Playing Third-Wheel to Rock Hudson and Doris Day

* Published specifically for The Great Muppet Guest Star Caper Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews & Rebecca from Taking Up Room *


There is more to having a celebrated, long-lasting acting career than always being put in leading roles. Supporting characters are indispensable additions to stories and can often be the most memorable personage in an ensemble cast. Such is the case with the late great Tony Randall in regard to his three collaborations with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Now, Tony is generally remembered by the public for his lead as Felix Unger in TV’s The Odd Couple. In the world of Classic Film, however, Tony is revered and beloved for his unique comedic style in several late 50’s and 60’s romcoms.

Tony was a well-rounded, trained actor who had experience in radio broadcasting as well as on the Broadway stage and on television prior to his Hollywood debut. He made a splash on the technicolour screen opposite the beautiful Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). Two years later in 1959, he would appear in both The Mating Game and Pillow Talk, the first of his Day/Hudson films. The three stars made a formidable trio that perfectly balanced and showcased their individual talents.


Pillow Talk (1959)

Name: Jonathan Forbes

Occupation: Millionaire not-so-Playboy with a string of failed marriages and mommy issues

Boy meets girl. Filthy rich boy tries persuading girl to marry him. Independent girl is not interested in loveless financial security. Boy and girl decide to stay friends. It seems like an acceptable arrangement. At least this still allows Jonathan to be in contact with Jan Morrow (Day). He will still try to find a way to change her mind but overall, he is a nice guy who takes what he can get. Jonathan is the polar opposite of his long-time friend Brad Allen (Hudson), who is a crudely blatant womaniser. So untrustworthy is Brad that Jonathan hesitates even talking about Jan in his presence. Hunky Brad could seduce a woman by simply looking in her direction while Jonathan has to settle for buying the affections of women who do not particularly care for him. In fact, his most lasting relationship has been with his psychoanalyst.

It seems like Jonathan is a real dud with his bank account being the only thing positive about him. If you look a bit closer, you will see that he does have good qualities, too. Jonathan is considerate and overly generous although he is always under the impression that he can buy people’s affections. He is a loyal friend who supports their business endeavours, though he does have a tendency to never take “no” for an answer. Despite having a lack of confidence about himself, he keeps his head up and always tries to get back into the saddle again. In the scheme of things, Jonathan is a worthy character who deserves more genuine happiness in his life. One could hope that his continued friendships with Jan and Brad will help him become a more rounded person.

In Pillow Talk, Tony plays his role straight. Jonathan is mostly out-of-the-loop about things which leads to comedic situations for which he is largely unaware. He has a “nothing to lose” attitude which allows him to act very natural and unconcerned about appearances. Of course, this can be very annoying if he does not get the message, such as the case for Jan not wanting to be romantically involved. He is someone who can take the hint yet remain undeterred in getting what he wants. His psychoanalyst certainly has his work cut out for him.

A character who is the spitting image of Jonathan – at least on paper – is Osgood Fielding III in Some Like It Hot, coincidentally also released in 1959. Osgood is a millionaire many times over who has an even worse track record with women than Jonathan. To boot, Osgood’s mother chastises him for his choices and is a dominant presence in his life despite him already being of a certain age. Jonathan, too, struggles with his mother’s prejudicial influence which is so harsh than even his psychoanalyst despises Mrs. Forbes. Neither Osgood nor Jonathan will back down from something they want, especially when they think money is the solution. If Tony had decided to play Jonathan in a more quirky, wacky fashion, he would have been a near carbon copy of Osgood, whose awareness if firmly clouded.

Bonus Banana: The legendary and lovable Thelma Ritter.


Lover Come Back (1961)

Name: Peter Ramsey

Occupation: Screwy Millionaire and Clueless Corporate President with daddy issues

It is not easy being born rich. Just ask Peter Ramsey. He always had a silver spoon in his mouth, allowing him anything and everything he ever wanted. Going to the best schools, travelling around the world, dating fabulous women, and inheriting the lucrative family advertising business… all these gifts just ruined everything. Poor Peter has no ambition and is paralysed when it comes to decision-making. His theory is that wealth stripped him of gaining the “street smarts” of his friend/lead advertiser Jerry Webster (Hudson). Peter’s inferiority complex makes him cower to those around him. He rarely shows his face around the office but when he does, the employees do not even recognise him. They all look up to Jerry, a boldly confident ad executive – and master skirt-chaser – who wins key accounts in morally questionable ways. Enter Carol Templeton (Day) who loses an important account to Webster. She swears vengeance on him and Ramsey & Co., hoping to also steal the mysterious VIP account from them. Chaos ensues.

