Two beloved Neil Simon characters cohabitated on ABC — but didn't catch on until reruns
On Nov. 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence … ” In the fall of 1970, that stentorian sentence first barked from TV screens, introducing ABC’s The Odd Couple. ”Can two divorced men share an apartment,” asked the voiceover, ”without driving each other crazy?”
In a word, no. In fact, neat-freak photographer Felix and slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison had already proved it twice: in Neil Simon’s hit Broadway play, which opened in 1965 with Walter Matthau and Art Carney and ran for two years; and in a 1968 film (also by Simon) with Matthau and Jack Lemmon.
”Simon didn’t believe it should be a weekly series,” remembers exec producer Garry Marshall. Initially, the public agreed. The sitcom, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar, opened to low ratings and never really improved during its five-season run. ”I said we’d come back to win in syndication,” Klugman recalls. ”I was right!” The two even revisited the premise in CBS’s 1993 movie The Odd Couple: Together Again.
Now living in L.A. and New York respectively, Klugman, 75, and Randall, 77, are in Miami doing Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, due on Broadway Nov. 29. And next spring, Lemmon and Matthau will reunite in Simon’s latest version, Paramount’s The Odd Couple 2: Travelin’ Light.