Sunday, 16 November 2014
Tony Randall, What a Character!
Tony Randall was born Arthur Leonard Rosenberg on 26 February 1920 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Young Leonard Rosenberg decided he wanted to be an actor when he was very young. In grade school he performed in his very first production. He enjoyed it so much that he decided that was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Surprisingly, at Tulsa Central High School he often lost parts in school plays for which he tried out. This was largely because of a stutter he had since childhood, something he fortunately overcame. While young Leonard Rosenberg got to do very little acting in high school, he did go to see plays every chance he got. He even got to meet Katharine Cornell backstage when she visited Tulsa with a touring production of Romeo and Juliet.
After graduating from high school Leonard Rosenberg enrolled as a speech and drama major at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He only attended one year before he moving to New York City to study acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Among his instructors were Sanford Meisner (who also trained such actors as Peter Falk, Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen, and Gregory Peck) and legendary choreographer Martha Graham. It was in 1941 that he made his stage debut in a production of the 13th-century Chinese play A Circle of Chalk in New York City. That same year he appeared in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Candida in New York City. It was about this time that he took the stage name of "Anthony Randall", which would later be shortened simply to "Tony Randall". In 1942 he was in a rehearsal for a role Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth when he was drafted into the United States Army.
Tony Randall spent his time in the Army during World War II in the Signal Corps. He had been offered an entertainment assignment with Special Services, but turned it down. Mr. Randall attended Officer Candidate School and achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant. While in the Signal Corps he worked on a number of training films. He ended the war delivering classified documents to various government offices.
Mr. Randall also returned to the stage following the war. In 1946 he was part of the touring company for Katherine Cornell's revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in 1947 and also appeared on Broadway in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra in 1949. While many actors who achieved success in television and film would desert the stage, Tony Randall continued to appear on stage for much of his career. Mr. Randall was Gig Young's replacement in Oh, Men! Oh, Women! in the early Fifties. His first major role on Broadway came a few years later, when he played E. K. Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind in 1955. In 1958 on Broadway he played the lead in Oh Captain!. For the role he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Over the years Tony Randall would appear many more times on Broadway. He was John Lithgow's replacement in M. Butterfly in the Eighties. In the Nineties he appeared in revivals of A Little Hotel on the Side, Three Men on a Horse, The Government Inspector, The School for Scandal, and others. In 1991 he founded the National Actors Theatre. He remained its chairman until his death in 2004. Under Mr. Randall's leadership the National Actors Theatre would prove very successful. Over the years its productions earned an extraordinary number of Tony Award nominations. Among those nominated for the Tony Award were Saint Joan, Timon of Athens, Inherit the Wind, and The Gin Game. Mr. Randall appeared in many of the National Actors Theatre's productions and directed its production of The Master Builder.
Throughout the Fifties Tony Randall would make guest appearances on several shows, including Kraft Theatre, Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, The Alcoa Hour, and The United States Steel Hour. As Tony Randall's film career took off in the Fifties, he was largely absent in the small screen in the Sixties. He did appear in episodes of Checkmate, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Milton Berle Show, and The Red Skelton Show. Mr. Randall also appeared in a 1962 television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, as well as the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation "The Littlest Angel".
Tony Randall appeared frequently on television in the Seventies. In addition to The Odd Couple, he played the lead role of Judge Walter Franklin on the short lived Tony Randall Show. He also guest starred on The Red Skelton Show, Here's Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and The Muppet Show. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He also appeared frequently on game shows from Hollywood Squares to The $20,000 Pyramid.
