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Raising NAT with Tony Randall


The only person not in black tie in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Plaza happened to be the best-looking male in that ballroom, or in all America. "When I got to be 70 years old, I burned my tuxedo," said Paul Newman. "I'm here for Tony, as he would be for me. Except that Tony would never burn his tuxedo."

Tony was Tony Randall, and the event Monday evening was "a Broadway Frolic" on behalf of his National Actors Theatre, now based downtown at Pace University. NAT founder and artistic director Randall could not be on hand; he was in rehab at New York Hospital, fighting his way back from pneumonia following a triple bypass. Said press rep Gary Springer: "He's doing well and lifting weights."

Present and lending encouragement was Tony Randall's young wife Heather, in coral; his other better half, Jack Klugman, the Oscar Madison (to Randall's Felix Unger) of TV's "The Odd Couple"; Garry Marshall, director of that classic series and a million other works of large and small screen; Pace president David A. Caputo; corporate executives Don Logan and David Bell.

Newman spoke briefly and pointedly of the NAT as "Tony's passion" that has provided 40,000 free seats to kids "so they can listen to somebody saying something better than 'You're fired.' "

Randall himself telephoned in to the 350 diners. "The good news," he told them, "is we've raised $850,000. I'll soon be back in circulation. And then," said the ageless star of every medium known to man, "I think we should all have lunch."

Jack Klugman, his own vocal cords lost to cancer, introduced four minutes of hilarious, unprintable "Odd Couple" outtakes -- in one of which Oscar Madison gives the finger to Oscar's ex-wife -- and then introduced director Marshall, who was to receive, said Klugman, handing it over, "this award, whatever it is."

The recipient of "this whatever-it-is" award (the NAT's 2004 Star Award), whose movies have included "Pretty Woman" and "Frankie and Johnny," said: "Why I'm glad to be here is so Paul Newman could drive me in from the airport zoom! zoom!"

And then Garry Marshall spoke of his boyhood in the Bronx, and of all the Broadway shows he had had to see from deep in the balcony on Wednesday matinees.

"My mother," he said, "ran a dancing school in a basement in the Bronx. I played the drums. When the dancing started, all these people would stand up and cheer, not even for their own kids. I asked my mother: 'Why do they do that?' And my mother said: 'Because it's live.' "

"Well," said Garry Marshall, "Tony Randall gives you live theater, and a nice place to sit." Life, living, live is all. [Tallmer]

This article also appeared in Downtown Express/The Villager.

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