David Gerrie
Saturday 17 August 1996 23:02

Jack Klugman, 74, is best known for his role as Oscar in the TV series of Neil Simon's play The Odd Couple, as TV coroner Quincy and for film roles including Twelve Angry Men. He lives in California with actress Peggy Crosby. Tony Randall, 76, played Felix opposite Klugman in The Odd Couple, having achieved fame in a string of films with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Widowed after 54 years, he married Heather Harlin, 25, last year. The two men are currently reprising their Odd Couple roles at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket

JACK KLUGMAN: I first met Tony 30 years ago when we did a terrible live TV show called Appointment With Adventure. It was a dog - a real piece of crap. Our characters weren't unlike Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple. I played a two-bit crook who was also a chef, and Tony played a professor.

That was our first introduction, although I had seen him on a series called Mr Peepers and a few other shows. I knew how brilliant he was, but he didn't know who I was. He was already a star, I was just a supporting player. I respected him enormously, but because of the show both our performances were the same: stinkers.

We didn't really get to know each other before we went our separate ways again. I did shows like Gypsy before replacing Walter Matthau in the stage production of The Odd Couple for a few months. I got good reviews and knew I was good in the role, but no one could touch Walter on stage. Two years later I did the show on stage in London with Victor Spinetti, and it got the best reviews an American comedy had ever had.

When I was offered The Odd Couple TV series alongside Tony, I couldn't refuse, even though I knew he'd done the play opposite Mickey Rooney and had originally wanted him for the role. It was a flop. For five years we were never in the Top 40. Tony and I had 60 years of experience between us, the show had some of the best writers in town, and the studio audience used to scream with laughter. I asked Tony what we should do, and that's when I first learnt what a perfectionist he is. He simply said that we were going to work until 11pm every night to make it work.

We argued like cats and dogs for five years, but only ever about how to make the show better. We never, ever had a personal argument in all that time. On paper, when you're working every day together, that should be impossible, but we both had definite ideas about what was funny, and by the end of the week we'd have maybe only six pages of the original script left because he and I had given it such a working-over.

When you start to work with someone, you can see right away if they are going to be a selfish actor. Since the very start of our work on the show, Tony has never been less than generous. He'll be the first to tell me he thinks something would be funnier if I did it a different way, but always without the slightest hint of arrogance. People ask what is the secret of our chemistry? It's simple: experience.

We never made much money while the show was being made. To make money, we used to take the show on the road every summer for 10 weeks. Then five years ago we revived the show to raise money for Tony's National Actors Theatre in New York. We did a one-off performance in New York. It was right after my treatment for throat cancer, and I didn't know if I'd be able to make it, but we wound up grossing $1.2m in one night.

About a year later, we took the show on the road in America again. and turned over all the money to his theatre. It's a very, very important repertory theatre. It gets no grants, and for years it struggled, with Tony putting in a fortune of his own money. It was a dream of his for 15 years, and he begged, borrowed and stole to make it happen. He put on some of the finest productions, but America had to be tutored into liking the sort of stuff he wanted to put on. He was doing a lot of period stuff, like St Joan and The Cherry Orchard. Finally, he got a little more contemporary with an amazing production of Inherit The Wind with George C. Scott.

I cross the country to see every new show he puts on, and if he wants me to work with him, he only has to ask. He is a joy to work with. He's constantly provoking you to do better, to try different things.

He's the sole reason I'm doing the show in London. He's so responsive. If you throw him the ball, he'll always throw it back. That's why The Odd Couple is always so fresh. Even though he's a star, most people don't know how good he is. There's no bullshit with him, and at improvisation, he's quite simply the best.

When we're not working together, we never see each other socially. We live on different coasts and, apart from acting and our families, which are the most important things in our lives, we really don't have a lot in common.

