Beloved actor Jack Klugman, best known for his characterization of craggy, cigar-chomping sports writer Oscar Madison in the sitcom "The Odd Couple," passed away Christmas Eve at the age of 90. His death was sad news for many in the world of sports writing.
The Odd Couple, which had a 114 episode run on TV from 1970-1975, humorously paired Klugman with fastidious photographer Felix Unger (played by Tony Randall). The two characters shared a Park Avenue apartment on the show and the two men shared a friendship for 30 years after the show ended. In 2005, Klugman published Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship to commemorate the friendship after giving the eulogy at Randall’s memorial service in 2004.
Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in The Odd Couple/Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com
Oscar Madison worked during an era when sports writing was glamorous and writers actually had to attend games to report them. Long before sports blogs and Twitter, before cable sports channels and instant access, sports writers were well-paid professionals. Oscar got to cover all sorts of games and as a kid watching the show in syndication, that seemed like an ideal job. He typified the era and although you never saw him actually meet a deadline, you could tell he was a real (old school) sportswriter. Flawed, yet flawless, Oscar was messy, crude, and grumpy. He was a reckless skirt-chaser. He was uncouth, vulgar, and a confirmed slob. He drank and bet on horses. He ate French fries and pizza. He proudly wore a Mets cap and ketchup stains. Yup. A real sportswriter. Right down to pecking out the story on his manual typewriter. Plus, he was a mainstay in the pressbox at Shea Stadium and he got to hang out with famous athletes.
Football players Deacon Jones, Bubba Smith and Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian were just a few of the pro athletes who played themselves on the show. Broadcaster Howard Cosell was also on several episodes, battling with Oscar who egged him on by calling him “Howie”. There was also a classic episode with Bobby Riggs in which Oscar lost everything – including Felix - to the tennis hustler. The episode ended with Riggs playing ping pong against tennis great Billie Jean King.
"The Odd Couple" is one of the rare works that was popular in every incarnation -- first as a Neil Simon play, starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix; next as a 1968 film starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Matthau reprising his role as Oscar; and then as a Garry Marshall TV sitcom, featuring Randall and Klugman -- who had followed Matthau in the Broadway version . Matthau was great in the role, but Klugman is the quintessential Oscar. And now he and Randall are reunited. The Odd Couple in heaven.
RIP and Farewell to a sports writing legend. We’ll see you in reruns.
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