Saturday, 22 November 2014

Constantine

It is quite possible that John Constantine is the most successful supernatural character to emerge from DC Comics. For those unfamiliar with the character, Constantine is essentially an English, working class "master of the dark arts" who also finds himself sometimes playing the role of an occult detective. Constantine is cynical, sarcastic, and cunning, and can even be downright ruthless. At the same time, however, he is a humanist who is capable of kindness and someone who genuinely wants to do good in his life. The character first appeared over thirty years ago and his original title (Hellblazer) lasted twenty five years. John Constantine was popular enough that he provided the inspiration for a 2005 feature film starring Keanu Reeves entitled Constantine. The character's continued popularity would lead to the television series starring Matt Ryan currently airing on NBC.

The 2005 film Constantine departed considerably from the comic book version of the character, even though it took inspiration from the "Dangerous Habits" story arc from Hellblazer. While Constantine was still a cynical street magician who chain smoked, he was also an American who was played by the dark haired Keanu Reeves. What is more, while "Dangerous Habits" was set in Constantine's native England, the movie Constantine was set in Los Angeles. While the movie Constantine is entertaining on its own merits, given that Constantine's Englishness is an integral part of his character (an American Constantine would be something like an American Sherlock Holmes...), it is then hard to take the film seriously as a "John Constantine" movie. Fortunately that is not a problem with the new television series airing on NBC on Friday nights at 10:00 Eastern/9:00 Central.

While Matt Ryan is Welsh rather than English, he looks like John Constantine, so much so it's hard not to believe that he did not step out fully formed out of a Hellblazer comic book. More importantly, he sounds like John Constantine, down to Constantine's working class Scouse accent. Matt Ryan's John Constantine is cynical, snarky, and can be downright vicious when called upon to be so, but at the same time he possesses a compassionate streak and a desire to do what is right. The only thing missing from Matt Ryan's portrayal of Constantine is chain smoking, although given Constantine carrying around a lighter it can be assumed he is probably doing it off screen....

Not only is Matt Ryan's portrayal true to the character in the comic books, but the TV show has also retained the flavour of the comic books to a degree. This is largely helped by the supporting characters on the show, who are drawn from the pages of Hellblazer. Constantine's occasional sidekick and longest surviving friend from the comic books, Chas Chandler, is played by Charles Halford. While Chas has some abilities on the show that he does not have in the comic books, Charles Halford's portrayal of the character is still very close to that of the comic books. Angélica Celaya also plays psychic Zed Martin (who first appeared in Hellbazer #4, April 1988) very closely to the character who appeared in the comic books.

In addition to taking characters from the comic books, Constantine even adapted one of the stories from Hellblazer as an episode. The episode "A Feast of Friends", in which Constantine battles a hunger demon, is based on the first story from the pages of Hellblazer. While the other episodes so far have not been based on stories from the comic book, many of them easily could have been. Both "The Devil's Vinyl" (dealing with a demonic record) and  "Danse Vaudou" (dealing with the dead returning to wreak havoc on the living) could easily have been from the pages of Hellblazer. Not surprisingly both episodes featured another character from Hellblazer--Constantine's occasional enemy and occasional ally Papa Midnite. Like the primary stars of the show, Michael James Shaw plays the role of Papa Midnite as if he stepped right out of the comic books

Constantine does depart from the comic book in some ways.  While much of the run of Hellblazer is set in Britain, the TV series is set in the United States with Constantine having visited Atlanta, a small Pennsylvania mining town, and New Orleans so far. While Hellblazer fans might miss seeing Constantine in his native England, in some respects this is not that much of a departure, as plenty of stories and even story arcs in Hellblazer were set in the United States. Another departure from the comic book is the addition of the character Manny (played by  Harold Perrineau), an angel charged by Heaven to watch over Constantine. While Harold Perrineau does a great job of playing Manny, so far it doesn't seem to me the character adds a lot to the show beyond letting us know Heaven has an interest in John Constantine. That having been said, it seems likely that the writers of Constantine have plans for Manny that might not seem clear to viewers at the moment.

