Odd Couple, best of friends

And now a few words with a star of the original "O.C." That's "The Odd Couple." Different wardrobe.

When actors say they've finished a book, you figure they've just made it through the latest Harry Potter. But Jack Klugman, aka Oscar Madison and "Quincy, M.E.," has written "Tony and Me — A Story of Friendship" (Good Hill Press, $24.95, with Burton Rocks). I spoke with Klugman — 83 and with the growl that throat cancer left him — about his pal and co-star, Tony Randall, who died in May 2004; about their hit TV show (which ran 1970-75); about senior citizens fathering kids; and about being a fixture in "The Twilight Zone."

You two didn't start off as the best of friends. Didn't you call Tony a "finicky pain in the ass" (according to producer Garry Marshall) and threaten to quit on the first day of filming?

Yeah. Well, not a finicky pain in the ass, but he was telling me how to act. And I'm a coward in many areas, but when it comes to acting, don't (expletive) with it, because that's the one thing that I really will stand up and fight for.

What made you want to write the book?

This was really a tribute to Tony. I kept grieving, you know, and I didn't know what the hell it was. I never really knew how important he was in my life, how important our friendship was, how vulnerable I had been when I went to work for him when I'd got no voice (in a post-operation Broadway revival production of "The Odd Couple" in 1991) and how supportive he was.

And I'd never let anybody into my life. I was always independent. I had four brothers and a sister I'd never let in. I didn't even let my kids into my life. I would give, but I couldn't accept. And when he died, I realized I kept waiting for his call. You know, "Jack, Tony calling." And it didn't happen. And I was very depressed, and I realized it's like Joe E. Lewis the comic used to say: "My piano player has been with me 20 years. I didn't know he drank until he came in sober one day."

The book's eight-minute outtakes DVD has plenty of gay joking. Times sure have changed.

We used to do a lot of hugging and kissing — to aggravate the people (executives), because they thought two guys living together would be gay. And today you can't have a successful show unless you have a gay person on it. And I'm glad things have changed.

Times have changed with sport coats, too. The ones you guys wore could have caused seizures in children.

(Laughs.) Let me tell you, they couldn't find Oscar's wardrobe. They looked and looked and looked. So they came to me. They said, "We would like to buy your wardrobe." My clothes! Which were — what do you mean? It was an insult! They said, "Well, they're Oscar's clothes." So I sold them all of my jackets and my pants for $360. I mean everything.

You write about Tony fathering children at the age of 77. Did you ever take him aside and ask, "Hey, man, what are you thinking?"

I didn't know they were going for children until one day, we were doing "The Odd Couple" in London. We were too old to do it, but we were doing it. And he knocked at my dressing room door and I opened it, and he was standing there with a (expletive)-eating grin and he said, "The machinery works!" And then I said, "My God, I thought at your age only dust came out."

And we kidded about that, but then he didn't want to be kidded about it. He was the greatest parent. He didn't know what kind of parent he'd be. He knew that he wasn't going to be around to see them graduate high school or to go on, but he thought he'd be around a little longer than this. He just loved it. He had the patience of Job. But he realized it came late in his life, and she (his second wife, Heather Harlan) wanted the children.

We've got "CSI," "CSI: Miami," "CSI: New York," "CSI: Spokane" ... What do they owe Quincy the medical examiner?

Well, none of them really deal with social injustices, which is what I dealt with. See, they deal with death. I did a "Crossing Jordan," and there was no message. They dealt with a dead person. They made sure that it looked dead and they painted it purple, and they put the stitches on. We never had a person on the table. The autopsy was for the living.

You didn't do any DVD extras for the "Quincy" seasons one and two released in June.

No. Listen, I own 28 percent of the net for that show. It has grossed $1,250,000,000.

You're filthy rich!

I have not seen a penny, nor will I ever see a penny. There is no net in Hollywood. They cheated me out of millions and millions of dollars. I've had lawyers come; they say, "Well, you go to trial, it'll cost you about $3 million, and you might lose."

How do you look back on the great "Twilight Zone" episodes you starred in?

I really don't like myself in most of them. And there's one I did where I'm an astronaut. That was the first one I did. I was doing "Gypsy" at the time. Rod (Serling) called me personally and said, "I want you to do a show I've written." I said, "Rod I'm doing a play." He said, "I've done research and you have two weeks off in January, and I want you to come out and do it." All I remember is that it was a wonderful experience. His words! There are certain writers that you like to roll their words around in your mouth. He's one.

How did you like "Circus of the Stars" in 1977?

Somebody mentioned it today. I never performed!

Didn't you play pool?

Ohhhh. I did. I played it with that blonde.

Suzanne Somers.

Yeah, yeah, yeah! And Flip Wilson was the judge — and I shot pool fairly well. She couldn't shoot at all.

Well, she probably didn't see that "Twilight Zone" where you beat Fats Brown.

He (Flip) was against me because he thought I was a ringer. So I made the last shot and he said "No, no, it didn't work because you put your foot up on it" or something, and he had her make the pocket hanger!

That's unforgivable.

Yeah, he made her a winner. It was for charity.

On that note, what's the status of the National Actors Theater Tony founded?

My dream is to have a theater named after Tony. That's what I'm working on. They name 'em after these producers that really have nothing to do with the theater. Tony gave $8 million of his own money to keep that National Actors Theater going, put on some magnificent productions that we never would have seen, and they treated him so badly till the end.

Why didn't he get the respect he deserved?

He didn't get any! They called him a television entrepreneur trying to be a stage actor. They really killed him. And he put on productions of "The Crucible" and "Saint Joan" that were really wonderful. And he put kids in.

Every Wednesday matinee, he brought children from schools — it cost him $35,000 — he brought them in for nothing, so they would be introduced to the theater and to these classics. And he never got credit for it.

When will "The Odd Couple" be on DVD?

I don't know. They're trying to make the figures work, the numbers. ... But I hope they do. Maybe if the book is successful they might consider it.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Go hear Jack

Jack Klugman will sign copies of "Tony and Me — A Story of Friendship," at noon Oct. 17 at Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle, 206-624-6600 or 800-962-5311.