Broadway will dim its lights Wednesday night for Carole Shelley, the Tony-winning actress who — despite playing dozens of roles in her storied career — will probably be remembered best as a Pigeon.
Shelley, who died in Manhattan on Aug. 31, at 79, played Gwendolyn Pigeon, half of the giggly sister act of “The Odd Couple.” Both she and Monica Evans — who played her Pigeon sister, Cecily — performed those roles in that Neil Simon comedy on the stage, in film and on TV.
The Post caught up with Shelley in April to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. Its stars, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau — fussy Felix and slovenly Oscar — were by then long gone, along with every other member of the cast except those two durable women. Evans had since retired to their native England, but Shelley was living near Central Park.
Simon, who died on Aug. 26, discovered them both in London. “I knew nothing about their background or training,” he recalled in “Neil Simon’s Memoirs.”
“I merely said to both of them, ‘Would you like to come to New York and do this play for Mike Nichols and me?’ A week later, they were in New York.”
For Shelley, it was love at first sight: Once she landed in New York, she never left.
We arranged to meet for lunch at noon at a restaurant near the park. When noon came and went with no sign of Shelley, I called her apartment.
“Oh my goodness!” she chirped when reminded of the date. “I’m in my jammies watching ‘The View.’ I’ll be right there!”
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And so she was. Over a lobster roll, she reminisced — about Matthau’s pranks; the fruit cake Lemmon sent her the Christmas after the film opened; the all-too-brief but happy marriage that left her a widow at 32. And, of course, we talked about Broadway, where she appeared in some other wonderful comedies: “The Norman Conquests” and “Noises Off” among them, and her Tony-winning turn in 1979’s “The Elephant Man.”
Then came the time to take her portrait. We’d decided to pose her in the park: prime pigeon territory. She was skittish but game as the photographer tried to corral the birds — good luck finding them when you need them — tossing the equivalent of a whole challah to get their attention. Trouper that she was, Shelley waited, smiled and waited some more.
A mother and son stopped by to watch.
“Who is that?” the mom asked. When we told her it was Gwendolyn Pigeon of “The Odd Couple,” she let out a happy shriek.
“Oh!” she said. “I loved that show! I’ve got chills!”
So did we.
Rest in peace, dear Carole.
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