Of course, the obvious question is "Can Constantine be enjoyed by people who have never read the comic books and are wholly unfamiliar with the character of John Constantine. I think it can. That is not to say that the show did not have a bit of a rocky start. While enjoyable over all, the pilot episode "Non Est Asylum" seemed a bit choppy, as if they were trying to fit far too much into 45 minutes. Another problem was the character of Liv Aberdine, played by Lucy Griffiths. During the episode she came off as little more than a terrified damsel in distress. Curiously, Liv was originally meant to be one of the regular characters (the character was created for the series and does not appear in the comic books). Fortunately Liv was replaced by Zed, who is a much stronger character. Like the pilot, the second episode ("The Darkness Beneath") is also enjoyable but flawed. Over all "The Darkness Beneath" seems little different from a run of the mill episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural.

Fortunately Constantine hit its stride with its third episode, "The Devil's Vinyl". While Hellblazer fans will be happy that the show at last feels more like the comic book, the typical television viewer will be happy that the show has suddenly become something very different from other supernatural dramas on the air. With "The Devil's Vinyl" Constantine becomes much grittier, much darker, and much scarier. It also becomes much more character driven. The relationships between the characters on Constantine can be much more complicated than those seen on most television dramas. Constantine and Papa Midnite are hardly amicable (in fact, they seem to consider themselves enemies), but on occasion they must work together. Zed considers herself Constantine's ally, yet she sometimes finds herself disapproving of the things he does. Constantine can be enjoyed for interactions between the characters nearly as much as it can be for Constantine battling the forces of darkness.

Of course, the relationships between the characters would not be nearly so effective (or entertaining) if not for a very capable cast. I have already discussed Matt Ryan's performance as John Constantine, but the rest of the cast is good as well.  Angélica Celaya plays Zed as a strong, independent woman who is much more than window dressing (although as Constantine observes, she is easy on the eyes). As Chas, Charles Halford brings a strong counterpoint to John Constantine, playing the characters as a down-to-earth contrast to the Liverpudlian wizard. And, as pointed out earlier, Michael James Shaw plays Papa Midnite perfectly.

Ultimately the TV show Constantine is a different creature from the comic book Hellblazer, but it is shaping up as a TV show that fans of the comic books can enjoy. At the same time it is shaping up as a TV series that viewers who have never read an issue of Hellblazer can enjoy. After a bit of a rocky start, Constantine is becoming one of the best new shows of the season.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Godspeed Motown's Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin who had such hits as "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" for Motown on their Tamla label, died on 17 November 2014 at the age of 78. While an official cause has not been released, he had been recently hospitalised for pneumonia.

Jimmy Ruffin was born on 7 May 1936 in Collinsville, Mississippi. His mother Ophenia died when he was still a baby. His father Elias made a living as a truck driver and a sharecropper, but also served as a preacher in the Christian faith. He often preached at camp meetings in rural areas. Jimmy and his siblings (which include David Ruffin, who would later become lead singer of The Temptations) often sang gospel music on those occasions when Elias Ruffin preached. Eventually the Ruffin family would open for such gospel performers as  Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

Jimmy Ruffin moved from Mississippi to Detroit, Michigan in the late Fifties. There he got a job assembling cars in a Ford automotive factory. He sang at various local clubs, where he was discovered by Barry Gordy, the founder of Motown Record Corporation. He was signed to Motown's Miracle label in 1960. He sang on various sessions at Motown and in 1961 he released his first single, "Don't Feel Sorry For Me". His musical career would be interrupted in 1961 when he was drafted into the United States Army. He spent three years in the Army before returning to Detroit and Motown. For the next few years Mr. Ruffin continued to record for Motown, although to little success.

