Anthony Leonard Randall, better known as Tony Randall, was an American actor, comic, and singer best known for his iconic role as Felix Unger in the trailblazing 1970s sitcom The Odd Couple. Randall’s prolific career in show business spanned six decades. And for his influential work in the industry, Randall honored with six Golden Globe nominations and six Primetime Emmy Award nods, of which he won one.
Throughout his life, Randall married twice. He tied the knot with his first wife and high school sweetheart; Florence Gibbs, in 1938, and the couple remained together until Gibb’s death from cancer in 1992. In 1995, Randall walked down the aisle once again. But his choice of bride raised more than a few eyebrows, considering how the duo had a massive age gap between them. Besides just being astonishingly younger than he was; Randall and his new wife further shocked the world when they welcomed a child into the world on April 11, 1997, and another on June 15, 1998.
At the time of Randall’s daughter Julia’s birth, the actor was already 77 years old. Join us as we take a closer look at this fascinating situation and reveal who Randall’s much-younger wife was. But first, we’re going to cover Tony Randall’s rise to fame and a bit of his back story.
Tony Randall’s Early Years
Randall was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 26, 1920. He came from a Jewish family, and his parents, Julia and Mogscha Rosenberg were art and antique dealers. After graduating from Tulsa Central High School, Randall enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; before moving to New York City, where he studied at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. While he was there, Randall the understudy of Sanford Meisner; the acting instructor who developed what’s known as the Meisner technique. And choreographer Martha Graham, who likewise came up with her own signature style of dance instruction known as the Graham technique.
Billed as Anthony Randall, he starred in the comedy play Candida as well as the more dramatic production The Corn Is Green. And both of these performances captured the attention of critics who applauded Randall for his versatility and distinct acting style.
During World War II, Randall served in the US Army Signal Corps; where he worked as a codebreaker for the Signal Intelligence Service, which later renamed the Army Security Agency in 1945. After the war, Randall worked at the Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland. For a stint before returning back to New York City.
One of Randall’s first jobs outside of theater portraying Reggie in the popular radio series I Love a Mystery which ran from 1939 to 1944. Two years after I Love a Mystery went off the air, Randall cast in a touring production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
From 1947 to 1948, Randall appeared in the Broadway production of Katherine Cornell’s Antony and Cleopatra alongside Charleston Heston and Maureen Stapleton. Then, from 1949 to 1950, Randall starred in the Broadway play Caesar and Cleopatra with Lilli Palmer and Cedric Hardwicke.
After that production wrapped up, Randall began appearing on television. One of his most notable turns from this era his role as Mac in the television adaptation of the radio soap opera One Man’s Family.
Randall given his first leading role in the 1955 production Inherit the Wind. And in 1958, he earned a Tony nomination for his leading role in Oh, Captain despite the fact that the play considered a commercial failure.
Randall landed his first major TV role playing a history teacher on Mister Peepers in 1952. He later joined the cast as a permanent fixture of the series in 1955. And remained with it until it’s conclusion later that year. Randall went on to appear in a number of other iconic television shows such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Love American Style, and Here’s Lucy. But his most notable television role wouldn’t come along until years later. After the actor had spent some time working in film. But we’ll get to that in just a moment, so hold on.
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Tony Randall’s Film Career
Randall scored his first role in a feature film in 1957 when he played a supporting character in Oh, Men! Oh, Women!. That same year, Randall was honored with a Golden Globe nod for his portrayal as the titular character in the comedy film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
The remainder of the 1950s and into the early 1960s proved to be quite eventful for Randall as he starred in films such as 1959s Pillow Talk, 1961s Lover Come Back, and 1964s Send Me No Flowers. The former two even earned him a couple of extra Golden Globe nominations.
In 1960, Randall shared the screen with Hollywood hottie Marilyn Monroe in the romantic musical Let’s Make Love. And in 1964, he played seven distinct characters in the offbeat film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. He rounded out the decade with memorable roles in films like 1965s The Alphabet Murders and 1969s Hello Down There.
In 1970, Randall returned to television playing the sarcastic neat-freak Felick Unger in ABC’s hit sitcom The Odd Couple alongside his co-star Jack Klugman. For each season of the series, he earned Emmy Nominations, and in 1975, he finally got a win.
A year after Odd Couple’s finale; he got his own television series aptly titled The Tony Randall Show, in which he played a judge in Philadelphia. He followed that up by playing a gay artist in 1981s Love, Sidney. Both of these projects earned him additional Golden Globe nominations.
In 1993, Randall reunited with Jack Klugman in the TV film The Odd Couple: Together Again. For the remainder of the 90s and into the early 2000s; Randall guest-starred in several television shows but never again played another leading man.
Tony Randall’s Late-In-Life Second Marriage
Tony Randall belonged to a relatively small club of celebrities who started families late in their lives. When he was 77 years, he became a father for the first time. And although his children were immense sources of joy in his later years; Randall told People magazine back in 2001 that he was saddened by the fact that he wouldn’t get a chance to walk them down the aisle when they were old enough to start families of their own.
Randall sadly died in 2004 after battling a series of health problems that left him hospitalized for half a year. At the time of his passing, Randall’s second wife, who was 50 years his junior, was by his side.
Randall and his first wife, model Florence Randall, were married for 54 years until she passed away in 1992.
Florence was literally in her death bed when her husband met a young 20-year-old intern named Heather Harlan at the theater he founded. The now-defunct National Actors Theater in New York City.
When the two first met, Randall was so preoccupied with worrying about rehearsals that he was actually quite rude to young Heather. But as time passed, the fledgling actress got to see the kinder, softer side of Randall.
A few years after Florence died, Randall and Heather started dating. Even though she was half a century younger than he was, the age gap was never that big of a deal between them.
Although they weren’t concerned about the difference in their ages; the tabloids had a field day running both stars’ names through the mud. Mainly, they repeatedly labeled Heather a gold digger and painted Randall out to be a fool who was being played like a fiddle. But despite all of these harsh words; Randall and his soon-to-be wife ignored what all of the dissenters and naysayers had to say. And instead focused their energy on building a family.
One of the questions that people repeatedly posed when considering their relationship was whether or not they had a healthy and happy sex life. Heather later confirmed that they did indeed have a normal love life up until the point that he had to be hospitalized. And beyond that, it’s pretty obvious that they enjoyed such marital relations seeing as how they had two children together.
Their first child, Julia, was born on April 11, 1997. And just a year later, they welcomed their son Jefferson into the world on June 15, 1998.
Julia has since followed in her father’s footsteps and is currently pursuing a career in theater and the arts. So far, she has scored small roles in films like Stevie, New Year’s Eve, and White Rabbit. She has also studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. And for her final year show, she played Mary Flynn in a production of Merrily.
Jefferson, however, has taken a different path in life so far and has kept his life a bit more private and out of the spotlight.
In 2008, while promoting her 2009 film Forests of Mystery, Heather told Marie Claire that while it’s always horrible for a child to lose one of their parents at an early age; her family’s life isn’t a tragedy just because Tony died.
She went on to describe him as a loving husband who desperately wanted children even though he couldn’t with his first wife. So, once he had the opportunity to finally have had kids of his own. He was the most incredibly loving father and provider. Even though he is no longer alive physically; Heather says that his presence is still very strong in her family’s lives.
It’s remarkable that Tony Randall was able to start a family so late in his life. How often do you hear about someone in their late 70s fathering a child, let alone two? Do you think that his children are missing something crucial by not having their father in their lives? And do you think that Heather Harlan really was just a gold-digger like the tabloids claimed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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