Tony Randall
Tony Randall
A distinguished group of colleagues and friends gathered at the Majestic Theatre at 1pm yesterday afternoon for A Tribute to Tony Randall (1920-2004). The nearly two-hour salute included appearances by Harry Belafonte, Jacques d'Amboise, David Dinkins, Julie Harris, Marilyn Horne, Anne Jackson, Jack Klugman, Garry Marshall, Sherril Milnes, Paul Newman, Ben Vereen, and Eli Wallach. James Naughton emceed (and also sang); John Tillinger directed. Placed stage right was a piano; stage left, a lectern, in front of which stood a floral arrangement and a coat rack bearing Randall's trench coat, scarf, and cap; upstage center, a screen.

Low-key and humorous, Naughton began by reading a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg, who had been scheduled to appear ("but," explained the emcee, "a new stadium needed to be built"). The mayor had named October 5 "Tony Randall Day" in the city of New York. Naughton's association with Randall, he said, was that, each September, they both entertained at a Hole-in-the Wall Camp benefit for the charity started by Paul Newman. In Randall's last appearance there, he portrayed a little old lady running for governor of California -- and he was the only one, noted Naughton, who was "off book," having memorized his skit (at 83).

Randall's best-remembered role was Felix Unger in the TV sitcom The Odd Couple, and that show' executive producer, Garry Marshall, was the first guest to speak. Marshall recalled Randall as "a terrific guy" but mentioned that, on the first day of shooting for the series, he "was such a pain!" Marshall said that Randall was sharing a limousine with co-star Jack Klugman and, at one point, screamed: "I can't work with that man. He smokes!" The hiring of a second limousine solved the problem. In Marshall's opinion, Randall frequently visited "the suburbs of over-the-top," but his acting range encompassed such diverse projects as Arturo Ui and Pillow Talk. Marshall described Randall as "a button-down collar in a T-shirt world" and suggested that the best way to honor him would be to "attend the theater -- and wear a well-pressed, button-down shirt."

Ben Vereen sang one of Randall's favorite songs, "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries." Harry Belafonte remarked that, "as an agnostic," he wasn't sure about a hereafter -- but if there is one, he looked forward to seeing Randall again. He reminisced about dinners shared with Randall ("a great raconteur") at the home of an RCA Records executive who had signed Belafonte, Leontyne Pryce, and Elvis Presley for RCA in the same year -- and that Randall also longed to record for the label. Any time Belafonte would call Randall to help with a charity or cause, he said, Randall, "who was deeply committed to humanity," would ask, "What do you want me to do?"

Sherril Milnes sang "Welcome Home" from Fanny, and former NYC Mayor David Dinkins praised Randall for his "service to others." Marilyn Horne offered a beautiful rendition of "At the River." Accompanied onstage by Maria Tucci, Julie Harris received the warmest welcome of the proceedings. She saluted Randall as "a prince of the theater" whom she "loved very, very much, forever and forever." Tucci -- who appeared opposite Randall in his last play, Right You Are, during which he was hospitalized -- said that Randall's stories about such luminaries as Katharine Cornell and Ethel Barrymore, with whom he had worked, enlivened lunch breaks at rehearsals and made the company into a family.

James Naughton sang another favorite song of Randall's, "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago, and quoted the actor's widow as saying that Randall always wished he could play Billy Flynn in the musical. According to Mrs. Randall, he would sing "Razzle Dazzle" while mixing and serving cocktails for them to share.

Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach recalled their friend. Jackson remembered a night when Randall "finished the play" for George C. Scott, who had been taken ill during a performance of the National Actors Theatre production of Inherit the Wind. Wallach spoke about sharing an elevator with Randall "sixty-eight years ago" when they both were on the way to class at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where they "bonded." He had visited Randall in the hospital, said Wallach, and the patient had instructed his visitor that, next time, he should not come empty-handed. Touching Randall's coat, Wallach claimed that he was "not empty-handed but broken-hearted." He introduced a montage of scenes from National Actors Theatre productions and then brought out the company's current artistic director, Ethan McSweeney, who vowed to continue Randall's dream project.

Jacques D'Amboise introduced two young dancers, Elizabeth Moy and Jamal Wyse, who performed a delightful pas-de-deux that he had suggested; it was choreographed by his son, Christopher D'Amboise. Paul Newman followed, speaking of working onstage (at the camp benefits) with Randall and of how the late actor could get laughs that Newman couldn't. Newman then introduced a montage of Randall clips.

Jack Klugman praised his friend and co-star, recalling how the late actor could accompany him to a museum and know the history of so much, then share a cab ride during which he would "tell the dirtiest joke." He spoke of the benefit performance of The Odd Couple that marked Klugman's return to Broadway following the loss of a vocal chord to cancer, and how Randall "gave the night to me." After his illness, said Klugman, he asked a genie for three wishes; two of them -- to get his voice back, however raspy, and to be able to work in the theater, which he's presently doing in L.A. -- have been granted. His third wish is that, someday soon, there will be "a Tony Randall Theatre."

The tribute concluded with four minutes of Odd Couple outtakes, and emcee Naughton asking the audience to pay a final tribute to Tony Randall by giving him one more standing ovation.