It was in 1966 that Jimmy Ruffin heard the song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted", which had originally been written for The Spinners. Mr. Ruffin convinced the writers of the song (William Weatherspoon
Paul Riser, and James Dean) to let him record the song instead. "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" became Jimmy Ruffin's first major hit. It went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and #10 on the UK singles chart. In 1967 Jimmy Ruffin followed it with two more hit songs: "I've Passed This Way Before" (which went to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" (which went to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100). He also recorded two albums in 1967: Jimmy Ruffin Sings Top Ten and The Jimmy Ruffin Way.

Unfortunately Jimmy Ruffin's succeeding singles would not do as well. "Don't You Miss Me a Little Bit Baby"  only went to #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "I'll Say Forever My Love" only went to #77. For the next few years most of his singles failed to chart. He continued to record albums, with Ruff 'n' Ready in 1969 going to #196 on the Billboard albums chart. He released the album The Groove Governor  in 1970 before recording an album with his brother David Ruffin, I Am My Brother's Keeper, in 1971.In 1971 he would also have two hit singles in the United Kingdom, "Farewell is a Lonely Sound" and "It’s Wonderful (To Be Loved By You". Mr. Ruffin had considerably more success in the UK than he did the U.S., often touring the Northern Soul circuit to large audiences.

In 1974 Jimmy Ruffin left Motown for Polydor. Unfortunately he would see no more success there than he had at Motown and he left Polydor for Epic. Eventually he signed with RSO Records, which gave him his first hit in the United States in years. In 1980  "Hold On (To My Love)" went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on the UK singles chart. The next year Mr. Ruffin moved to London. In 1984 with Paul Weller of The Style Council he recorded the single Soul Deep" under the name The Council Collective to raise money for the families of striking miners. In 1986 he collaborated with the group Heaven 17 on the songs "A Foolish Thing To Do" and "My Sensitivity" . In the Eighties Mr. Ruffin also served as a presenter on the seven part series Jimmy Ruffin’s Sweet Soul Music on BBC Radio 2.

In 2012 Mr. Ruffin released what would be his final album, There Will Never Be Another You.

Jimmy Ruffin was one of the greatest vocalists to emerge from Motown, a recording company known for producing great vocalists. He had one of the label's most soulful voices, one that was capable of a wide range of emotion. It is curious that he did not have more success in the Untied States, as most of his songs number among the best R&B produced in the Sixties and the Seventies. I think it could be accurate to say that Jimmy Ruffin was one of the most underrated and under-appreciated singers to emerge from Motown. His songs are certainly ripe for rediscovery.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Late Great Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols, who began his career as part of the legendary comedy team of Nichols and May with Elaine May and went onto a career as an acclaimed director, died yesterday at the age of 83. The cause was a heart attack.

Mike Nichols was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany on 6 November 1931. On his mother's side his grandfather was anarchist Gustav Landauer and his grandmother was poet Hedwig Lachmann. Also through his mother's side, Albert Einstein was his third cousin twice removed. His family were Russian Jews who had migrated to Germany. With the Nazis in power, the family eventually left Germany for the United States. Young Mikhail's father left first and a few months later, in April 1939, Mikhail and his younger brother joined him. The family settled in New York City. Young Mikhail's mother, who had been ill,  joined them after escaping from Nazi Germany in 1940. In the United States Mikhail's father changed his name to Paul Nichols and established a medical practice in Manhattan.

Mike Nichols attended P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side and became a naturalised citizen of the United States in 1944. He graduated from Walden School in Manhattan and then attended New York University for a short time. He enrolled in the pre-medical programme at the University of Chicago in 1950. It was at the University of Chicago that he took an interest in theatre. Mike Nichols first encountered Elaine May, who would eventually be his partner in comedy, while there. He was acting in a student production of August Strindberg's play Miss Julie when he first took notice of her, a young woman who obviously hated the production and his performance. The two encountered each other a few more times before a fateful meeting in the Illinois Central Railroad station.

