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January 29, 2008

The Odd Couple

heather randall on the sidewalk holding her dog and a shopping bag

Heather Randall

Photo Credit: A. Magnani/Getty Images

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"Um...I don't think he knew people thought that," Heather says. "It just wouldn't have occurred to him. He was very secure in his masculinity, which is why he wasn't afraid to play effeminate roles. He was the first person on TV to play a lead character who was gay, in the series Love, Sydney, and then there was Felix Unger" — from The Odd Couple — "who was, you know, a woman," Heather says. Still, Tony Randall was apparently the only person on earth who didn't suspect Tony Randall was gay. The only time Randall had any inkling the world did not think him a stud was when a tabloid ran a story saying Heather had to go to a fertility clinic to conceive their children (Julia, 10, and Jefferson, 9, whom Randall sired when he was pushing 80). "His masculinity was called into question!" Heather laughs. "He actually called his lawyer about demanding a retraction, something he'd never bothered to do before." And this is perhaps what shocked people more than anything else — not just that Heather married someone half a century older and had honest-to-God sex with him, but that she decided to reproduce with him. How selfish! What was she thinking?

"It's horrible for a child to lose a parent at an early age, but our life is not a tragedy because Tony died. He was a loving husband. And since he couldn't have kids with his first wife, he desperately wanted them — so he was an incredibly loving father. And a great provider — his children have everything they will ever need." Yes, there are the proceeds from the antique-filled Manhattan apartment, the vacation apartment in Key Biscayne the Randalls bought a year before he died. But there is also their daughter's abiding love of opera, their son's burning desire to tread the boards. "His presence," Heather says quietly, "is very, very strong in our lives."

The most pressing problem of the May/December marriage? At age 33, Heather Randall became a widow, dealing with issues most women don't face until they are in their 70s — and certainly don't face while their children are still 6 and 7 years old. It's hard not to wonder: Would she do it again?

"Yes, yes, yes," she says. The moral of their story, Heather believes, is that life is such a crapshoot that even when a relationship doesn't make sense on paper — and even when it's fairly easy to predict that not everything will be ideal — having love for whatever length of time is always better than not having it at all.

Of course, today, Heather would rather keep the age difference within the realm of 10 to 20 years, if possible. Most recently she broke up with a man she'd been seeing for two years who was in his 50s. Age, she says, had nothing to do with it.

And what about a younger man? Has she begun to look in that direction?

"He would have to be extraordinary. I mean, he would be dealing with a woman who has two fatherless kids and has had some abnormal life experiences. He'd have to have an amazing sense of self.... It probably won't happen unless it's Derek Jeter." She ponders for a moment. "I hope I don't become a cougar anytime soon," she adds with a laugh. "I threw out all my animal-print dresses recently out of fear of exactly that!"

Heather Randall is a woman destined for great loves, because she deserves them and she's open to the possibilities. For those women who think that Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall are what all May/December couples are about, consider this: What if they're about a meeting of like minds? Or — and this one's a shocker — what if they're about love?

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