What do Walter Matthau, Jack Klugman, Rita Moreno, Demond Wilson and former Dallas Cowboy defensive end Harvey Martin have in common? Well, each of them has played the role of the messy one in The Odd Couple. Two weeks ago, when a production of Neil Simon's classic comedy opened at the Gaslight Playhouse, a dinner theater in Dallas, Martin became the latest, and undoubtedly the largest (6'5", 250 pounds), in the long line of actors who have portrayed sportswriter Oscar Madison.
The many quarterbacks Martin sacked during his 11 years with the Cowboys may be shocked to learn that lurking beneath that fearsome exterior was a thespian. But Martin won over the critics. Harless Wade of The Dallas Morning News called him "a surprising delight" and wrote that Martin's "stage work as the sloppy Oscar...seems as natural to him as his past role with the Cowboys." Martin has been packing them into the Gaslight, drawing such celebrities as Cowboy defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones and country singer Charley Pride.
Martin is not a total novice on the stage. In 1983 he played Applegate in the same theater's production of Damn Yankees. Since retiring from football in '84, he has also acted in such movies as Amazing Grace and Chuck and No Safe Haven, portraying a football player in each.
Martin says that preparing for The Odd Couple was "the toughest thing I've had to do since football." He took the part of Oscar so seriously that he hung out with journalists at a Dallas bar called Louie's to "try to get into the sportswriter's mentality." In fact, Martin may have worked too diligently at adopting Madison's persona. "I turned into a total slob," he says.