It was in 1953 that Mike Nichols joined the  the Playwrights Theatre Club, a forerunner of the Compass Players. He dropped out of the University of Chicago in 1954 to move to New York City to study acting under Lee Strasberg. He returned to Chicago in 1955, at which point he joined the cabaret revue show known as the Compass Players. It was there that Mike Nichols reconnected with Elaine May and the two of them formed a comedy team with Shelley Berman. The team was soon reduced to simply Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Eventually Nichols and May were performing in New York City at various clubs. They also began to appear on television. They made their television debut on an edition of Omnibus in 1958, "The Suburban Show". Nichols and May appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, the 11th Annual Emmy Awards, The Big Party, The Jack Paar Tonight Show, What's My Line, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall.  They also appeared in their own show on Broadway, An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and recorded the comedy albums Improvisations to Music, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Mike Nichols & Elaine May Examine Doctors, as well as proving voices for animated commercials for Narragansett Brewing Company.

Unfortunately Mike Nichols and Elaine May's partnership could be volatile and the two not only argued off stage, but sometimes on stage as well. Eventually Miss May dissolved the partnership, and for a time their friendship ended as well. The two would reunite from time to time in the Sixties, appearing in the TV special President Kennedy's Birthday Salute and several editions of The Jack Paar Programme. Elaine May would have a cameo in Mike Nichols's film The Graduate (1967).

By his own admission Mike Nichols floundered for a time after the dissolution of his partnership with Elaine May. Fortunately in 1963 he was hired to direct a play written by Neil Simon that would eventually be titled Barefoot in the Park. Barefoot in the Park debuted on Broadway in 1963 and received widespread acclaim, with Mr. Nichols's direction often praised. Mike Nichols would direct several more high successful Broadway plays in the Sixties, including Luv, The Odd Couple, The Apple Tree, a revival of The Little Foxes, and Plaza Suite.

Mike Nichols also broke into directing films. His film debut was the 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The film was not only critically acclaimed, but was nominated in every single eligible category in the Academy Awards. In total it won five Oscars. If anything Mr. Nichols's next film would be even more successful. The Graduate (1967) would be the highest grossing film of its year and is still the 21st highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews and seven Oscar nominations. Mike Nichols won the Oscar for Best Director for the film. Mr. Nichols directed the short "Teach Me!" and then the 1970 adaptation of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22. While Catch-22 did not do well at the box office and was largely ignored by the various awards ceremonies, it has since become highly regarded.

Mike Nichols's film career slowed in the Seventies He directed the films Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), and The Fortune (1975), as well as co-directing a filmed version of Gilda Radner's Broadway show Gilda Live! (1980) with Lorne Michaels. He did a good deal of directing on Broadway, including The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a revival of Uncle Vanya, StreamersComedians, and The Gin Game. He had a great deal of popular success with the musical Annie. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Prisoner of Second Avenue and was nominated several more times during the decade.

The Eighties would see a revival of Mike Nichols's film career. Silkwood (1983) received a good deal of critical acclaim and was nominated for five Oscars. He directed Heartburn (1986) and Biloxi Blues (1988) before having a popular success with Working Girl (1988). The film did very well at the box office and received five Oscar nominations. He finished the decade with Postcards from the Edge (1980). Mr Nichols continued to work on Broadway, directing such productions as Lunch Hour, The Real Thing, Hurlyburly, and Social Security. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Real Thing.

Mike Nichols began the Nineties with the films Regarding Henry (1991) and Wolf (1994). He renewed his collaboration with Elaine May, with Miss May writing the screenplays for his films The Birdcage (1996) and Primary Colours (1998). The Birdcage was an adaptation of the French film La Cage aux Folles and did very well at the box office. The film also received largely positive reviews. While Primary Colours did poorly at the box office, the film did receive largely positive reviews. Mike Nichols finished the decade with the science fiction comedy What Planet Are You From?. On Broadway Mr. Nichols directed the  production Death and the Maiden.

