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Best known for his Emmy-winning role as Oscar Madison on television's "The Odd Couple," Jack Klugman lost his distinctive voice to throat cancer. It was Tony Randall, his Felix Unger, who gave him back his career. When Randall, his best friend died, Klugman wrote "Tony and Me" as an homage to their friendship. Klugman, 83, who was born in Philadelphia, will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the SouthSide Works 7 p.m. Friday for a book-signing.
You went to Carnegie Tech [now Carnegie Mellon University] to avoid being roughed up for a gambling debt!
Yes, that's true. I got there, and they said I had to audition, and I didn't even know what an audition was.
So, you and Tony really loved each other. That's a rare kind of bond.
It really didn't start out that way. When we did the five years of the "Odd Couple," we were good friends. But it wasn't until I lost my voice -- I guess you have to become needy for it to go to another level. He was the first one at the hospital. I was very angry because the operation was worse than they thought. I lost every sound. I could just whisper. I said, "I lost my voice." And he said, "Let's face it Jack, you never did sound like Richard Burton anyway." He said, "If and when you are ready to come back, we will find a venue for you." I was like, "Yeah, you're gonna find a venue for an actor without a voice." I was devastated because acting was everything for me. I lost my identity. I lost everything.
That had to be scary.
Oh it was. One day I was hot -- they all wanted me -- and literally the next day they wouldn't return my phone calls. I never trusted anybody. I never let anybody into my life, even my kids. But I was needy. I let Tony into my life. Then I let my kids in later. I didn't realize it until he died. I would go and see him every day in the hospital. I thought I had told him, and he had told me how much we meant to each other, but when he left there was such a void and I couldn't fill it. As a result I now give my kids unconditional love. They can have conditions with me, but I don't care. I learned to trust people because of Tony.
So he was a gift in your life?
Oh, he gave me back the thing that was most important in my life, which was acting. But he gave it back to me with dignity, with feeling and a concern for me, which didn't exist in my life before.
When you wrote the book about your relationship with Tony Randall did you end up discovering a lot about yourself?
My oldest kid is a psychiatrist, and I sent the book to him. He said, "Dad I get the impression that you are learning about the relationship and about yourself." It's true. I learned a great deal about myself. The guy who wrote it with me [Burton Rocks] came to me with the idea. First he wanted to do my biography, and I said, "no." Then when Tony died, he said, "What about your relationship with Tony?" I thought maybe that would bring closure.
How and when did you find out Tony's real name was Leonard Rosenberg?
God. It was way, way, way into the "Odd Couple." Somebody told me, and I said, "No, that's impossible," and I knocked on his door and I said "Is Lenny Rosenberg in there?" And he said "Yes, he is." (Laughing)
Tony had a temper, but he never lost it with you.
He knew when he'd gone just far enough with me. And I with him. We had such respect for each other. We laughed all the time. All the time.
There didn't seem to be any competitiveness in the friendship.
No, we never cared who got the laugh. He gave me some of my biggest laughs. As long as the scene worked. That's why we got along so well. There's no ego involved. We had egos, but it went toward making the show the best we could.
How did you feel about Tony marrying someone so much younger and then having children?
He made good choices with women. He picked two wonderful women, and I loved them both. He was very loyal to that first one. Fifty-four years they were married. He called me about Heather. He said he wanted to live together, but she wouldn't. She wanted children. There was about 50 years difference between them. He said, "Heather wants to get married, but there's such an age difference -- what do you think?" And I said, "Well, do you love her?" and he said, "Yes, I think so." So I said, "Then what's the problem?" She was gonna leave him if they didn't get married, so they got married, and she made him so happy. And when he found out she was pregnant we were in London doing "The Odd Couple," and he knocked on my dressing room door. I opened it and he had a big grin on his face. He said, "The machinery works." He was so delightful.
First Published October 31, 2005 12:00 am