Tony Randall's Passion and Talent Remembered at Broadway Memorial

News   Tony Randall's Passion and Talent Remembered at Broadway Memorial
Tony Randall, the late actor who loved the theatre so much he spent the last 13 of his 84 years creating and sustaining his own company, the National Actors Theatre, was remembered by colleagues and friends at an Oct. 5 memorial at Broadway's Majestic Theatre.
Tony Randall
Tony Randall

"He was a friend to the arts, a friend to culture, a friend to civilization," said actor James Naughton, who hosted the afternoon affair. Naughton also presented a proclamation from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, which declared Oct. 5 "Tony Randall Day." Randall died on May 18.

Naughton later sung "Razzle Dazzle," the Kander and Ebb song from Chicago, which Naughton sang nightly as the original Billy Flynn of the current Broadway revival. "[Randall's wife] Heather told me it was his favorite song," said Naughton. "Who knew?"

Appropriately for a man whose love of music was well known, the memorial was rich in song. Ben Vereen, who starred with Randall in A Christmas Carol, sang the standard "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries." Opera singers Sherril Milnes and Marilyn Horne sang "Welcome Home" from the musical Fanny and "By the River," arranged by Aaron Copland, respectively. Horne apologized to Randall for not singing opera.

Another famous singer, Harry Belafonte, told of Randall's tireless services to humanitarian causes, citing the late actor's work on behalf of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. "Every time I picked up the phone and asked for something, he said 'What do you want me to do?'" remembered Belafonte. "I always thought of Tony as my last hope."

The audience expressed audible surprise when theatre legend Julie Harris strode up to the podium on the arm of Maria Tucci. Harris—who acted in the NAT's The Gin Game—has made few appearances since suffering a stroke in May 2001. "Tony was a prince of the theatre," she said, "and I loved him very much." Tucci performed in the last play Randall acted in, NAT's production of Right You Are, and remembered saying "see you next Tuesday" after a Sunday matinee. "He went into the hospital after that. We were so sure he'd come back. How could a man so full of delight and life not come back?"

Paul Newman recollected Randall's contributions to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, established in Connecticut by Newman to give children with life threatening diseases a free chance to go to summer camp. Every year, Newman and other actors—including Naughton—put on a show for the children.

"Appearing on stage with Tony goes something like this," said Newman. "Tony does his comic turn and the audience goes to pieces. You do your comic turn and ZIP. Then Tony fixes you with a look of uncompromising pity and you go to pieces."

Garry Marshall, growling through an unreconstituted New York accident, remembered his initial encounter with the star of "The Odd Couple," the television series Marshall produced.

"When I first met Tony, he was the biggest pain," he said. "We were setting up the first shot for the show in front of the Plaza Hotel, when the limousine with Tony and Jack [Klugman] pulled up and Tony comes out yelling and screaming, 'I cannot work with the man in that limousine!' Then Jack came out making rude gestures toward Tony with his cigar."

"So we got two limousines," he added. "The old solution: you have a problem, throw money at it."

Of course, Randall and Klugman grew to become close friends, and acted together several times in NAT productions. The first NAT effort was a fund raising, one-night-only performance of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, starring the two actors. It was the first stage work Klugman did following a throat operation that took away much of his voice.

Klugman remembered how Randall had put away money all his life with the aim of someday founding his own classical theatre company. With the benefit performance, Randall's dream was beginning.

"There was this audience who had spent over $1 million to see the show. We got a seven-minute-long ovation. Helen Hayes and Sylvia Sidney were in the audience, represented—I don't know—190 years of acting experience between them. And Sidney asked Hayes, 'Have you ever experienced such an exchange of love between an audience and actors on the stage as there is in this theatre tonight?' And Hayes said, 'No, I've never seen so much love.' That should have been Tony's night. He had worked so hard for it. But he just gave it away. He stood back and clapped for me. He gave the night to me."

Klugman concluded by expressing his fervent desire that New York City soon hold within it a Tony Randall Theatre.

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