In the Naughts Mike Nicholas directed the television movie Wit and two episodes of the mini-series Angels in America. He also directed the films Closer (2004) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). On Broadway he directed The Play What I Wrote, Spamalot, and revivals of The Apple Tree and The Country Girl. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Spamalot. In the Teens he directed revivals of Death of a Salesman and Betrayal. He received the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for Death of a Salesman.

The word "genius" is often applied liberally to various individuals, but the word might well have been accurate in describing Mike Nichols. As one half of the comedy team of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols created some of the most hilarious comedy sketches of all time. It was not enough that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were masters of improvisation, they could create memorable sketches off the cuff that also served as a commentary on American culture. Their classic sketch "$65 Funeral" pre-dated the Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death and Ruth Muvey Harner's The High Cost of Dying in attacking abuses on the part of the funeral home industry. Their classic "Mother and Son" sketch featured Elaine May as an overprotective mother nagging her aerospace engineer son. Their "At the Watercooler" sketch derived humour from two office workers discussing everything from the then current quiz show scandals to politicians. Nichols and May had a way of taking scenes from everyday life and turning them into a critique of American culture in a way that no other comedians ever had. They also found humour in subjects very few comedians would have ever tried tackling at the time, everything from funerals to hospitals.

Of course, Mike Nichols would go onto a very successful career as a director of both Broadway plays and films. For many his most lasting contribution to film may be The Graduate, the classic tale of a young man coming of age with no particular goals in life. There is no doubt that it is not only a highly regarded film, but one that has had a lasting impact on pop culture. There are very few people who would not recognise the name "Mrs. Robinson". That having been said, Mr. Nichols directed several great films in his career. While it did poorly at the box office and did not win many awards, Catch-22 is now somewhat better regarded. Indeed, seen now it holds up much better than what was at the time the more highly regarded and successful contemporary M*A*S*H. Mike Nichols sometimes pushed the envelope as to what was acceptable in his films. Although it might seem to hard believe now, in its time Carnal Knowledge was very controversial in its rather open portrayal of male sexuality. Although many of Mike Nichols's later films would not be as highly regarded as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or The Graduate, Mike Nichols was still capable of making fine films later in his career. Not only was The Birdcage one of the funniest Nineties in my opinion, but it was better than the original French film.

As both part of the comedy team May and Nichols and as a director Mike Nichols displayed a rare brand of talent. Both as an improvisational comedian and a director his contributions to popular culture will not soon be forgotten. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tony Randall, What a Character!

For many Tony Randall will always be Felix Unger on the classic TV show The Odd Couple. For those a little bit older he might be history teacher Harvey Weekitt on Mister Peepers. Yet others might best remember Tony Randall as any number of supporting characters in Sixties sex comedies. In fact, a running joke among my friends and me is that no film is truly a Sixties sex comedy until Tony Randall appears! Tony Randall appeared on television, in major motion pictures, on radio, and on the Broadway stage. Few actors were as versatile as Tony Randall. While he may be best known for playing supporting roles in feature films, he shined those times in which he played the lead. In fact, in some way it is debatable whether Tony Randall was a lead actor capable of playing character roles or a character actor capable of playing lead roles!

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.

After the war Tony Randall resumed his acting career. He initially performed at the  Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland before returning to New York City. In New York Mr. Randall established a highly successful career in radio. With regards to radio, he might be best known for playing Reggie York on the classic radio show I Love a Mystery (later titled I Love an Adventure). Mr. Randall played regular roles on other radio shows as well, including The Henry Morgan Program, Portia Faces Life, Opera Quiz, When a Girl Marries, and Life's True Story. He also appeared on such radio shows as The Adventures of Frank Merriwell and  Best Plays.

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.

