The Odd Couple

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This article is about the 1965 Broadway play. For other uses, see Odd Couple.
The Odd Couple
Written by Neil Simon
Date premiered 1965
Place premiered United States
Original language English
Genre Comedy

The Odd Couple is a play by Neil Simon. Following its premiere on Broadway in 1965, the characters were revived in a successful 1968 film and 1970s television series, as well as other derivative works and spin-offs. The plot concerns two mismatched roommates: the neat, uptight Felix Ungar and the slovenly, easygoing Oscar Madison. Simon adapted the play in 1985 to feature a pair of female roommates (Florence Ungar and Olive Madison) in The Female Odd Couple. An updated version of the 1965 show appeared in 2002 with the title Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple.

History[edit]

Sources vary as to the origins of the play. In Danny Simon's obituary in The Washington Post, Adam Bernstein wrote that the idea for the play came from his divorce. "Mr. Simon had moved in with a newly single theatrical agent named Roy Gerber in Hollywood, and they invited friends over one night. Mr. Simon botched the pot roast. The next day, Gerber told him: "Sweetheart, that was a lovely dinner last night. What are we going to have tonight?" Mr. Simon replied: "What do you mean, cook you dinner? You never take me out to dinner. You never bring me flowers."[1] Danny Simon wrote a partial first draft of the play, but then handed over the idea to Neil.[1]

However, in the Mel Brooks biography It's Good to Be the King, author James Robert Parish claims that the play came about after Simon observed Brooks, in a separation from his first wife, living with writer Speed Vogel for three months. Vogel later wrote that Brooks had insomnia, "a brushstroke of paranoia," and "a blood-sugar problem that kept us a scintilla away from insanity."

Boston Tryout[edit]

Simon credited Boston critic Elliot Norton with helping him develop the final act of the play.[2] Norton practiced drama criticism when the relationship between the regional critic and playwrights whose shows were undergoing tryouts in their towns were not as adversarial as they were to become.

Appearing on the public television show Eliott Norton Reviews, during Simon's conversation with the critic, Elliott said that the play went "flat" in its final act.[3] As it appeared originally in Boston, the characters the Pigeon Sisters did not appear in the final act.[4]

Simon told the Boston Globe:

He invited one of the stars and the writer. He loved the play and gave it a wonderful review but he said the third act was lacking something. On the show he said, `You know who I missed in the third act was the Pigeon Sisters,' and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. It made an enormous difference in the play. I rewrote it and it worked very well. I was so grateful to Elliot ... Elliot had such a keen eye. I don't know if he saved the play or not, but he made it a bigger success.[5]

Plot overview[edit]

Felix Ungar, a neurotic, neat freak newswriter (a photographer in the television series), is thrown out by his wife, and moves in with his friend Oscar Madison, a slovenly sportswriter. Despite Oscar's problems – careless spending, excessive gambling, a poorly kept house filled with spoiled food – he seems to enjoy life. Felix, however, seems utterly incapable of enjoying anything and only finds purpose in pointing out his own and other people's mistakes and foibles. Even when he tries to do so in a gentle and constructive way, his corrections and suggestions prove extremely annoying to those around him. Oscar, his closest friend, feels compelled to throw him out after only a brief time together, though he quickly realizes that Felix has had a positive effect on him.

The play and the film both spell Felix's name Ungar, while the television series spells it Unger.

Felix and the Pigeon Sisters.

Characters[edit]

  • Oscar Madison: A slovenly, recently divorced sportswriter.
  • Felix Ungar: A fastidious, hypochondriac newswriter whose marriage is ending.
  • Murray: An NYPD policeman, one of Oscar and Felix's poker buddies.
  • Speed: One of the poker buddies. Gruff and sarcastic, often picking on Vinnie and Murray.
  • Vinnie: One of the poker buddies. Vinnie is mild-mannered and henpecked, making him an easy target for Speed's verbal barbs.
  • Roy: One of the poker buddies. Oscar's accountant. Roy has a dry wit but is less acerbic than Speed.
  • Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon: Oscar and Felix's upstairs neighbors, a pair of British sisters. The former is a divorcée, the latter a widow.

Productions[edit]

Walter Matthau and Art Carney in the 1965 production.

The Odd Couple premiered on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on March 10, 1965 and transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where it closed on July 2, 1967 after 964 performances and two previews. Directed by Mike Nichols, the cast starred Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Art Carney as Felix Ungar.[6] The production gained Tony Awards for Walter Matthau, Best Actor (Play), Best Author (Play), Best Direction of a Play, and Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith), and was nominated for Best Play.[6]

Matthau was replaced with Jack Klugman, starting in November 1965 and later Pat Hingle, starting in February 1966.[6] Carney was replaced with Eddie Bracken starting in October 1965[6] and later Paul Dooley.[7]

Stage revivals[edit]

In 1970, the McMaster Shakespearean Players performed The Odd Couple with Martin Short as Felix, Eugene Levy as Oscar, and Dave Thomas as Murray – before any of these performers were famous.

