Sajak takes ‘Wheel’ break for ‘Odd Couple’ play in Conn.
- Last Updated: 10:58 AM, July 5, 2012
- Posted: 11:12 PM, July 4, 2012
Pat Sajak works 34 days a year.
That’s right. The “Wheel of Fortune” host — who lives in Maryland when he’s not working in LA for 34 days a year hosting the durable game show — has plenty of free time to pursue his heart’s desires. One of them is summer stock. This summer, Sajak and his buddy, Honolulu-based TV newscaster Joe Moore, are appearing in a production of the 1965 Neil Simon chestnut “The Odd Couple” with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Sajak and Moore have been friends since they were stationed in Vietnam, and Sajak was a DJ on Armed Forces Radio.
In “The Odd Couple,” Sajak is cast as fussbudget Felix Unger, the role played by Art Carney on Broadway, Jack Lemmon in the movie and Tony Randall in the ABC series. He and Moore, who plays slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison, have acted in the Simon play before, as well as in a stage version of “The Honeymooners,” where Sajak was well-cast as Ed Norton, another Art Carney role.
“ ‘The ‘Odd Couple’ still works surprisingly well,” Sajak says. “There’s nothing in the text that we’ve changed at all. From a humor point of view, you’re not going to rewrite the play.”
Sajak is acting with some Broadway pros, including Liz Larsen (“Most Happy Fella”) and Kathleen McNenny, who recently had a role in the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” They play the Pigeon sisters, Felix and Oscar’s daffy British neighbors.
“It’s helped elevate our performances,” Sajak says of the company. “It’s kind of up to you to actually try to do a credible job.”
Sajak says that audiences have been very receptive to his change of venue. Thankfully, no one has yelled out, “I’d like to buy a vowel” or “Where’s Vanna?”
Although Moore acts professionally, Sajak has no plans to take up performing full-time if he ever gets tired of “spinning a colored wheel,” as he has done for 30 years.
“I understand my role in the show business pantheon. And that ‘Wheel of Fortune’ will be the lead item in my obituary,” he says. “My future career will be in the rest home and then the hospital.”
Surely Sajak is getting ahead of himself. A former weatherman, he was hired by Merv Griffin to host “Wheel,”even though Sajak didn’t think he was “flashy” enough for the job. Now, he’s getting ready to start his 30th season.
“We’ve become part of the popular culture, and I don’t know how that happens,” Sajak says. “Even if you don’t watch ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ you know what it is. If I went into a network today to pitch the show, the meeting would last 12 seconds.”
The 34 days of tapings are spread out over a nine-month period, so Sajak and Vanna White sometimes will do six shows a day. That’s a lot of spinning and a lot of costume changes for White.
In all that time, Sajak says they’ve never exchanged a “cross” word.
“We don’t socialize off camera,” he says. “She has a family. I have a family. I don’t live there. She really is a nice person.”