The Odd Couple: “Password”

This post is part of The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Read the rest of the post in this event HERE!

I love participating in this annual blogathon and usually plan way ahead of time what I will cover. I knew this year it would be one of the episodes of the 1970s sitcom The Odd Couple, as I have long loved this show and planned at some point to write about it.

But which episode? There are so many classic and memorable ones!

I was watching the show on Hulu recently when the Password episode popped up. OF COURSE, this is the perfect one, for several reasons:

In honor of our most beloved Betty White, who we lost earlier this year and guest stars on this episode with her then husband, Allen Ludden.

My mom (who passed away last year) was a huge romantic and loved to tell stories she knew about celebrity romantic couples. When we saw Betty White appear on screen (yes, all through her time on The Golden Girls, she told this story MANY TIMES) she would start talking about the romance between Betty White and Allen Ludden, and how he wanted to marry her but she was hesitant because she’d had two failed marriages. Mom claimed Ludden, who hosted the popular game show Password, would propose to her at the end of each episode until she said yes. (I could not confirm the veracity of this claim, it might be some embroidery on my mom’s part, but it is true that he proposed to her many times until she said yes.)

The third reason is it’s simply a hilarious episode and one that does a perfect job of highlighting the characters of Oscar and Felix and their relationship.

Roommates Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) and Felix Unger (Tony Randall) are having dinner with their girlfriends Mitzi (Ronda Copland) and Miriam (Eleanor Donahue) when Betty White and Allen Ludden enter the restaurant. Felix is not totally thrilled to see them, as he blames Allen Ludden for the fact that he was rejected as a Password contestant. Oscar explains to him game shows want “regular” people as contestants and Felix probably came across as too sophisticated.

Meanwhile, Allen is excited to see Oscar in the restaurant because he is a big fan of his sports column. Betty persuades him to go over and talk to him. Allen invites Oscar to be a celebrity contestant on Password. All the time, Felix is inserting himself in the conversation, trying to convince Allen how “ordinary” and “basic” he is.

Oscar politely refuses and spirits his girlfriend out of the restaurant in anticipation of “getting lucky.” Felix strolls over to talk to Allen and Betty. He of course makes a fool of himself (insulting Betty by talking about how he used to watch her on TV “years and years ago”). But he finds out if Oscar agrees to be on Password he can pick his own partner.

The next morning Felix begins a campaign to convince Oscar how easy it is to play Password and to make him his partner. Oscar enjoys playing the game but he still hesitates. When he finds out the gig pays $750, he finally agrees.

Felix sets up a rehearsal game with Miriam, Oscar’s secretary Myrna (Penny Marshall) and Murray the cop (Al Molinaro). Oscar arrives with Mitzi and gives Felix the bad news that he has promised Mitzi can be his partner. Felix is devastated but pretends to accept the news. During the rehearsal game Mitzi shows herself to be extraordinarily stupid. She blames Oscar for giving bad clues and refuses to do the show with him.

Oscar has a little trouble persuading Felix to be his partner, who is hurt by his initial rejection. He is also determined to make his dream of being on Password come true so he agrees.

The Password scene is one of the classic scenes from the series. If you never had the opportunity to see Password, it was really an absurdly simple game (a bit like the Pyramid game shows). Your partner would be secretly given a word and had to give one word clues to get you to guess it.

Betty White is on the opposing team. As she and her partner rehearse, Oscar becomes a tad concerned, worried she will destroy them in the competition, but Felix reminds him they have also done well during their rehearsals.

Once the game gets underway, Felix both gives absurdly complicated clues and makes absurdly complicated guesses. When the word is “gravy” and Oscar uses the clue mayonnaise Felix guesses “Lincoln” because “everyone knows Lincoln loved mayonnaise.” (Lincoln probably didn’t, since mayonnaise was not much known in the US until the early 20th century, but it’s funny anyway.)

When the word is “bird” he gives he clue Aristophanes because “everyone knows” he wrote a play called The Birds. The follow up to this is a scream, because during the commercial break Oscar berates Felix and tells him giving clues like Aristophanes is ridiculous. The next word is “ridiculous” and Oscar’s clue is Aristophanes. Felix immediately guesses the correct word.

Oscar and Felix, who were being beaten badly by Betty and her partner, make a bit of a comeback. On the verge of winning the game with the word “pencil” Oscar gives the clue “lead” and Felix smugly answers “graphite” because “everyone knows” pencils are made with graphite and not lead.

Felix refuses to accepts he has lost the game and has to be physically ejected from the set, crying out “what a gyp!” as he is lead away. Allen apologizes to the audience for Felix’s behavior.

The Password game highlights Felix’s incessant compulsion to always be perfect in every way. He claims he can “prove” he gave great clues. It also highlights Oscar’s own insecurities about looking foolish, and how Felix is the one who is guaranteed to make him look like a fool. And yet, somehow, they still convince you that there is an abiding friendship between the characters.

Of course, the bonus of this episode is Betty and Allen, whose reactions to Felix’s antics are sublime.

The Password episode came about because Jack Klugman was friends with Allen and Betty in real life and had appeared on Password many times. In an interview, he revealed that Tony Randall adlibbed the line “what a gyp!” He frequently commented after the show went off the air that Randall was so good at staying in character he often added lines or gestures that enhanced the dynamic between Oscar and Felix.

A real-life abiding friendship that enhanced this still-classic show.


3 thoughts on “The Odd Couple: “Password”

  1. If I had to make a list of my favourite sitcoms from the Seventies, The Odd Couple would be towards the top of that list. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman is just so good on the show. Anyway, it is great seeing them interact in this episode, as well as getting to see Betty White and Allen Ludden, both of who are excellent in the episode. I do think Betty and Allen’s love story is one for the ages. Apparently Betty’s final word was “Allen.” Anyway, thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon and for writing about “Password.”

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