Born today: Aryeh Leonard Rosenberg (1920-2004) known better to the world by his stage name Tony Randall. We’ve already paid tribute to Randall’s co-starring turn on the original Odd Couple sit com (1970-1975). Prior to that, he’d had great success in no less than four different media: Broadway, radio drama, movies and tv (he was a regular on Mr. Peepers, 1952-55). We’ll no doubt pursue his overall career in more depth at some future date. But today I thought it would make sense to talk about a Forgotten Show of my Nonage, The Tony Randall Show (1976-78).
When The Odd Couple went off the air in 1975, Randall and co-star Jack Klugman initially went their separate ways, little dreaming they’d be reuniting in their old roles many a time in later years. Klugman immediately stepped into another hit, the much more serious, if equally implausible Quincy, M.E. (1975-1983). Randall played it a lot safer, and ironically didn’t do as well. He stayed with the same network ABC initially; the show moved to CBS in its second season. On the new show, he played a character not unlike Felix Ungar (or himself), an uptight, finicky judge. He was the father of two children who seemed roughly like Felix’s Leonard and Edna. Like Felix, he was single (in this case, a widower). And he had a sloppy friend, a court reporter played by Barney Martin, better remembered today for playing Seinfeld’s father. )Martin had previously appeared in two episodes of The Odd Couple as different characters). Rachel Roberts played his kooky English housemaid, not unlike a Pigeon Sister.
I really liked The Tony Randall Show and was disappointed and surprised when it proved so short-lived. In retrospect, I can see all the calculation that went into it, and a sameness with other product of the time. Produced by MTM, the show was set in Philadelphia and features a credit sequence of Randall cavorting around the Old Town, not unlike Bob Newhart in Chicago, Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis, etc etc. Perhaps it was a bit paint-by-numbers, a bit more-of-the-same. But on the other hand, who doesn’t want more Tony Randall?
Here’s a terrific interview with writer/producer Gary David Goldberg, who got his start on the show, and shares some excellent background.