In 1994, a version of the play moved to Glasgow and toured Scotland, starring Gerard Kelly as Felix, Craig Ferguson as Oscar and Kate Anthony as Gwendolyn Pigeon. Kelly reprised the role of Felix at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe, opposite Andy Gray.

In 1996, Klugman and Tony Randall reprised their roles from the TV series for a three-month run at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket, London.[8] The production was an effort to raise money to support Randall's National Actors Theatre. (Klugman had previously played Oscar in London opposite Victor Spinetti as Felix.)

In a 1997 issue of Premiere Magazine, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams announced a possible stage revival, in anticipation of success of their film Fathers' Day. When that film failed at the box office, the Crystal/Williams revival was quickly forgotten.

Also in 1997, a tour of the US and Canada was mounted by Troupe America and Lake Pepin Players starring Jamie Farr as Oscar, William Christopher as Felix, and William Richard Rogers as Murray. The production was directed by Curt Wollan.

In 2001, 'Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak and Hawaii TV News anchor Joe Moore (Sajak's Viet Nam roommate and close friend) played Felix and Oscar at the Hawaii Theatre Center as a benefit for Hawaii's Manoa Valley Theater.

In 2002, Simon wrote an updated version of The Odd Couple, titled Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple. This version incorporated updated references and elements into the original storyline. This production ran at the Geffen Playhouse (Los Angeles) from June 2002 to July 21, 2002 with a cast that starred Gregory Jbara (Vinnie ), John Larroquette (Oscar), Joe Regalbuto (Felix) and Maria Conchita Alonso (Ynes) and was directed by Peter Bonerz.[9] The revival opened on Broadway at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on October 27, 2005 and closed on June 4, 2006 after 249 performances. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane played Felix and Oscar, respectively.[10][11] Lane was replaced for three performances in January 2006 due to illness by Brad Garrett who had previously played Murray.[12]

A reading featuring Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup was staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre on January 9, 2011.[13]

A Venezuelan production appeared at the Trasnocho Cultural Theatre in 2009. It was Directed by Armando Alvarez and featured Armando Cabrera (Oscar), Luigi Sciamanna (Felix), Juan Carlos Ogando (Richard), Alezander Slorzano (Murray), Alexandra Malave (Clementina) and Stephanie Cardone (Cecilia).

The all-female Takarazuka Revue Company performed the show under the title "おかしな二人" in September 2011 in Takarazuka, Japan. It starred Yu Todoroki as Oscar and Misa Noeru as Felix.[14]

In 2011, Cezary Żak and Artur Barciś (popular actors from the Polish hit TV series 'Ranczo') performed as Oscar and Felix in 'Dziwna Para', a Polish rendition of The Odd Couple. The play was performed in the U.S and in Toronto, Canada and received good reviews.

In 2013, The Dallas Theatre Center performed a revival of The Odd Couple, directed by Kevin Moriarty.

Female version[edit]

In 1985, Neil Simon revised The Odd Couple for a female cast. The Female Odd Couple was based on the same story line and same lead characters, now called Florence Ungar and Olive Madison. The poker game became Trivial Pursuit with their friends becoming the girlfriends: Mickey, Sylvie, Vera, and Renee. The Pigeon sisters became the Costazuela brothers, Manolo and Jesus.

The Female Odd Couple opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on June 11, 1985 and closed on February 23, 1986 after 295 performances and nine previews. Directed by Gene Saks the cast starred Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno as Florence (Felix) and Olive (Oscar), with Lewis J. Stadlen and Tony Shalhoub (in his Broadway debut) as the Costazuela brothers.[15][16]

A London production of this version ran at the Apollo Theatre in 2001 and starred Paula Wilcox (Florence) and Jenny Seagrove (Olive).[17][18][19]

Film and TV adaptations[edit]

Neil Simon sold film and TV rights to Paramount Pictures in 1967. Paramount produced two films and three TV series based upon the play. Rights are now split between Paramount and CBS, the result of Paramount owner Viacom's purchase of and eventual spinoff from the latter company.

1968 film[edit]

Main article: The Odd Couple (film)

In 1968, The Odd Couple was made into a highly successful film starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau (once more) as Oscar. Most of the script from the play is the same, although the setting is expanded: instead of taking place entirely in Oscar's apartment, some scenes take place at various outside locations. The film was also written by Simon (who was nominated for an Academy Award) and was directed by Gene Saks.

In 1998, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau reprised their roles for the film The Odd Couple II, produced by Neil Simon.

1970–1975 ABC sitcom[edit]

The success of the film was the basis for 114 episodes of the 1970–75 ABC television sitcom, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. Klugman was familiar with the role as he had replaced Walter Matthau in the original Broadway run. Neil Simon originally disapproved of this adaptation, but by the series' final season, he reassessed the show positively to the point of appearing in a cameo role.

