“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.
“Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”
That’s the opening from The Odd Couple television series, starring Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. Please join me in celebrating this and every November 13th, the date where it all began. The Odd Couple is one of the few works to have succeeded on Broadway (as a wickedly funny Neil Simon stage play originally cast with Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar), on film (starring Jack Lemmon and Matthau), and as a weekly TV series. Reruns of the series were a staple of programming on New York’s WPIX-Channel 11 during the 1970s and 1980s (along with The Honeymooners and the original Star Trek). WPIX also used Odd Couple episodes to fill time during rain delays of its New York Yankees telecasts. I’d often root for a thundershower to get a little Felix and Oscar with my hardball.
Beyond celebrating The Odd Couple, what’s the meaning of Felix Unger Day? It has the through-the-looking-glass quality of meaning whatever you want it to mean. For me, it’s about the possibilities and limits of reinventing yourself. TV’s Felix eventually does get over his first wife (at least for a while), he learns to tolerate Oscar (and vice versa), but he’s still Felix: relentlessly neat, obsessively organized, and honking from his allergies. As Oscar says, after he dies, Felix will spend eternity, “Haunting and cleaning, cleaning and haunting.” As I’ve learned in my own journey from New York to Hong Kong and beyond, changing your latitude only gets you so far unless you also change your attitude.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.