August 13, 2008
George Furth died on August 11 at the age of 75. Furth will be best remembered as a playwright, in particular as the author of the book for three Stephen Sondheim collaborations, including Company. But before and even during his success as an author, Furth was a busy actor, always in medium-sized character parts and mainly in episodic television. He bore a resemblance to Paul Lynde, and also to Charles Grodin, and like both of them he specialized in playing nervous, excitable types, developing a schtick that was sort of a much milder version of Lynde’s. Here he is in a 1967 segment of Ironside (the mustache is a fake).
Furth was gay, and like Roddy McDowall, he became such a treasure trove of Hollywood gossip over the years that he declared a moratorium on dishing it to inquiring reporters and historians. When I contacted Furth in 1996, he told me that he did not give interviews, and then in the process of explaining why he answered all my questions anyway, in hilarious detail. I was only asking about a couple of television episodes in which Furth guest-starred, but his remarks gave me good leads that I was able to follow up with people who would speak on the record. You can bet that had Furth been willing to submit to true interviews, I would have been at the head of that line.
December 14, 2007
My friend Stuart Galbraith was gracious enough to plug my website pretty gratuitously in one of his very entertaining DVD reviews this week. But he misremembered some of the details of the Tony Randall anecdote that I’ve been dining out on for a decade now, so I may as well recount the story for the record here.
I had contacted Randall to ask about a single guest starring role he did on an TV show in the early sixties, as part of the research for something I was planning to write. Randall lived in New York and I was in L.A., so we ended up talking on the phone. He had surprised me by leaving his home number on my answering machine.
I called him during his breakfast, as he’d asked me to, and he talked about how either he or his very young wife (I forget which) had a cold. When we got down to business, I was delighted by how many detailed and thoughtful stories and observations Randall came up with from one short and relatively minor credit out of a long career.
One anecdote involved the script supervisor’s cleavage – the young lady timed scenes with a stopwatch that dangled between her ample breasts, and the men on the set had a hard time keeping their eyes off the spectacle. Randall remembered that, and even the woman’s first name, thirty-five years later.
The whole time, Randall was very friendly, down-to-earth, and funny. After he answered my questions, we chatted for a while, and the conversation turned to the theatre. Randall had recently founded the National Actors Theatre, which was then putting on good revivals of shows like “The Crucible” and “Inherit the Wind” in New York.
I, on the other hand, had only been to New York twice, both on high school trips, during which I’d been subjected to the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” (I was 19 or 20 when I interviewed Randall.)
So when Tony asked about my own theatergoing experience, I fessed up about how little I’d seen and why, but how I’d really LIKE to spend some time soaking up some more culture, et cetera, et cetera …
But Tony wasn’t having any of that.
“Ugh!” he exclaimed. “You’re a born middlebrow!”
I wasn’t quite sure how to take that, but I assumed he was kidding; so far he hadn’t exhibited any of the snobbishness that was the hallmark of his screen persona, and I had become confident that the whole “Felix Unger” thing was an act. So I laughed.
“No, no,” Tony insisted. “I mean it. I can tell – you’re a BORN middlebrow!”
I keep meaning to put that clip on my answering machine (wait, I guess it’s voicemail now), but I had the bad timing to exhale right over the first “middlebrow,” and I’m too lazy to figure out how to digitize it and clean up the audio. But, one day.