9 odd but true facts about The Odd Couple

Did you know the classic 1970s sitcom featured 'Peanuts' siblings and Penny Marshall family reunions?

Watch The Odd Couple holiday episode "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" on Sunday, December 8, at 5:30PM | 4:30C as part of A Very Merry MeTV!

The idea behind The Odd Couple — pairing a boorish slob with an uptight roommate — is so fundamental to television comedy, it's easy to overlook who perfected the template. Variations on the formula continue to click today, from Two and a Half Men and Two Broke Girls to, well, the current reboot of The Odd Couple. Yet when someone says, "The Odd Couple," odds are the characters molded by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman pop into mind.

Of course, the story of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger began on Broadway in 1965 with Neil Simon's landmark play. Walter Matthau and Art Carney first embodied the roles. Since then, various productions have cast actors as diverse as Martin Short, Jamie Farr and Pat Sajak. Yet, nobody matches the chemistry of Randall and Klugman.

And to think, the pairing came close to never happening…

1. Dean Martin and Mickey Rooney were considered as leads

Randall pushed for Rooney to play his counterpart. Producer Garry Marshall was in Klugman's corner. While it's hard to imagine the tone being the same with Rooney as Oscar, that's not quite the stretch of imagination required to wonder what might have happened if Dean Martin had landed the part of Felix. His name was tossed around, along with the original performer, Art Carney. 

2. Famous cartoon voices appeared on the show

Bill Woodson, the voice you hear in the opening credits, became a staple of Saturday mornings as the narrator on the Super Friends cartoon. Once you learn that, it seems quite obvious. However, you might not catch a couple Peanuts stepping into live-action roles. Pamelyn Ferdin, the voice of Lucy Van Pelt, plays Felix's daughter, Edna. Christpher Shea, the boy behind her animated brother Linus, appears as Phillip, a neighbor's son, in a few episodes as well.

3. There was a cartoon knockoff called 'The Oddball Couple'

Speaking of toons, after the sitcom ended an unofficial homage popped up on Saturday mornings on ABC. Spiffy and Fleabag are Felix and Oscar analogs in cat and dog form, naturally.

4. The Odd Couple promoted products together

"You play your way — I'll play mine," Randall and Klugman proclaimed on the packing of Challenge Yahtzee. Their faces appeared on the box for years. The two also starred in a long-running series of commercials for Eagle Snacks, which played up the look and stereotypes of their onscreen characters while using their real names.

5. It was the last Friday night sitcom to be nominated for an Emmy

In the 1980s, the end of the workweek became a landscape for comfort-food family sitcoms ("TGIF" and the like) and hour-long action. When The Odd Couple received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1974, it would be the last time a Friday sitcom earned such an honor. In 1991, Burt Reynolds won a trophy for his part on Evening Shade, which briefly aired on Friday in its first season, but the show itself failed to grab a nom.

6. Penny Marshall's family appears together in an episode

Before Laverne, Penny Marshall was secretary Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple. In the episode "The Rain in Spain," Myrna marries Sheldn ("They forgot the 'o' on his birth certificate"), who was played by her real-life husband at the time, Rob Reiner. Additionally, her siblings Garry Marshall and Ronny Marshall pop up as Myrna's brother and sister, Werner and Verna Turner.

7. It was on the chopping block after every season

Despite its resonating influence, The Odd Couple was not a ratings success. At the end of each season, the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. Yet the modest success of summer reruns proved its worth, saving it year after year. Well, until it was axed in 1975. Because of its state of peril, the show changed here and there. Initially, it was titled Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. And the production method was drastically altered as well…

8. The first season was filmed with one camera, the rest with three

In its inaugural season, the sitcom was filmed with one camera. This gives season one a more cinematic style — and a laugh track. Randall was no fan of the faux yucks. Subsequent seasons were filmed in the three-camera sitcom technique, before a live studio audience.

9. Actor Richard Stahl appears in nine episodes as nine different characters

The character actor worked minor roles in dozens upon dozens of sitcoms in the 1970s and 1980s. On The Odd Couple alone, he showed up nine times, as nine unique people. That must be close to some kind of record. Stahl finally scored a significant role in the short-lived It's A Living in the early '80s. 

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Runeshaper 1 month ago
Such an AMAZING show! Great actors too! I once had the honor of playing Felix in a short scene on stage in Staten Island, NY. Shortly after that, my father accidentally ran into Tony and actually had a brief conversation with him :)
daDoctah 1 month ago
There was another reboot that people seem to forget about, with Ron Glass (Harris on "Barney Miller") and Demond Wilson (Lamont on "Sanford and Son") as Felix and Oscar respectively.