Despite his success on the stage, Tony Randall not only sought out roles in other media, but, as everyone knows, had great success in them. He made his television debut even as he was appearing on Broadway and still acting on radio. It was in 1950 that he made his television debut as Mac on the primetime television version of One Man's Family. He played the role until 1952. He followed it in 1952 with one of his best known television roles, that of  Harvey Weskit, history teacher and best friend of Wally Cox's Robinson J. Peepers on Mister Peepers. Mr. Randall's Harvey Weskit was a sharp contrast to Wally Cox's shy Mr. Peeepers. Harvey was a bit of a ladies man, both confident and at times even boastful. Mister Peepers proved to be a hit and was probably responsible for introducing Tony Randall to a national audience. The role also earned Mr. Randall his first Emmy nomination. He was nominated for Best Series Supporting Actor in 1954.

Throughout the Fifties Tony Randall would make guest appearances on several shows, including Kraft TheatrePhilco-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".

It was in 1970 that Mr. Randall was cast in the role for which he may be best known, that of neat and overly fussy commercial photographer Felix Unger on The Odd Couple (based on Neil Simon's play of the same name). He played opposite Jack Klugman, who played his roommate, total slob Oscar Madison. Surprisingly enough for a show now regarded as a classic, The Odd Couple struggled in the ratings and was nearly cancelled at the end of each season. Regardless, the show was well regarded. For his role as Felix Tony Randall was nominated for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series four times before winning the award in 1975. Jack Klugman also earned Emmy nominations for his role as Oscar, winning twice. While The Odd Couple never did well in the ratings during its network run, it proved to be a hit in syndication where it has remained ever since. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman also became very close friends in real life. Messrs. Klugman and Randall would even later appear in revivals of the play, sometimes switching roles to where Mr. Randall played Oscar and Mr. Klugman played Felix!

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.

Tony Randall's last regular, starring role on television was the comedy Love, Sidney. The show was a continuation of the television movie Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend, in which Tony Randall played the title character, a gay man living with a single mother and her daughter. Both the TV movie and the television show were based on a short story by Marilyn Cantor Baker.  For the television show Sidney's homosexuality was initially downplayed to the point that many viewers may not have been aware that the character had originally been conceived as gay. Much of this may have been due to protests over a positive portrayal of homosexuality from such moral watchdog groups as the Moral Majority and the Coalition for Better Television. While hardly a hit, Love Sidney did well enough in the ratings to warrant a second season. The second season saw the show more fully explore Sidney Shorr's sexuality. Unfortunately ratings for the show fell and it did not see a third season. Love, Sidney remains historic as the first American TV show to feature a lead character who was gay.

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.

By the mid-Fifties Tony Randall was an established star of both television and Broadway. It was at that point that he conquered movies as well. In 1957 he made his film debut in the movie adaptation of Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, although he played the role of Cobbler rather than the role of Arthur Turner he had played on Broadway. It was that same year that Mr. Randall appeared in the film that made him a movie star. He played the lead role of Rockwell "Rock" P. Hunter in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. In the film television advertising writer Rock Hunter must pretend to be the boyfriend of  famed actress Rita Marlowe (played by Jayne Mansfield) before she will agree to endorse Stay-Put's new brand of lipstick. A parody of Hollywood, advertising, and movie fandom, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? could also be considered a precursor to the Sixties sex comedies, a genre with which he would soon become identified.

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.

Of course, in the Sixties Mr Randall appeared in other sorts of movies than sex comedies. In fact, among his best known films from the era is the comic fantasy The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964). The film is arguably Tony Randall's acting tour de force, as he not only played the title role of Dr. Lao, but also Merlin, Pan, the Serpent, Medusa, Apollonius of Tyana, and the Abominable Snowman. It was also in 1964 that he starred in another comic fantasy, The Brass Bottle, in which he played architect Harold Ventimore, who inadvertently finds himself in possession of a bottle containing a djinn (played by Burl Ives). Tony Randall also played Hercule Poirot in the 1965 adaptation of The Alphabet Murders and "the King of France" in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960). He also starred in the films Fluffy (1965), Our Man in Marrakesh (1966), and Hello Down There (1969).

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.