When you think of Tony Randall, and I’m sure you often do, what do you think of? A somewhat effete, closeted homosexual and probably conservative-leaning member of the East Coast elite? You would be wrong! His real life, like that of one of my personal FYCE favorites Vincent Price, was wildly miscast in the popular imagination and you’ll see why.
Anthony Leonard Randall, birth name Aryeh Leonard Rosenberg, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1920. How’s that for an opener?
Tony went to Northwestern U. for a year and then lit out for New York, where he studied acting and dance under two legends, Sanford Meisner and Martha Graham. He then briefly worked as a radio announcer in Worcester, Massachusetts (a job is a job) and spent four years during World War II with the US Army Signal Corps “including work at the codebreaking Signal Intelligence Service.” Not bad, Tony!
He made his way back to New York in those exuberant, chaotic, uncertain postwar years, Dawn Powell writes about them very well, by the way, and played Reggie on a long-running radio series called I Love a Mystery. So do I. Who doesn’t love a mystery?
Then came some Broadway work, including a 1947—1948 stint in Katharine Cornell’s Antony and Cleopatra, alongside Cornell, Charlton Heston, and Maureen Stapleton.
The exciting new medium of television beckoned, as it did for so many back then, and he landed the role of history teacher Harvey Weskit in the very popular series Mr. Peepers. Let’s have a look, shall we:
(YE GODS THAT’S HUGE! SORREEE! That’s Mr. Peepers on the left, played by Wally Cox. Wally Cox is another man from the era who was assumed to be gay, his close friend Marlon Brando calling him “the love of his life” didn’t help things, but Cox was not gay.)
Movie roles and TV appearances, very successful at the time, forgotten now, until he got cast in Pillow Talk opposite Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Randall plays Rock Hudson’s best friend, and appeared with them twice more, in Lover Come Back (which also featured Ann B. Davis, Alice from The Brady Bunch; and Donna Douglas, Elly May Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies) and Send Me No Flowers (which had Paul Lynde in it, who was gay, and played Uncle Arthur on Bewitched and became one of the most important reasons to watch The Hollywood Squares.)
Then, of course, he landed the role of Felix Unger on The Odd Couple and I think we’ve all heard about that. Did you know that only ran for five seasons? I feel like I saw it in repeats every day after school for five years and never saw the same episode twice.
Sadly, things kind of went downhill professionally. He was in a mid-70s flop called The Tony Randall Show where he played a Philadelphia judge; that ran for two seasons. He was then cast in another flop, Love, Sidney. The title role was originally meant to be a gay man but with Randall in it they made the role ambiguous (this was the early 80s) which is possibly when everyone started thinking Randall was gay. After that he was done with TV series, and in 1991 founded the National Actors Theatre based at Pace University here in New York. He did show up here and there on TV, including:
On November 7, 1994, Randall appeared on the game showJeopardy!, as part of a celebrity episode, playing on behalf of the National Actors Theatre. He came in second place behind General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. but ahead of actress Stephanie Powers, with a final tally of $9,900.
And, Randall was a good liberal of the old school, a very vocal and active supporter of Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (the Dem prez nom went to Hubert Humphrey, considered a centrist then, but he’d be to the left of Bernie Sanders today in some respects) and George McGovern in 1972. He lost side gigs over his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War and, the highest honor of all, was high up on Nixon’s famous enemies list.
His home life was incredibly serene. In 1938 he married his high school sweetheart, Florence Gibbs (not to be confused with Marla Gibbs, who played the maid Florence on The Jeffersons) until her death in 1992. I think I’ve been coupled off forever. Then, and do you remember this?, at the age of 75 he made the news by marrying a 25-year-old woman in 1995. They were married until his death in 2004, at the age of 84.
So there you have it. Who’s hungry?
Tony Randall’s Grilled Veal Chops with Bourbon-Cracked Black Pepper Sauce
6 (10 to 12 ounce) rib veal chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Bourbon
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Salt to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked fresh black pepper
Heat grill until hot or preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Season the veal chops well with salt and pepper.
If you are grilling the chops, rub them with the oil. Place on the grill, leaving room between. Grill for 7 to 10 minutes per side, turning once. If the chops are 1 1/2 inches thick, cook 9 to 12 minutes per side.
If roasting the chops, heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat until hot. Add the chops and sear on one side only. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chops for 10 to 12 minutes more for medium-rare.
While the chops are cooking, make the sauce. In an enamel or other nonreactive saucepan, combine the red and white wines and cook over high heat until hot. Add the Bourbon and cook until reduced by half.
Lower the heat to medium and add the butter, one piece at a time, quickly whisking it in until completely incorporated. Blend each piece of butter in fully, not just melt it, before adding the next. Work quickly but do not increase the heat under the sauce. Season with salt and cracked black pepper, and keep warm in a warm water bath until ready to use. Do not reheat the sauce over direct heat.
Place a grilled chop on each dinner plate and spoon about two tablespoons of the Bourbon sauce over the top. Serve immediately.