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REVIEW OF TONY AND ME-A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP
By Jack Klugman
(Review by Linda M. Sittler)
When you think about Jack Klugman, undoubtedly Tony Randall also comes to mind. Actor Jack Klugman is best known for his Emmy Award-winning role of Oscar Madison in the 1970s T.V. hit series, The Odd Couple, in which he played opposite Tony Randall.
Tony and Me, Klugman's new book, gives us a broader perspective of the life and times of this talented actor as well as a look at the enduring friendship that developed between Klugman and Randall.
The book begins with a glimpse of Klugman's background. Brought up in a tough South Philadelphia neighborhood of Jewish immigrant parents, young Jake, as they called him, had an early interest in acting. After watching a 12-year-old Jackie Cooper cry in the movie, The Champ, he performed the final scene for his family, even crying real tears. His folks weren't impressed and discouraged him from acting. He says that "his mother played guilt the way Jascha Heifetz played the violin."
The adolescent Jack Klugman was also drawn to gambling and he tells how he left town mainly to escape a gambling debt. Thereby he ended up at Carnegie Tech where he fell into studying acting. And in his first college acting experience he quickly discovered that he felt more real on stage than in real life.
Jack Klugman first saw Tony Randall on live T.V., where Randall had a role in the 1950s show, Mr. Peepers. They first got to work together in a summer replacement show for Goodyear Theatre in 1954.
Klugman's and Randall's careers then took off in separate directions, with an illustrious string of credits for each of them in Broadway theatre, live and modern day television, and the movies-a list that could occupy a small volume by itself. A sampling of their T.V. credits include Playhouse 90, General Electric Theatre, The Alcoa Hour, What's My Line, The Carol Burnett Show, Ben Casey, This Is Your Life, Naked City, The Bob Hope Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. There were many others.
It was not until seventeen years later that the two men crossed paths again, to do the award-winning show, The Odd Couple T.V. series, in 1970. Klugman describes how Co-Executive Producer, Garry Marshall, saw him playing on stage opposite the great Ethel Merman in Gypsey. As Merman sang to him she was spitting all over Klugman, but he never flinched and that is how Marshall decided he was the actor for the role.
The first day Tony and Jack came together for The Odd Couple, they couldn't even share the same limo-Klugman smoked and Randall was adamantly against it. But they quickly gained respect for one another and grew to develop perfect comedic timing and believable complementary characters in their roles of Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), the loud, rough-edged, messy, masculine guy, and Felix Unger (Tony Randall), the straight-laced, proper, fastidious, fusspot.
Tony and Me highlights how the professional relationship between the two men grew into a deep, genuine friendship, which was never more evident than right after Klugman's bout with throat cancer. Tony Randall was the first at his hospital bedside. He also pushed for Klugman's onstage comeback, creating a role for him and playing opposite him, at a time when Klugman wasn't sure that he could ever act again. His love and respect for Tony Randall grew exponentially after this show of concern for his ailing condition.
Throughout the book Klugman gives generous accolades to his great friend Tony Randall-for his impeccable acting skills, his selflessness as a human being, as a wonderful husband, a great father, and a humanitarian. The National Actors Theatre, founded and developed by Tony Randall in New York City, is described in detail, as well as Randall's marriage to Heather Harlan, who started out as an intern there, married Randall and gave him two lovely children for the first time in the winter of his life.
The book also includes a free DVD of hilarious, never-before-seen outtakes from The Odd Couple.
Most of all, Tony and Me is a book that celebrates friendship; how the friendship between the two actors grew to change Klugman's life forever and how friendship can truly be one's greatest possession, lasting long after one of the friends is gone.
Look for my interview of Jack Klugman regarding his book, Tony and Me, on this website.
Tony And Me: A Story of Friendship
by Jack Klugman, foreword by Garry Marshall
Goodhill Press; Bk & DVD edition (August 31, 2005); ISBN: 0976830302
From Publishers Weekly
Klugman's brief memoir of his friendship with Tony Randall stays true to the promise the author made to himself if he ever wrote such a book: "I would never do two things: kiss and tell, and bore people with long histories of things." Boring this work isn't, as one would expect from a kid who grew up as the only Jew in a tough 1920s Italian South Philadelphia neighborhood, entered a college acting program to get away from his bookie and was cast by Garry Marshall in TV's The Odd Couple because Marshall had been impressed by seeing Klugman on Broadway in Gypsy getting spit on by Ethel Merman and not flinching. Although lacking in panache, the book does stay true to its stated intention of paying tribute to Randall, who founded the National Actors Theatre. The most endearing anecdote is that of how Randall cast Klugman in a 1991 benefit Odd Couple production, three years after Klugman had undergone throat cancer surgery and lost almost all his voice. The chapter titled "How Tony Gave My Life Back" recounts how Klugman retrained his throat and regained his career. Though amateurish, Klugman's writing possesses rare conviction and humility. Photos. (Oct.)
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