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January 29, 2008

The Odd Couple

She was a 20-year-old intern; he was a national treasure 50 years her senior. If you think it was a match made in tabloid heaven, you don't know Heather Randall.

Tony Randall and Heather Randall

Tony Randall and Heather Randall

Photo Credit: Ron Galella/Wire Image

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She wanted the money. He wanted the sex. Or no... considering his age and all the rumors about him, what he wanted was the perception of sex. Clearly they were both using each other — she for his fame, he for her beauty. What else could explain a relationship where there was a 50-year age difference?

Heather Randall, 36, the widow of legendary actor Tony Randall, who died in 2004 at the age of 84, has heard it all before. It gets her a little steamed. "You know, I could say a million things about the hypocrisy of the people who comment on my marriage," she says, stabbing at her Cobb salad at B. Bar in Manhattan. "The first thing I'd say is, 'You weren't there!' The second thing is, to all the women who have been used, abused, dicked over, dumped, cheated on, and stolen from: 'Who wouldn't want a successful, smart, wonderful man who worshipped the ground you walked on?'"

After Randall's death, there was a year of profound mourning, then another year of struggling with her identity. If she was no longer Mrs. Tony Randall, who was she? She wasn't being asked anymore to, say, sit with the queen in the royal box during a polo match. But as Heather cheerfully puts it, "I never wanted to be a professional widow."

Since her husband's death, Heather has been using Randall's money and clout to support various theater institutions. For the past year, she has been president of the board of the New York Theatre Workshop, the renowned downtown space where the musical Rent was born and works by the likes of Tony Kushner got their start.

But beyond learning about her ability to charm money out of people's pockets, we're here to discuss her infamous marriage to a man who, when Rudy Giuliani married them in 1995, was three times her age. (Bonus points: At the time, Randall was starring in The School for Scandal, a play about an older man's rocky marriage to a young woman. Heather was an understudy.)

Heather has been asked many times to discuss her marriage in the press, but, save for one interview on Larry King, she always demurred. But she's grown tired of seeing her own May/December relationship lumped in with that of Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall. To all those doubters out there, Heather says, consider this: What if a huge age gap does not mean you have daddy issues? What if it means that you're just more open to love, wherever you find it?

Heather Harlan and Tony Randall met when she was an intern at the National Actors Theatre in New York, which Randall founded. (After a comfortable upbringing in Boca Raton, FL, she moved to the city to study acting at NYU.) At first she disliked Randall, since many members of the company found him intimidating. She told him so, and he was charmed that this tiny blonde, animated as an exclamation point, would stand up to him. Two years passed before they got together; Randall's wife of many decades had died, and he was very much alone. There would have been something touching about their courtship...had they been anywhere near the same age.

Everyone had an opinion. "Did his friends think I was a gold digger at first? Well, I remember one or two women telling him he was an old fool...and I'm sure people said and continue to say things behind my back," Heather laughs. "But I don't hear most of it." As for his real friends — Garry Marshall, Jack Klugman, Eli Wallach — "I don’t think anything like that ever occurred to them." Heather is still very close to these Hollywood legends. "If they thought I was a jerk, I would think they would have dropped me like a hot potato." Once, she read a blog that said something like, "[Heather Randall] inherited his fortune when he died — which was her aim." "That kinda stung," she adds. As for her friends, one initially tried to convince her that she was making a mistake, but a few years later, "she thought I made a great choice."

Not to say their age difference didn't cause problems. Heather, who is very athletic, was not going to be mountain climbing with him, after all. Randall was an opera aficionado; Heather loved pop. "He was mortally offended by stupidity and, of course, most of our pop culture is that. He would have hated Britney Spears now with all his heart," she says. "He hated rock and was completely clueless. One day he came home and said, 'Do you know somebody named Billy Joel? He approached me on the street and said he was a big fan. He acted like I should know him.' And I'm like, 'You idiot!'"

And, of course, there was the question everyone wanted to ask but didn't.

"This is all too funny," Heather says, when I finally work up the courage to ask it. "I always imagine what it would be like to go on Howard Stern, because I know the first thing he would ask is, 'What is it like to give an 80-year-old a blow job?' I know this is hard for people to grasp, but sex was not a problem. We had frequent sex until he went into the hospital. It was just a normal part of our married life, and it was happy, and we took care of each other that way until the end."

And what about the gay rumors?

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