Companions of the Curtain

Throughout the history of stage and film, friendships between characters often become larger than life

They’re classic bonds of camaraderie that have endured the tests of time.

From the screen to the stage, through the generations, there have been memorable character friendships that have become synonymous with the show or play in which they’re portrayed. In some cases, even more well-known than the actual production itself.

As part of the celebration of International Day of Friendship July 30, here are few of the stage and screen arts’ most enduring performing pals and Broadway BFFs:

  • Laurel and Hardy (1927 to 1955): This comedy duo act became popular in the early classic Hollywood era of American cinema. The act was made up of England-born Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and American Oliver Hardy (1892–1957). The duo was most popular from the late 1920s to the mid-1940 and relied mostly on slapstick comedy with Laurel portraying an awkward, juvenile pal to friend to Hardy, who often came across as a crass bully. They appeared together in 106 films and starred in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films and 23 full-length feature films, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
  • Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1946 to 1956): When they met, Martin (1917-1995) was a nightclub singer and Lewis (1926 to 2017) had a comedy act in New York City. They began their act in 1946, starting in nightclubs and branching out into television and film. According to Bio.com, they made 16 films together and were one of the first comedy teams to make it big on TV. Although the men became friends after meeting, from about 1956 to 1976, a rift kept them separated until a surprise on-air reunion (orchestrated by Frank Sinatra) occurred during Lewis’ muscular dystrophy telethon. In 1989, the two reunited for the last time at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for Martin’s 72nd birthday. 
  • Felix and Oscar (1965 to present): Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison were one of the most unlikely pairs in the modern era of screen and stage. As the protagonists of Neil Simon’s 1965 Broadway play “The Odd Couple,” Felix and Oscar have become renowned for their mismatched friendship as flat mates in New York City. Felix is a neurotic, obsessive compulsive neat freak news writer – a photographer in the television series – while Oscar is an unkempt sportswriter who lives a relatively stress-free day to day existence. When the play premiered on Broadway, Art Carney portrayed Felix and Walter Matthau played Oscar, a role he would also play in the film version opposite Jack Lemmon. The play was last performed in the Straz Center’s Shimberg Playhouse Feb. 3 to 17, 2011.
  • Mame Dennis and Vera Charles (1966): Broadway’s ultimate bosom buddies were Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. Not only did they play besties in Mame – singing Jerry Herman’s iconic showtune “Bosom Buddies” – they remained friends until Arthur’s death in 2009. Even though both Lansbury and Arthur won Tony® Awards for their performances, producers of the 1974 film version passed over Lansbury for the title role in favor of Lucille Ball. While the film isn’t a complete disaster, Ball’s scenes with Arthur, who reprised her role as Vera, are famously devoid of charm and fail to kindle any of sort spark that was so prevalent between the original Broadway BFFs … “who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and tell you the truth?”
  • Cheech & Chong (1971 to present): The “Up in Smoke” buddies Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong have been best stoner friends since they first teamed up in 1971, producing a string of  stand-up routines, studio recordings and feature films based on the hippy, drug and counter-culture eras of the late 1960s and early- to mid-1970s. In 1973, the pair was arrested in Tampa on obscenity charges for alleged obscene gestures and vulgar language following an appearance at Curtis Hixon Convention Center. Their main commonality is their penchant for marijuana and that love still carries on, last having taken their stoner’s view of life to the Straz Center Nov. 10, 2012.
  • Penn & Teller (1975 to present): The duo of Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller – who communicates through mimes and non-verbal cues – have been entertaining audiences with their magic and scientific skepticism since the late 1970s. They’re mostly known for their acts which include bits of comedy combined with magic. They made their debut in Las Vegas in 1993 and have been performing at the Rio hotel there since 2001, making them the longest-running headline act to consecutively perform in the same Las Vegas hotel.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star (1999 to present): The hugely popular Nickelodeon TV cartoon characters SpongeBob – an upbeat sea sponge with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who lives in a pineapple and his best friend, Patrick Star, a bumbling starfish with an eating disorder who lives under a rock – have also gone from TV, to film, to videogames and the stage. The premise of their bond, Patrick’s lack of common sense, sometimes lands him and SpongeBob SquarePants, into trouble. “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical” was scheduled for the Straz Center for summer 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic.
  • The Three Stooges (1922 to 1970): Whether it’s Moe, Larry and Curly or Shemp, Joe or “Curly” Joe, the iconic comedy trio is as well known for their slapstick, pun-filled humor to great-grandparents as they are to today’s millennials and younger. What began in the early 1920s as “Ted Healy and his Stooges” the Vaudeville comedy act blossomed into one of Hollywood’s most endearing and enduring comedy teams ever, appearing in 220 movies in their career.

Among newer, “best pals” that have hit Broadway in more recent years are: Damien & Janice, two cast-asides who shined in the “Mean Girls” 2004 movie and then onto Broadway from 2017 to 2020; Glinda & Elphaba, who in the play “Wicked,” transform from the worst of enemies to a solid friendship, almost like sisters, showing how multi-faceted female friendships can be; and Elder Price and Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon,” pals that begin with a rocky relationship but ends up becoming a solid bond of friendship after the two go on church mission together.

Since the dawn of performances, there have always been a cast of characters who are more than just parts of a plot, they’re portrayed as friendships that break the bounds of the stage and become memorable, meaningful messages of caring, laughter and love.

And that’s what friends are for.

Paul Catala, a former entertainment writer for The (Lakeland) Ledger and longtime reporter at The Tampa Tribune, is a contributor to Caught In The Act.

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