A tribute to Tony and his friendship

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

Jack Klugman remembers his career and camaraderie with Tony Randall in his book “Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship,” which he will sign at Diesel, A Bookstore on Sunday.

By Rachael Stillman / Special to The Malibu Times

“Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship” by Malibu resident Jack Klugman is just as much a tribute to longtime friend and better half from “The Odd Couple,” Tony Randall, as it is a loving record of their friendship.

When Randall died in 2004, Klugman was not only left with great memories, but also a legacy of friendship and the realization that it had made him a better man. Klugman traces the origins of their careers and friendship in “Tony and Me,” which he will be discussing and signing at Diesel, A Bookstore on Sunday.

A veritable “odd couple” in real life, Klugman and Randall shared certain traits with their television counterparts. Randall, like his character Felix, was a neat and tidy man, with a fierce disgust of smoking. Klugman was an avid smoker and, well, a bit of a slob; in fact, when the costume designers for “The Odd Couple” couldn’t quite get Klugman’s character’s, Oscar, wardrobe right, they asked the actor if they could pay him to wear his real clothes. They thought Klugman had captured Oscar’s look perfectly.

Whatever differences the two actors had were balanced out by mutual respect, shared values and love for the theater.

“We shared a lot of the same values, though we were different. He was more gregarious-it appeared that I was the gregarious one and he was the loner, but it was the other way around,” Klugman said in a recent telephone interview. “I was the loner and he loved to have people around. He loved the opera, and I loved horse racing, but we shared a love of acting and a love of the theater. That’s where our most common interests were. We both loved the theater so much. And we had respect for each other’s talents.”

Both Klugman and Randall used acting as a refuge from their environments. Randall grew up in Oklahoma, one of the only Jewish boys in town. Klugman grew up in a tough neighborhood in Philadelphia, also one of the only Jewish boys in town. Randall almost immediately took to every aspect of the theater, throwing himself into acting. Klugman, on the other hand, ran away to college to study acting at the age of 23 to avoid a bookie he owed money.

By the time they starred together in the television version of “The Odd Couple,” both were seasoned veterans of the stage. They enjoyed five seasons together, eventually tiptoeing their way onto the writing team. Klugman was a stickler for maintaining a real friendship between the characters on the show. Even if a joke was hilarious, and Klugman is careful to point out that the jokes were often hilarious because they had a great writing team, if it didn’t seem to fit within Oscar’s or Felix’s characters, he fought to rewrite it.

As Klugman writes in his book, it was while watching Walter Matthau play Oscar on stage many years before the TV series that he realized the essence of the play was in Oscar’s and Felix’s friendship. The lines, “And then you moved in. My closest and dearest friend,” stuck in Klugman’s head, and was as much an influence on his performances as Oscar, as it was later on in his friendship with Randall.

Klugman’s own friendship with Randall was always warm and affectionate, he writes, although it took a while for it to go beyond a good professional relationship. Klugman said he was too used to being a loner. It didn’t really occur to him to spend time with Randall away from the stage or the camera.

As they continued performing together throughout the years, however, Klugman said he grew more comfortable with himself, which he largely attributes to Randall’s influence. Their friendship deepened even further when Klugman grew ill with cancer. Klugman lost his right larynx and much of his voice. And Randall was there with him, every step of the way. He encouraged Klugman to continue performing.

“He was the first one to visit me at the hospital when I had my operation when I couldn’t speak at all. I had no voice, no sound, and I said I was very angry. I said, ‘I lost my voice.’ And he said, ‘Let’s face it Jack, you never did sound like Richard Burton anyway,’ ” Klugman recalled. “Then he said when I was ready to come back, he would find the venue for me. I said, yeah, you’ll find a venue for an actor without a voice. But he did. Two years later he said, let’s do a play on Broadway. I thought he was crazy, but he gave me the best night of my life. He gave me back acting, which I still work at.”

Klugman’s first performance after the operation was for Randall’s National Actor’s Theater, playing Oscar to Randall’s Felix in “The Odd Couple” again. The audience gave Klugman a seven-minute standing ovation. After this performance, he realized just how much he trusted Randall, a great feat for Klugman who said he had trouble trusting people and allowing anyone, even his children, to see him vulnerable.

And Klugman was there for Randall when he grew ill. He flew to New York, “substituted” for some of Randall’s hosting duties and visited him in the hospital everyday.

When Randall died, Klugman said it was difficult to accept that he was gone. He said he kept expecting to hear Randall’s voice on the phone, “Jack, Tony here.”

Klugman said “Tony and Me” is his attempt to sort out his feelings, acknowledge the affect Randall had on him and find some closure.

“There were so many things that I hadn’t told him that I wanted to tell him. That’s how the book came about,” Klugman said. “He did so much for me, I knew so much about what he had done for me, but I didn’t know that final piece-that he had allowed me to trust other people. He gave me the theater, he gave me back acting. He gave me the ability to trust other people, and therefore I have a relationship with my children that is just sensational now. And I owe it all to Tony because he told me to trust people. I never let anyone in my life before, but when I got cancer I got needy. So, I needed Tony and I trusted him and he came through with every promise he ever made. So this book is sort of a tribute to Tony and his friendship.”

Jack Klugman will sign his book “Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship” on Sunday, Jan. 8,

3 p.m. at Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Road, Malibu. More information can be obtained by calling