Randall and Klugman also reunited in 1993 for a made-for-TV reunion film based upon the series. The movie was initially broadcast on CBS on September 24, 1993. Robert Klane was the writer and director, with a cast that included Barbara Barrie as Felix's wife), Penny Marshall as Myrna and Dick Van Patten. The throat-cancer surgery that Jack Klugman (Oscar) had is written into the script, when Felix (Tony Randall) stays with Oscar and helps with his rehabilitation.[20]

1975 ABC cartoon[edit]

Main article: The Oddball Couple

In the fall of 1975, ABC aired a cartoon version of the play entitled The Oddball Couple, produced by Paramount and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. The roles were played by a cat and dog named Spiffy and Fleabag.

1982–1983 ABC sitcom[edit]

Main article: The New Odd Couple

In 1982, ABC aired a new version of the series, entitled The New Odd Couple. Produced by Garry Marshall, the premise of the new version has two black actors, Ron Glass as Felix and Demond Wilson as Oscar. The New York Times reviewer noted "What may be surprising is how little the spine of the show has changed. The dialogue has been updated a little, but the plots are essentially the same. The New Odd Couple bounces along nicely. It adds nothing new to the craft of situation comedy, but it does provide employment and a good showcase for talented black actors, who generally don't have an easy time of it on television these days."[21] This new version was not successful and was canceled after just 13 episodes.

2015 CBS sitcom[edit]

In December 2013, it was announced that Matthew Perry will be starring, co-writing, and executive-producing a remake of The Odd Couple. The multi-camera comedy will start airing in midseason 2015 on CBS.[22] Perry will play Oscar Madison, a known slob; the role of his clean freak roomie Felix Unger will be portrayed by Thomas Lennon. The show will also star Wendell Pierce as Teddy, their cop friend (a stand-in for Murray), and Georgia King and Lindsay Sloane as Katie and Emily (taking over for the Pigeon sisters).[23][24][25][26][27]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bernstein, Adam. "TV Comedy Writer Danny Simon Dies"Washington Post, July 28, 2005
  2. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Elliot Norton, Influential Boston Theatre Critic, Dead at 100". 21 Jul 2003. Playbill. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Collier, Jay. "One of the Deans of Theater Criticism, Elliot Norton, Exits the Stage". WGBH Alumni: Pioneers in Broadcasting. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Elliot Norton, 100; Boston Theater Critic Wrote 6,000 Reviews". Los Angeles Times. 23 July 2003. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Siegel, Ed (21 July 2003). "Elliot Norton, 100, legendary critic of American theater". Boston Globe. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d The Odd Couple Internet Broadway database, accessed April 12, 2012
  7. ^ "Paul Dooley biography" Movies.yahoo.com
  8. ^ Financial Times review of the 1996 London production
  9. ^ Oxman, Steven. "Legit Reviews. 'Oscar and Felix': A New Look at The Odd Couple" Variety (webcache), June 21, 2002
  10. ^ " The Odd Couple, 2005" Internet Broadway Database, accessed April 12, 2012
  11. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Together Again: Lane and Broderick Open in The Odd Couple'" playbill.com, October 27, 2005
  12. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Brad Garrett Steps in for Ailing Lane in 'Odd Couple'" playbill.com, January 2006
  13. ^ " 'The Odd Couple' Reading, with Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, Julia Stiles, Presented Jan. 9" playbill.com
  14. ^ Takarazuka Revue おかしな二人
  15. ^ " 'The Odd Couple', 1985" Internet Broadway Database, accessed April 12, 2012
  16. ^ Kerr, Walter. "Stage View; Is This Couple Too Odd, Or Not Odd Enough?" The New York Times, June 23, 1985
  17. ^ Review of The Female Odd Couple
  18. ^ Review of The Female Odd Couple
  19. ^ London Theatre Guide archive: The Female Odd Couple
  20. ^ Voros, Drew. " 'The Odd Couple' (Fri. (24), 9-11 p.m. CBS)", Daily Variety, September 24, 1993, (no page number)
  21. ^ O'Connor, John J. "New Odd Couple,' 'Chastity Gulch' ", The New York Times, October 29, 1982, Section C; p.26
  22. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 14, 2014). "CBS 2014 Schedule: Monday Comedy Block Trimmed, ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ Gets Post-‘NCIS’ Slot, ‘NCIS: LA’ To Monday, ‘CSI’ To Sunday, ‘The Amazing Race’ To Friday". Deadline.com. Retrieved August 15, 2014. 
  23. ^ TV.com
  24. ^ "Thomas Lennon is Felix to Matthew Perry’s Oscar in CBS’ ‘Odd Couple’ Pilot". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
  25. ^ "‘The Wire’ Actor Joins CBS’ ‘Odd Couple’ Pilot". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-15. 
  26. ^ "Georgia King To Co-Star In CBS Comedy Pilot ‘The Odd Couple’". March 17, u2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  27. ^ "Lindsay Sloane Joins CBS Pilot ‘The Odd Couple’". March 22, u2014. Retrieved March 22, 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]