Tony Randall died last night, and I thought I'd like to tell my Tony Randall story.
See, when Jack Paar left The TONIGHT Show, the network went through a big charade of "auditioning" his replacement. Three "finalists" for the job were each given one full week of hosting it, so that people got the impression that the succession was contested --- which was not really true. The last of the three was Randall.
At the end of the last of his five shows, he sat alone at that desk "in one" with a few quiet minutes, and told this story
He prefaced it by asking "Does anyone know the name Hector Blinn?" There were murmurs of silence and he said he wasn't sure, but researchers had told him Blinn was a Shakespearean actor in New York in the 1930's.
But actually, he said, his story was mostly about Paul Muni --- whom everyone had heard of. Muni was the star of "Inherit The Wind" on Broadway in which Randall had played the H.L.Menckin role. During the run, in a freak fishing accident Muni lost an eye, but once he'd recovered he stepped back into the role, letter-perfect and rock solid.
Well, Randall said, during rehearsals Muni "Like all great actors," shuffled and bumbled around missing cues and dropping lines, until one afternoon when he just threw the script away and Gave a Performance --- and the entire cast burst into applause. They knew they had a hit on their hands from that moment on.
There was in the cast what Randall described as an old character-actor --- and I don't think he even identified him by name --- whose stories he enjoyed, and they usually ended rehearsals with a couple drinks and conversation at a quiet bar.
"He's one!" this guy said of Muni that afternoon. "I've only worked with three Real Actors in my life. There's him; there was Hector Blinn; and there was --- there was --- " and there he paused and gave a wry twist of his head in remembered mime "Jeez," the guy said, "I can't remember his name."
Then after a hushed second of silence Randall said "There's no big punch-line to the story. I just felt like telling it tonight."
Then he thanked the audience for their attention, the screen went to black, and that following Monday Johnny Carson --- who had been the choice all along --- began his historic run as The TONIGHT Show's host.
I don't know if anyone who happened to see the show that night remembers that story.
But I do.