I’ve been thinking a lot about odd couples, or what looking at from the outside seem like odd friendships. These musings started, as many of my musings do, watching the animals awaiting adoption at the animal shelter where I work (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF). Often, an animal housed with another animal will do better at the shelter, and in the home as well. So our behavior and animal care teams try out pairing roommates, and sometimes they come up with what turn out to be surprisingly winning combinations. Our marketing department even recently developed a campaign for 2 cats using The Odd Couple theme as a hook.
In Neil Simon’s play (1965), later a movie (1968) and then a television series (1970-1975), the mismatched roomates are the persnickety neatnik Felix Ungar and cigar-chomping slob Oscar Madison. On Broadway in 1965, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau (he seems to have been born for the role), with Art Carney as Felix.
Felix and Oscar were perfectly portrayed in the 1968 film by Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau again as Oscar. When adapted for television, Tony Randall was cast as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.
But back to Cash and Swift. Cash arrived at ARF as a tiny kitten with his sister Mermaid. The shyer of the 2, Cash watched as his sister and then several kitten roommates were adopted. Unfortunately, black cats, including kittens, tend to stay longer at the shelter awaiting adoption, so Cash was growing up at the shelter. I love our shelter, but kittens should grow up in homes with loving families. Swift, a little zany guy with a serious play drive, was so active that he overwhelmed his siblings. He, too, was the last of his litter reamining at the shelter. Cash was between roommates, and Swift needed a buddy, so the team decided to give them a shot, and it worked! Cash, in the role of Felix Ungar, taught Swift, as a tiny Oscar Madison, some calmer manners, and nutty Swift brought Cash out of his shell and showed him how to have fun. The first time I saw the 2 curled up together on their cat bed, I knew in my heart that they had to stay together. Others at ARF felt the same way, so we made sure to make a point of sending them to an adoptive home together.
It’s not quite as odd a pairing, but it seems to work, for another cat set of roommates: Nathan and Wynn. Nathan is another shy black kitten growing up at the shelter. Wynn is a little older and also very shy. Nathan has done well with roommates, and Wynn originally came in with 3 other cats, more outgoing than he and quickly adopted. Wynn was really shut down at first, cowering in a corner behind his cat tree. But he and Nathan, in an example of mutual support, are both getting a bit bolder every day. It’s sort of more like 2 Felixes making each other feel better about life.
I suppose I’ve been a part of some odd couples. Not so much personality-wise, but more in the Mutt and Jeff way of me being not-tall and many of my friends being not-short.
In the classic odd couple pairing, I was the quiet, good girl who ran off with the loud, bad boy (or wannabe bad boy, anyway). It worked until it didn’t anymore. That’s all water under the bridge, as they say.
I was looking for famous examples of odd couples, not necessarily of the Hollywood celebrity variety, and this one in particular struck me: comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and renowned poet, essayist, and critic T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They became pen pals in 1961 (coincidentally the year I was born) and maintained a correspondence, finally meeting in person in 1964.
The friendship supposedly began when the author of such profound classics as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, wrote to Marx, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, asking for his autograph. Yes, Eliot asked for Groucho’s autograph. My favorite lines from Prufrock:
A Groucho Marx line that always makes me laugh:
But as Groucho pointed out, they both liked puns, cigars, and cats. Remember, T. S. Eliot did write Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted into the musical Cats in 1980.
Of course, let’s not forget all of the cats who look like Groucho Marx.
Another human odd couple that I am fascinated by: Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) and actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).
They married in 1956 and divorced in 1961 (something about that year, 1961). Famous for such heavy-hitters as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller and sex symbol Monroe faced numerous hardships: investigations into Miller’s communist sympathies and Monroe’s depression, miscarriages, and drug use. Monroe died the year after their divorce, at age 36, of a barbiturate overdose. You know I had to look for a pet connection. Marilyn was an animal lover, saying, “If you talk to a dog or a cat, it doesn’t tell you to shut up.” That’s a really sad quote when you think about it.
On a lighter note, there are so many examples of unlikely animal friendships: the gorilla Koko and her love of kittens, Bubbles the elephant and Bella the dog, Mabel the chicken and her puppies, to name a few. There are even several books available about these friendships.
While not quite as exotic as some of these, our late Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix Sadie was mother to abandoned kittens Ben and Sara, and she and Ben were close their entire lives.
More in alignment with the original Felix and Oscar theme, we also have Misty, our gorgeous but persnickety 6 year-old diva of the Greta Garbo “I want to be let alone” school, and goofball and wild child, 1 year-old Marble, who insists that they play together. And sometimes Misty will play. When we decided to keep Marble, I was afraid Misty might try to hurt him, but he is persistent and she can’t help but play chase and wrestle with him. He is a force of nature, an irresistible force to her immovable object.
I was that unmovable object once, in the face of an irresistible force–a pit bull named Snuffalufagus. I never thought I’d feel so much affection for such a big dog. She changed my mind forever about pit bulls.
Don’t resist–make friends where you find them, even if they seem to be unlikely candidates. Greta Garbo didn’t say she wanted to be left alone, she said she wanted to be let alone, and there’s a big difference. Treasure your friends and family.
Peace and hugs.