Love, Sidney would be Tony Randall's last regular television series. He appeared in the television movies Hitler's S.S.: Portrait in Evil and Save the Dog!. In 1993 he reprised his role as Felix Unger opposite Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison in the television reunion movie The Odd Couple: Together Again. He was also a guest voice on the animated show The Magic School Bus. He continued to appear regularly on the late night talk shows, particularly The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Indeed, while Mr. Randall's next film would be the drama No Down Payment (1957), his film that followed it could be considered an outright Sixties sex comedy (even if it was released in the Fifties), The Mating Game. In The Mating Game Mr. Randall played the lead role of Lorenzo Charlton, an IRS agent assigned to investigate the Larkin family only to fall in love with the eldest daughter (played by Debbie Reynolds). While whether The Mating Game is a Sixties sex comedy is perhaps debatable, Mr. Randall's next film is considered by many to be the Sixties sex comedy (even though it was released in 1959). In Pillow Talk Tony Randall played millionaire Jonathan Forbes, an old college buddy of Broadway composer Brad Allen (played by Rock Hudson) and one of the clients of interior decorator Jan Morrow (played by Doris Day). While it was not a lead part, it was a plumb role for Tony Randall. In fact, it would dictate the path of Tony Randall's career for the next few years, as he regularly played supporting roles (or, perhaps more accurately, "tertiary leads") in many Sixties sex comedies over the next few years.
Tony Randall appeared in Doris Day and Rock Hudson's next two films together, Lover Come Back (playing ad agency president Pete Ramsey) and Send Me No Flowers (playing Arnold Nash, the best friend of hypochondriac George Kimball, played by Rock Hudson). Tony Randall appeared in other Sixties sex comedies as well, including Let's Make Love (1960), Boys' Night Out (1962), and Island of Love (1963). Ultimately, Mr. Randall appeared in so many Sixties sex comedies that he is as identified with the genre as Doris Day or Rock Hudson.
After the Sixties Tony Randall's film career slowed as he concentrated on television and the stage, although he continued to appear in a few movies over the years. He appeared in a cameo in the comedy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) and was part of the ensemble cast of Scavenger Hunt (1979). Mr. Randall played himself in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982). Fittingly he played an important role in the 2003 homage to Sixties sex comedies Down with Love. His last film was the comedy It's About Time (2005). Perhaps fittingly Tony Randall's character shared his given surname, Mr. Rosenberg.
Few actors had a career like Tony Randall. He moved seamlessly from medium to medium, often working in film at the same time that he was working on stage or on television. And while there can be no doubt that Tony Randall was one of the great character actors of the Fifties and Sixties, he was more than capable of playing the lead, as shown by Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, The Mating Game, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and Our Man in Marrakesh. While today people are often inclined to think of Mr. Randall as Felix Unger, he actually played a wide array of very different characters throughout his career. On I Love a Mystery Reggie was an idealistic Englishman who also happened to be remarkably strong. On Mister Peepers Harvey Weskit was a good natured, yet swaggering ladies man. In Pillow Talk Jonathan Forbes was a spoiled little rich boy. In Boys' Night Out George Drayton can't complete a sentence without his wife finishing it for him. While Tony Randall rarely played villains, he was more than capable of doing so. In the Checkmate episode "The Button Down Break" he played an overly ambitious advertising man sent to prison for murder by Checkmate Inc. and now plotting revenge on them. Mr. Randall could not have gotten further away from Harvey Weskit if he had tried.
It must be pointed out that as well as being a talented actor, Tony Randall was also an actor of both courage and conviction. After playing lead roles in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Mating Game, some actors might have scoffed at ever playing supporting roles again. Tony Randall didn't, playing second banana to both Rock Hudson and James Garner while continuing to play the lead in other films. Sixteen years before Ellen DeGeneres's character came out on Ellen and seventeen years before Will & Grace, Tony Randall played a gay man in Love, Sidney. In the early Eighties this was an enormous risk for any actor, let alone one who was an established star of film, stage, and television. It must also be pointed out that Tony Randall could have easily continued his career in television beyond the Eighties, but instead he chose to establish The National Actors Theatre. Throughout his life Tony Randall had always been an ardent supporter of the arts.
Tony Randall's career spanned 63 years and there is little wonder that it did. He was a versatile actor who could play a wide array of roles, from swaggering womanisers to henpecked husbands. He was also an actor who could switch between lead roles and supporting roles with little problem. What is more, he was comfortable in several different media. Many actors can be described only as movie stars or TV stars, but Tony Randall mastered several different media. Tony Randall wasn't just a movie star or a TV star. He was a star of movies, television, radio and the stage.