Randall received a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a musical or comedy.

In “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Randall’s character Rock pretends to be the boyfriend of starlet Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) to make her boyfriend jealous. The press finds out and names him Marlowe’s “Lover Doll,” bringing him great fame. In this funny scene, Randall runs away from a pack of young female fans.

3. “The Mating Game”

In 1959, Randall starred in the romantic comedy “The Mating Game” opposite Debbie Reynolds. The movie was a box office success and Randall would appear in multiple romantic comedies over the next few years. 

4. “Pillow Talk”

In 1959, Randall started a run of major supporting roles in Doris Day/Rock Hudson hit romantic comedies, the first being “Pillow Talk.” The movie was a huge hit, resulting in the three starring actors being reunited in two more films. 

5. “Let’s Make Love”

After starring opposite Jayne Mansfield, Debbie Reynolds, and Doris Day, Randall paired with the legendary Marilyn Monroe in 1960’s “Let’s Make Love.” The comedy also starred French actor Yves Montand. The movie was the second-to-last of Monroe’s career; she would die from an accidental drug overdose in 1962.

6. “Lover Come Back”

The second movie to feature the popular trio of Randall, Day, and Hudson was the 1961 satire “Love Come Back.” The movie was a hit and positively reviewed by the critics.

7. “Boys Night Out”

The farcical 1962 romantic comedy, similar in style to “Pillow Talk,” stars Randall, James Garner, and Kim Novak. The film was supposed to revive Novak’s career but did not do well at the box office. Even so, it helped James Garner on his way to becoming a box office star.

8. “Send Me No Flowers”

The third and final film to star Randall, Day, and Hudson was the 1964 comedy “Send Me No Flowers.” The movie, one of the first directed by Norman Jewison, received mixed reviews but did well at the box office.

9. “7 Faces of Dr. Lao”

Tony Randall’s most unique starring role was in the 1964 fantasy movie the “7 Faces of Dr. Lao.” Randall plays seven different roles, including Dr. Lao, the Chinese owner of a traveling circus, Merlin, and Medusa. In the film, Dr. Lao takes his circus to a small town in Arizona where his wisdom and magic positively affect the townspeople. The movie was a box office disappointment at the time but is now considered an important and pioneering fantasy film.

10. “The Odd Couple”

Tony Randall’s signature role was his portrayal of the uptight Felix Unger on the TV sitcom “The Odd Couple.” Based on the Neil Simon play and movie, the hit TV show was created by Garry Marshall and ran from 1970 until 1975. The series featured one of the most iconic opening title sequences in TV history. 

The season 3 episode “Password” is an all-time classic, featuring the feuding friends appearing on the classic TV game show “Password.” Betty White appears on the episode. 

11. “The Tony Randall Show”

Randall starred on his own show that aired first on ABC (1976–1977) and then on CBS (1977–1978). The show featured Randall as a widowed judge, raising his two children. Show writer Gary David Goldberg would go on to create the hit sitcom “Family Ties.”

12. “Love, Sidney” 

Randall’s last starring role on a TV series was NBC’s “Love, Sidney.” Randall plays a wealthy gay New Yorker who takes in and lives with a single mother and her daughter. In the TV movie that the series is based on, Randall’s character Sidney Shorr is openly gay. But in the series, his sexuality is not mentioned directly but, rather, is only hinted at in code. NBC made the change after receiving complaints from various religious groups. Randall and co-stars Swoosie Kurtz and Kaleena Kiff sing the theme song. 

13. “The Odd Couple: Together Again”

After “Love, Sidney,” Randall focused on his first love, the theater. In 1993, he returned to television and reunited with Jack Klugman for CBS TV movie “The Odd Couple: Together Again.” The movie’s plot involves Felix ruining plans for his daughter Edna’s wedding and being thrown out of the house by wife Gloria for 11 days — leaving him no choice but to move back in with Oscar and help him recover from throat cancer surgery.

14. Appearances on the late night talk shows of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien 

Later in his career, Randall was a frequent and popular guest on the late night talk show circuit. It has been reported that Randall made at least 70 appearances on Letterman’s shows. 

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