Peter Ramsey and Jonathan Forbes share some similarities, notably with regard to their fortunate backgrounds and suffocating dependence on psychoanalysis. Both men claim they detest coming from money yet they spend to their hearts’ content. They are both heavily influenced by their parents despite being 40+ years of age. In Peter’s case, it is most embarrassing because his father is deceased. The closest people to them emotionally are quack doctors and philandering hunks. Could they not buy a better entourage?

Differentiating the two men are their professional attitudes as well as their overall demeanour. Peter is completely unmotivated to fill his father’s seat at Ramsey & Co. during which time Jonathan literally goes about his business. Both men are tactless especially when it comes to women but Jonathan holds himself in a more dignified fashion while Peter is just plain awkward and kooky. Adding alcohol will only worsen this effect. Well, you can also add chemical explosions to the list.

Tony Randall is amazing fun in Lover Come Back which is one of the main reasons why this is my preferred film of the trio. His body language, his quips, and his facial expressions perfectly exhibit the exasperation Peter feels about the world. This comedic style very mind reminded me of Thomas Lennon, who ironically portrayed Felix Unger in the recent revival of The Odd Couple. Much like Jonathan, the Peter persona is not someone you would want to be around in real life but as long as this nonsense remains solely on-screen, I am all for it!

Bonus Banana: Ann B. Davis, aka Alice Nelson the enduring Brady live-in housekeeper and substitute mother.


Send Me No Flowers (1964)

Character: Arnold Nash

Occupation: Suburban Suit with a penchant, yet no tolerance, for alcoholic beverages

Things are going pretty well for Arnold Nash. He is enjoying some newfound freedom after sending off his wife to her mother’s place and his children to summer camp. All that changes when he learns that his best friend and next-door-neighbour George Kimball (Hudson) is terminally ill and has only three weeks to live. George asks that Arnold take care of his funeral arrangements and, on top of that, to help him find a new husband for his wife Judy (Day). It is all in a day’s work, right?

Arnold appears to be a very average kind of fella. He is not particularly clever or witty and the best that can be said about him is that he does not suffer from a kind of neurosis. Most of the social failures he endured occurred earlier on in his life so by the time we get to know him, Arnold is pretty content living a quiet, no-frills kind of existence. In fact, he fells awfully lucky to have his own family considering that several of his ex-girlfriends flatly refused to marry him, with one laughing hysterically after he popped the question.  

The character of Arnold is very run-of-the-mill in comparison to Jonathan and Peter. There are times in the film when he appears to be of sounder mind than George, who is an incurable hypochondriac. He emphasises certain of George’s bad qualities in the hopes that he will better his behaviour. Nonetheless, Arnold puts his foot in his mouth a plenty. He hardly ever has the right advice to give and indulges in certain rites, such as drinking, simply because that is what he thinks he should do to deal with a situation. Arnold has a slight air of Oscar Levant’s Adam Cook in An American in Paris, just far less cynical.

By this time, it is clear that Tony Randall had a knack for playing skittish, socially inadequate/detached men. Well, that and a predisposition to type-casting. While Tony was not exactly a beefcake, it was certainly not unpleasant to look at him. He could neither hide his thin frame and small stature, nor could be disguise his unconventional looks. But golly, he had warm, expressive eyes and a fantastic smile. His voice could be very commanding and it was always laced with a lovely, quasi mid-Atlantic accent which automatically gave him an air of refinement.

Bonus Banana: Memorable character actor Edward Andrews. “Dong, where is my automobile?”


The Muppet Show Episode 513 with special guest Mr. Tony Randall

Aired in the Fall of 1980

To show what a sport he was, Tony even guest-starred on very first episode of the ill-fated Brady Bunch Variety Hour in 1976. Judging from these photos, it seems that he was at least spared the humiliation of donning a ridiculous costume and having to perform with the Osmonds! 😊