‘The Odd Couple’ Turns 50: Here’s What Happened to Oscar and Felix Before, During and After the Show

Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy? TV viewers have been trying to answer that question over the past 50 years since they were first introduced to Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison (sportswriter and slob) and Tony Randall as Felix Unger (photographer, “portraits a specialty;” and fastidious to a fault). And while the 1970 to 1975 Classic TV show is the most famous take on Oscar and Felix, there is a long history of the characters before and beyond it, involving a wide range of actors, Walter Matthau, Art Carney, Jack Lemmon, Rita Moreno, Barbara Eden, Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon among them.

When playwright Neil Simon presented the characters to the world in the form of the original 1965 Broadway play, he began with a simple premise: “Two men. One divorced and one estranged — and neither quite sure why their marriages fell apart — move in together to cut down on their alimony, and suddenly discover that they’re having the same conflicts and fights that they had in their marriages.”

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Courtesy Patricio Carbajal

That concept became the source of a million laughs, giving us one of the greatest character pairings in pop culture history, which have appeared in a number of mediums. And for anyone who isn’t aware of the concept’s lineage beyond Klugman and Randall, think of yourself as a kid who didn’t realize that mom and dad had a life before you came along. While it may not have been as rich, it also could have been a lot of fun in its own right. In this case, it was.

“So many people relate to The Odd Couple, because it’s such a human situation,” observes Bob Leszcak, author of The Odd Couple on Stage and Screen and who is featured on the podcast below. “It’s something we’ve all experienced or we’ve seen, where two people live together, whether they’re dating or just roommates, and they get on each other’s nerves. Of course in The Odd Couple it’s taken to the extreme, but we relate to them, whether it’s Felix the perfectionist or Oscar the slob, or even somebody with both of those qualities. It’s universal and will work forever. That’s why the show is still popular.”

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Courtesy Patricio Carbajal

Adds The Lucy Book author and pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, “It’s the best thing from Neil Simon, and the proof of the pudding is that it has the longest legs of anything he wrote. The writing is brilliant and the subject is timeless: unhappily married people and their quirks. Is that ever going to get old? Is there ever going to be a time in history where people won’t be able to relate to either being unhappily married or to be with people who have these annoying quirks that either get in the way of their happiness or get in the way of your own happiness because of them?”

TV Confidential host and author Ed Robertson elaborates, “Oscar and Felix supported each other like a married couple did and they got on each other’s nerves like a married couple. The point is, that type of relationship, whether it’s a marriage or just two people living together, takes work. Even though they got on each other’s nerves a lot, at the end of the day they were there for each other. That’s why people keep returning to the premise, whether it’s called The Odd Couple, Sanford and Son or The Big Bang Theory.”

As the Klugman and Randall show celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we’re taking a deep dive into all things Odd, featuring the comments of many of the people who were there as it happened.

Please scroll down for much more on The Odd Couple.

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