Friday, February 26, 2010


Today would have been the birthday of several classic stars who have passed from our world. One was the great Jackie Gleason who was born in 1916. Another would have been the great Tony Randall. Tony is perhaps best known for his work on television. His breakthrough role was as history teacher Harvey Weskit in Mr. Peepers (1952–1955). Does anybody remember Mr. Peepers and its star Wally Cox. After a long hiatus from the medium, he returned in 1970 as fussbudget Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, opposite Jack Klugman, a role he would keep for five years. The names of Unger's children on The Odd Couple were Edna and Leonard, named after Randall's sister and Randall himself. In 1974, Randall and Jack Klugman appeared in television spots endorsing a Yahtzee spinoff, Challenge Yahtzee. Although not identified as Felix and Oscar the TV spots were filmed on the same set as The Odd Couple. Subsequently, he starred in The Tony Randall Show, in which he played a Philadelphia judge, and Love, Sidney. In the TV movie that served as the latter show's pilot, Sidney Shorr was clearly written as a gay man, but his character's sexuality was made ambiguous when the series premiered. Disappointed by this turn of events and the series' lack of acceptance, Randall stayed away from television series. Years later he was the host during the breaks for the October 30 - November 2, 1987 free preview of HBO's short lived premium channel Festival. In September 1993, Randall and Jack Klugman reunited once again in the CBS-TV Movie The Odd Couple: Together Again reprising their roles as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. The story began when, after Felix ruins plans for his daughter Edna's wedding, his wife Gloria throws him out the house for 11 days which left him no choice but to move back in with Oscar and to help him recover, getting him back in shape after throat cancer surgery left his voice very raspy. It would also have been the birthday of "good old Fred Mertz' aka William Frawley who was born in 1887. This amazing veteran character actor, best known for his portrayal of Lucille Ball's gruff landlord ‘Fred Mertz' on the groundbreaking 1950's television sitcom "I Love Lucy." By the time Frawley came to "I Love Lucy" he was a veteran of vaudeville, Broadway and over 100 Hollywood films. He was born William Clement Frawley on February 26, 1887 in Burlington, Iowa. In his youth he sang in the St. Paul's Catholic Church choir, played at the Burlington Opera House, and also appeared in amateur shows at the Garrick Theater. His first "real" job was as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. But his true love was show business, which he pursued in a vaudeville act with his brother Paul, and later joined pianist Franz Rath in an act they took to San Francisco, "A Man, a Piano, and a Nut." After four years, in 1914 he formed a light comedy act with his new wife Edna Louise Broedt, "Frawley and Louise," touring the Orpheum and Keith vaudeville circuits until they divorced in 1927. Then he moved to Broadway and appeared in such shows as "Here's Howe!" "Bye, Bye Bonnie," "The Gingham Girl," "Sons o' Guns," and "She's My Baby" (with Bea Lillie, Clifton Webb, and Irene Dunne). His first dramatic role was that of press agent ‘Ward O'Malley' in a 1932 production of "Twentieth Century" at the Broadhurst Theater. Then in 1932, it was off to Hollywood for a seven-year contract with Paramount. When Frawley approached Lucille Ball about a part in "I Love Lucy" in 1951, she was surprised to hear from a man she knew only barely from the forties. Lucy responded, "Bill Frawley, how are you?" and promised to discuss the matter with Desi Arnaz. Arnaz agreed that Frawley would be wonderful for the ‘Fred Mertz' role, but shared the network's concern over his reputation for instability and drinking problems. Arnaz immediately leveled with Frawley about CBS's reservations. He denied it, but Desi warned him that if he was late to work, or unable to perform except because of legitimate illness more than once, he'd be written out of the show. So began the saga that continued until 1957 when "Lucy" went off of prime time after 179 episodes. In 1960, Frawley accepted an offer to do a show with ABC, "My Three Sons," portraying ‘Michael Francis "Bub" O'Casey,' a character not unlike ‘Fred Mertz.' He continued with "My Three Sons" for five years, until failing health forced him to retire. On the evening of March 3, 1966 while strolling down Hollywood Blvd. after seeing a movie, Frawley suffered a heart attack and collapsed. He was rushed to nearby Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was pronounced dead, a week after his seventy-ninth birthday.