Published April 20, 2004
Beloved actor, humanitarian and New York icon Tony Randall has had a rough winter. He'd already been in the hospital for eight weeks when he celebrated his 83rd birthday on February 26. He's still there now.
Randall went into the hospital on December 21, 2003 for a triple bypass. The operation was successful, but it left Randall with a severe case of pneumonia.
The pneumonia spread, became more difficult to treat, and culminated in affecting his eating. Since then he's been on IV fluids, working with a physical therapist to get his strength back and just now starting to eat solid foods again.
I learned all this last night at the annual fundraising dinner for Randall's National Actors Theatre. Since Tony himself could not attend, he sent an audio-taped message which assured the black-tie crowd that he would be back among them very shortly.
I have no doubt of it. Tony Randall is a fighter, and a man of vision. Who else could have started a family at age 75?
In Randall's place last night to emcee the evening were his wife Heather and longtime pal and "Odd Couple" castmate Jack Klugman.
Also there to lend a hand were "Odd Couple" producer and now-famous movie director Garry Marshall as well as actress Marthe Keller. Paul Newman, who came with wife Joanne Woodward, kicked off the night with a speech saluting Randall.
Both Klugman and Marshall have been visiting Randall, especially since he is now in the rehab part of his hospital. Wife Heather is constantly by his side, bringing their two young children, Julia, 7, and Jefferson, who is almost 6.
What a tribute to Randall and Klugman, by the way, that they have remained so friendly since "The Odd Couple" went off the air after five years in 1975. Klugman brought along an outtake reel from the show for the audience to see last night.
"You'll see a lot of scenes of us kissing and hugging," he said. "That's because the network was concerned people thought Oscar and Felix were gay, and we were trying to make them nervous. The irony, of course, is that today you can't have a hit show without a gay character!"
By the way, "The Odd Couple" is not the whole of Tony Randall on video. Check out his fine work in movies like "Pillow Talk." You always hear casting directors say, "Find me a Tony Randall." And you know what? They can't. He was comic perfection.
Janet Jackson isn't selling CDs, but then again, no one else is either.
Jackson's "Damita Jo" probably sold a tad under 70,000 copies last week, putting it at No. 5 and 30 percent lower than the previous week. Not even a "Saturday Night Live" appearance could help Janet, who's struggling to sell half a million copies in the U.S.
But it's not like anyone else is having much luck. The entire Top 10 album chart sold less than a million copies total last week. It's pretty frightening. The only real success story is Usher, whose "Confessions" album moved another 260,000 copies.
Meantime, Universal Music Group, which just signed proud American and incarcerated rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow to a $3 million contract — (You're in jail? Come collect your prize!) —recently announced that it's raising the prices of its CDs by one buck.
I stopped by the viewing party for NBC's "The Restaurant" last night with my Foxnews.com colleague Mike Straka.
Neither Rocco DiSpirito nor Jeffrey Chodorow, the main combatants, were in the room, but a lot of actors who either worked or still work for Rocco's 22 were in attendance for the viewing. I would say the boos in the room were equally divided between Rocco himself and Chodorow's task force of goons.
Chodorow himself received praise from a couple of the staff people I spoke with, but of course he's apparently dangled the promise of their own restaurants in front of them to achieve this loyalty. Also, the word is that Chodorow will shut Rocco's on June 1 when the show is over and open a Brazilian steak house.
"There won't be a third season of 'The Restaurant,'" said one waiter.
But what about New York magazine's predictably pro-Chodorow, anti-Rocco cover story this week? It describes Chodorow's 1996 guilty plea on two felony counts and consequent stay in federal prison as "four months in jail ... over management issues in his takeover of Braniff Airlines..."
In fact, Chodorow had "management issues" the way Janet Jackson had a "wardrobe malfunction." He put Braniff into bankruptcy twice. He also let a man named Scot Spencer run the company even after the Department of Transportation — noting Spencer's past criminal history — told him explicitly not to.
Chodorow gave affidavits claiming Spencer was not involved, but at the same time was laundering money to make sure Spencer was paid. Chodorow wound up pleading guilty to two counts. Spencer went on to serve a longer jail sentence also for lying to the government about his involvement with Braniff.
Chodorow's problems with the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office had nothing to do with his "takeover of Braniff Airlines." It had to do with his destruction of it after he owned it.
One legal expert familiar with the case said to me yesterday: "I'm almost more intrigued by the fact that he insisted on having Spencer, who was clearly dangerous, involved in the company when he was told not to. Chodorow could have had anyone. Why him? It never made any sense."
By the way: no mention in the New York magazine article of another of Chodorow's watering holes. A year ago, George Rush and Joanna Molloy reported in the New York Daily News that Chodorow was the owner of a lovely strip joint called the Manhattan Gentleman's Club, on East Houston St. in Manhattan's East Village. MGC, now called Gold Club, offered escort services, among other attractions.
Chodorow's publicist told the columnists that he had nothing to do with the club and had written off his investment. Indeed, the pair reported he tried to sell his stake for $100,000, but the buyer was already in jail himself, serving an eight-year sentence for swindling New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority out of $10 million.
I'm sure "Survivor"/"Apprentice" creator Mark Burnett, who produces "The Restaurant" for NBC, could make a good reality show out of that. Bada bing!
I guess the New York Daily News really wants to be part of the Fox team. Yesterday's cover story on Michael Jackson was lifted in large part from 10-week-old material on this site, and unattributed at that. It also contained some attributed material from TV station Fox11 in Los Angeles.
How did it happen? In late January, paparazzi maven Alec Byrne got pics of Jackson's accuser frolicking in a playground and looking healthy. He sold the pics to the Sunday Mirror in Britain, which published them. Unlike us, the Brits use the minor's name and likeness.
A couple of days later, this column reported news of the pictures. We also reported exclusively other facts of the boy's life. All of this was re-sold to the News, which didn't seem to mind that it was warmed over and two-and-a-half months old.
Thanks, by the way, for Liz Smith's kind words today about our reporting. Hey, we learned from the master!