Happy ‘Odd Couple’ Day! Notes from a fan

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in a promotional portrait for the television series, ‘The Odd Couple,’ c. 1973. (Photo by ABC TV/Courtesy of Getty Images)

Happy “Odd Couple” Day! Sorry all I got you were these reminiscences and clips.

TV fans of a certain vintage will get the reference immediately: It’s the date referred to in the longer, original version of the opening theme for the show developed by Garry Marshall from Neil Simon’s play, “The Odd Couple.”

The classic tale of two divorcees — Felix Unger, the fastidious freelance photographer with a beautiful singing voice and a persistent sinus problem, and Oscar Madison, the sloppy sports writer with a penchant for cigars, spicy food and letting things lie where they fall — ran from 1970 to 1975 and is hailed as one of TV’s best comedies. Well, by me anyway.

Marshall, Randall and Klugman are all gone. So are many of the supporting characters: Penny Marshall; Brett Somers, Klugman’s real-life wife and ex-wife who played Oscar’s ex-wife, Blanche; and Carole Shelley, one of the two Pigeon Sisters. Also gone are two of the indispensable poker players: Al Molinaro, who played Murray the Cop, and Gary Walberg, who played Speed.

About all who remain are Monica Evans, who played Cecily Pigeon; Joan Hotchkis, who played Dr. Nancy Cunningham, and Janis Hansen, who played Felix’s ex- and future wife, Gloria.

There are a lot — a lot — of dated references and attitudes, some of which, as Marshall later said, was driven by the studio’s anxious insistence that there be no hint whatsoever that Felix (played by Tony Randall) and Oscar (Jack Klugman) were gay.

But the humanity — the sadness of the aftermath of divorce, especially when children are involved (Oscar’s children were written out of the TV adaptation), is never far from the surface of the comedy. Indeed, the comedy is funnier because it’s so often hard-earned — especially if the viewer finds common ground with the roommates’ situation.

This far down the road, the best I can offer is an annotated rundown of the opening narration.

On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife.

Why is Nov. 13 “Odd Couple” Day? Well, the fact that it was producer Garry Marshall’s birthday is a pretty good guess. Marshall, of course, was the brother of the late Penny Marshall, the pioneering director who played sports writer Oscar Madison’s secretary, Myrna Turner.

Deep down, he knew she was right. But he also knew that someday, he would return to her.

He did. Even though he was divorced for the unprecedented cause of “pestiness,” the final episode of the series ends with Felix remarrying Gloria. The last segment of the finale is one of the sweetest moments of the series.

With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Some time earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out — requesting that he never return.

This segment of the opening was changed — at some point, the word “childhood” was removed, and “some time earlier” became “several years earlier.” (And of course, in the last few seasons, the narration was dropped entirely.)

The timeline of Felix and Oscar’s meeting has always been murky, as well. In one episode, they met on jury duty; in another, they knew each other while in the Army, while in yet another, they met as children.

Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

Well, no. But it all worked out for the best. Felix gave the best encapsulation of the “Odd Couple” franchise in a line written specifically for the series when he and Oscar were trying to reconcile after (yet) another argument. In a masterful job of keeping it together while emotion hit his character, Randall says, “We’ve failed as husbands; I don’t want to fail as a friend.”

They had a few close calls, but ultimately they didn’t.

Hit it, Neal Hefti!

Aristophanes …

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