Also, Neil Simon made a gender-swapped adaptation for the stage around the turn of the century. One version had Barbara Eden as "Florence Unger" opposite Rita McKenzie (who doesn't seem to have a Wiki page) as "Olive Madison".
Moody daDoctah 1 month ago
Yes I remember the Glass/Wilson version. I thought it was pretty good but it didn't last long. Ron Glass played a great Felix.
Kelle 1 month ago
Tony Randall said on The Tonight Show once that he and his first wife returned home from an evening out and their cab driver was surprised to learn the lady was Mrs. Randall--he thought there was a Randall/Klugman romance. When Tony got up to his apartment, he told the story to his wife and then picked up the phone. When she asked why, he answered "I've got to tell Jack!".
Utzaake 1 month ago
2. Bill Woodson also narrated the Super Bowl II highlight film. He sounded like a government operative straight out of Central Casting.

3. Frank Nelson & Paul Winchell voiced Spiffy & Fleabag respectively.
8. Poker bums.
RobCertSDSCascap 1 month ago
#3- Still remember this obscure show, paired well in reruns with Baggy Pants & The Nit Wits;
featuring Arte Johnson and Ruth Buzzi!
RobCertSDSCascap 1 month ago
Bill Woodson was the second narrator on the Super Friends cartoons.
Ted Knight was the first.
RedSamRackham 1 month ago
* Elliot Reid who was Felix in a stage production appeared on 1 episode * Although Oscar on phone talking to his children in movie & stage play on TV sitcom Oscar & Blanche were chlldless * TV sitcom changed Felix's ex-wife's name from Frances to Gloria since "Frances" sounds sexually ambiguous. ♣
Really, did anyone think Felix was gay...LOL! He definitely was in the reboot!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 1 month ago
Theoretically he could've been in the series too. The obvious (though stereotypical) polar opposite of Oscar. But producers preferred not to play it that way. Certainly not in a continuing series, (perhaps misjudging their audience) while gay guest stars appeared here and there on other shows of the time. The 60's considered the dawning of "liberation" (not the same as liberalism) didn't transfer well to screen, even though the talent of the day was very diverse!
BrittReid RedSamRackham 1 month ago
Gloria was a Hottie!
i remember that! Tony Randall wasn't gay, his wife just chose to keep a low profile! Thomas Lemon, on the other hand...LOL!
PS Here's how homophobic TV was in the 70's: In the Rockford Files pilot, James Gardner angered a bully by calling him the Q word...and I don't mean questioning!
richardkel 1 month ago
Here's another fun fact about the series. Jack Klugman's real wife, Brett Sommers, appeared as Oscar Madison's ex-wife in several episodes.
cperrynaples richardkel 1 month ago
Yep, and Sommers got on Match Game because it was the only way to get Klugman to appear! Fun Fact: They separated in the '70's, but were still legally married until Sommers' death!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 1 month ago
Sommers was a regular on the Match Game. An easy "gig" for big money back then. Many traded on their TV series' familiarity!!
Bill Woodson was also a narrator for the TV Mini-Series 'The Winds of War'. The series also had a Broadway spinoff with two women as the odd couple with Sally Struthers in one of the leads.
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Loved the first season.
Kathleen MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I met him in the 80's at Santa Anita race track
I also met his horse: Jaklin Klugman
MrsPhilHarris Kathleen 1 month ago
I remember the horses name
He was big on horse racing.
He fits the type!
cperrynaples 1 month ago
It was highly unlikely for Dino to be Felix since he got a lot more money for doing a lot less work on his variety show. Believe it or not, Mickey Rooney rejected Archie Bunker because he didn't think AITF was going to work!
anthony cperrynaples 1 month ago
Neither did Carroll O'CONNOR.He was living in Italy at the time and he only agreed to take the role if It included a round trip ticket back to Italy.
Pacificsun cperrynaples 1 month ago
Some times I think those turn out to be the best kind of shows! Because nobody is trying "that" hard, as in forcing the jokes, the situations, being too self-conscious of it's own success. They just put out a good product instead, doing their best acting style. And let it be. Look how many classic TV shows turned out to be unexpected successes in spite of themselves!!
cperrynaples anthony 1 month ago
Yes, and Norman Lear knew right away O'Connor was his Archie! Believe it or not, O'Connor was a liberal in real life!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 1 month ago
O'Connor was a stage worthy consumate actor. People were shocked to find out how opposite he was from Archie Bunker.
SalIanni Pacificsun 1 month ago
They would be even more shocked to find out that he was once considered for the role of the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island".
Aren't all actors?
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