Friday, 25 March 2016

Theme Time : Neal Hefti - The Odd Couple

I always associate the film of The Odd Couple with Good Friday. It's right there with salmon sandwiches, fish and chips, hot cross buns and the prospect of Easter eggs. Why? Well it's on account of me seeing it as a kid for the first time on BBC1 on a Good Friday evening, in either the late 80s or early 90s. Prior to that, my introduction to Neil Simon's glorious comedy was the reruns of the 1970-'75 sitcom starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall which the BBC would often screen at all sorts of hours - daytime, evenings....whenever they had a spare half hour it seemed (nowadays it seems if the BBC has a spare half hour they chuck out the interminable A Question of Sport)

Who can forget the little narrative prologue that introduced all 114 episodes?

"On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. The request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With noweher else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had also thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"

And cue one of the coolest theme tunes ever from Neal Hefti...

Neil Simon's play made its debut on Broadway in 1965 and has been revived several times over across the world ever since. Originally it starred Walter Matthau and Art Carney as the mismatched roommates Oscar and Felix and was directed by Mike Nicholls. It ran for just over two years and in that time the original cast was replaced by Jack Klugman and Pat Hingle, Eddie Bracken and Paul Dooley. Revivals have starred talents as diverse as Martin Short and Eugene Levy, Jamie Farr and William Christopher, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane and, in Glasgow, Gerard Kelly and Craig Ferguson, and in Edinburgh, Bill Bailey and Alan Davies. For a long time, Mel Smith had harboured the desire to revive it for the London stage opposite his comic partner Griff Rhys Jones, but it never came to fruition.

In 1968, the play was adapted for the big screen with Matthau reprising his role as Oscar and Jack Lemmon starring as Felix. The film's score was provided by Neal Hefti and would later be reused for the TV series, becoming synonymous with Simon's comedy and its characters.

But The Odd Couple didn't just end with the series finale in 1975. In that same year, ABC presented a cartoon version featuring a cat and dog living together called Spiffy and Fleabag. In 1982, ABC rebooted the premise featuring a black cast. Called The New Odd Couple it starred Ron Glass as Felix and Desmond Wilson as Oscar. Despite being groundbreaking in its successful attempt at providing a platform for black actors at a time when roles for them were scarce or stereotypical on TV, it was not a success in terms of ratings and was cancelled in 1983 after 13 episodes. In 1985, Simon devised a female version for the stage called The Female Odd Couple with Sally Struthers and Rita Morenowhich also made its way across to London for a revival in 2001 with Paula Wilcox as Florence Unger and Jenny Seagrove as Olive Madison. In 1998 Matthau and Lemmon reprised their roles for the film sequel The Odd Couple II, whilst Tony Randall and Jack Klugman reprised their roles for the stage in London for three months in 1996. And in 2015, self-confessed Odd Couple fan and former Friends star Matthew Perry developed, executive produced and starred (as Oscar) in a new sitcom called The Odd Couple opposite Thomas Lennon as Felix, with a second season due to commence on US TV next month


  1. I make a point of watching both The Odd Couple and The Apartment at least once a year. Jack Lemon could do no wrong in my book. And yes, Hefti's soundtrack is up there with the greats.

    1. Genius wasn't he? I love his dead-straight performances too; The China Syndrome, Save The Tiger....