william steig drawing

September 11, 2010
Kartina Richardson

The Odd Couple

*I have since safely made it to California and back (which explains the lapse in posting)*

As I write this now, I am half way to California. Mid air with a splitting headache. This is a result of a pre-flight boozing binge of necessity.

My lower back aches. The back of my knees are sweaty, and I cannot itch the bottom of my foot. Everything is uncomfortable.

I am an anxious person. I come from a long line of anxious-ers. If you ever journey to Richardsonland, here are some things to remember so as not to disturb the animals:

Check food labels two or three times before consuming.
Spend most of your time knocking on wood.
There’s no such thing as “too many” Carbon Monoxide detectors.
When in doubt, take Benedryl, Robitussin or Sudafed.
When dining out, insist on sitting in a booth (or at least in a seat with your back to the wall).

When you are anxious four things help:

1. Klonopin: Not the greatest choice. You need a prescription and Benzos are addictive (plus they stop working after a while).
2. Fish oil: Nature’s own mood stabilizer.
3. Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin films: Who isn’t lulled into good times by a witty and well functioning marriage?


4. Jack Lemmon

Klonopin, fish oil, and Gordon & Kanin fight the anxiety head on. Their job is to counter act. Lemmon on the other hand is for moral support: No one understands a nervous person like another nervous person.

Take it from someone who knows anxiety like the back of her shaking hand. Jack Lemmon nails it. It is his finest talent. He’s got a face for it. A wide muppet’s mouth resembling a trout with corners that slacken at command. Beady eyes that narrow into the sharpest of slits. A tiny chin that makes its point, and a forehead so smooth and pale, I have often mistaken it for a plane of virgin snow waiting for stress to leave its footprints.

Lemmon and his face have portrayed a great many neurotics. The neurotic to non neurotic ratio in his films seems much higher than most other male stars. Consider Baxter in The Apartment, Wendell in Avanti!, Sam in Good Neighbor Sam, George in The Out-of-Towners, Stanley in most of How to Murder Your Wife, or Mel in The Prisoner of Second Avenue. All of them are tense and jumpy men with twitchy eyes.


These characters become Spicolis and Buellers compared to the king of this particular filmography: Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, one of the greatest post 1950 comedies ever made*

Boy does Felix take the cake… but only if he knows every ingredient, where it was made, who made it, what kind of pan it was baked in, and if it needs refrigeration.

In the 1968 Gene Saks film based on the Neil Simon play, Felix, a recently divorced, suicidal New York Man, moves into his friend Oscar’s apartment, played by the amazingly baggy Walter Matthau reprising his role in the Broadway play.

Felix is tight and Oscar spreads (Felix is your mother and Oscar your teenage son).

Though Tony Randall also took a fabulous crack at Felix Unger in the subsequent Odd Couple television series (with Jack Klugman as Oscar), his was a flamboyant Felix. Theatrical, spry, and elegant. Lemmon’s on the other hand is a true pitiful neurotic.

And a true pitiful neurotic is always concerned about his health.

As someone with perpetual sinus issues one scene in particular is dear to my heart.

Felix and Oscar escape the argument inducing claustrophobia of a New York apartment in the summer, to dine at a diner down the street. While Oscar melts in a puddle of grease stained, sweatshirted casualness, Felix harshes his mellow with a stream of anxious rambling.

Felix: It’s very easy for you and me Oscar, we’re men. We’re out in the world, we can meet new people. What about Francis? Divorce is much harder on the woman. She’s all alone with the kids, stuck there in the house. She can’t get out like me. How’s she going to meet somebody now at her age with two kids. And where?

Oscar: I don’t know maybe someone will come to the door.

And then… totally unaware of his absurdity…

Felix clears his sinus cavities. Encouraging the movement of fluid through pressure, he creates a loud noise best described as a “moose call”.

Oscar is not pleased, but what else is Unger expected to do? Sinus pressure will make an already nervous person even more so. We are delicate flowers. When the tiniest thing is off, the whole day is susceptible to ruin. If the mental fogginess doesn’t get you, the side eyes of others as you perform your preferred sinus remedy, will.

I choose to tap along the orbital ridge bone, but if you prefer the moose call do whatever  floats your boat.

Is it worth irritating Walter Matthau? Only you know the answer to that.

* With one of the greatest supporting casts: John Fielder as tiny voiced Vinnie, Herb Edelman as Murray the cop, Larry Heiner as Speed, and David Sheiner as Roy. If I had a chance to play poker with them, I might finally try to learn how.



I am thrilled and honored to be one of Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents! This means you can now find me here, complete with video of me ON CAMERA. That’s right. Not just my voice, but the whole shabby shebang.


I’m recovering from a grueling California vacation so this is a lighter post. Will get back to very serious business shortly.

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One Comment

  1. YES. He does have a muppet’s face! YES I’VE BEEN SAYING THAT FOR YEARS. Thank god I’m not alone. (Am stunned by your amazing site by the way)


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