I've never been able to persuade him to like horse-racing, which I adore, although he has taught me to love the finer things in life. He introduced me to opera, and as for art, you'll learn more from two hours in the Louvre with Tony than you would in four days with an official guide. He knows everything about art and classical music. He knows all about football, too. He's a true Renaissance man.

The one thing you should never ask Tony is whether he's like Felix in real life. He goes completely nuts when people put that to him. I'm much more like my character than he is. He's not a fuss-bucket at all. On the other hand, I'm wearing a polo shirt, jeans, trainers and a baseball cap. I guarantee you he'll be wearing smart slacks, wonderful shoes, a shirt and tie, and a cloth jacket - and it's 85 degrees outside. He's just that way - not fussy, but neat.

Tony and I share a love relationship. When I got sick, he was at the hospital the next day, telling me I had to come and do a play, even though I wasn't sure if I'd work again. That's how the one-night Odd Couple happened. He thinks he did it selfishly to raise money, but I don't care, I know he it did for me.

TONY RANDALL: We met on a TV show. It was called Appointment With Adventure and it was so bad, it was ludicrous. We rather liked each other, but then we didn't see each other for 15 years. Neither of us is very social, or at least I'm not. My wife died four years ago. We were married for 54 years and we never had any children, and we were so illogically happy together that we never made friends. We didn't need to. Anyone else who came along was really in the way. We never buddied up with anybody, though I suppose I do have friends, like the actor Mason Adams, and a druggist in Chicago called Milt Faber. I have a new wife now, Heather. We were married last autumn.

When I met Jack on that awful TV show, I never felt as though it was Felix meeting Oscar for the first time. I could see at once that he was a man who was as obsessed with acting as I am. The good people always are, and it's all they ever talk about - that's the way we are.

When we started The Odd Couple in 1970, Jack and I were together, working, for between 12 and 15 hours a day. That's enough. We saw much more of each other than we did of our wives. So we never socialised. We're only friends at work, and we love each other like brothers. But look how long it's been going on.

These days the only real argument we ever have is one we've had many times. We've played many theatres together where there is only one star dressing room. Each time, the house manager always comes to us and asks which one is going to have the honour. And every time, each of us always pretends we won't be the one to hold out for it. Who cares?

We have a lot of things in common. We used to fight like crazy while we were doing the TV show, but it was always about the script - never about ourselves. We wanted the show to be good, we didn't want to waste time arguing about who had the biggest or best scene. When they did give me what I knew would be the best line, I would often go and tell the producers that it should go to Jack instead because I knew it worked better coming from him.

This astonished him at first. I think he was expecting me to come on the prima donna and hog it all. But actors who do that are foolish - it's a very human thing to do, but infantile, and it's something Jack has certainly never been guilty of. He just wants each scene to work, and if every one does, he knows that he'll come out smelling like a rose.

Perhaps the oddest thing about our doing the show together is that Jack spends a great deal of the time smoking cheap cigars, and I am a fanatical anti-smoker. But I've always said that the scene is everything, although I always insist the crew refrains from smoking, and many of them have thanked me for it.

We've toured The Odd Couple through many major cities, and it's always been Jack's idea that we take no salary for the show - including this run in London. He wouldn't tell you that, though.

All the money goes to the National Actors Theatre. Now this is my theatre, and I would never, ever dare ask Jack to do that. It is he who comes to me and says, "Look, we'll make a lot of money for the theatre. You and I will take no salary." It's never a case of me calling him at home in Malibu and saying, "Are you ready to do it again?" I never have to. He has also donated his own money to the theatre. He is a remarkable man.

Jack has the heart of a lion. Nothing else would enable him to get up there on stage after his throat cancer operation and give the kind of performance he does.

Looking back over the entire length of our friendship and our professional relationship, I could not begin to put into words the effect he has had on my life. I am so indebted to him. He is a wonderful man, a great man. I'll never know what makes us work so well together. It's like falling in love. It's all to do with chemistry. Ask me why I fell in love with my wives and I could never explain it, and I feel the same way about Jack. !

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