Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Late, Great Jack Klugman

There are those stars who have been a part of our lives so long that one feels almost as if they know them. They form a part of one's earliest memories so much that they seem like a part of the family or an old friend. Jack Klugman was such a star for me. I really don't know where I first saw him. Given I watched it loyally as a child, it could have been The Odd Couple, but given just how much Mr. Klugman did in his career, it could have been any number of other TV shows or movies. Sadly, Jack Klugman died this Monday, 24 December 2012, at the age of 90.

Jack Klugman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 27 April 1922. He was either 14 or 15 when his older sister took him to see the play One Third of a Nation, a production of the Federal Theatre Project. The play kindled in him an interest in acting. During World War II he served in the United States Army. Following the war he auditioned for the drama department at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. The school did not think Mr. Klugman was suited to acting, but accepted him as with the war just coming to an end there were few male college students. He studied at Carnegie for two years before leaving for New York City to try his hand at acting. He made his television debut in 1950 in an episode of Actors Studio, also appearing in an episode of Suspense that same year. He made his debut on Broadway in 1952 in Golden Boy.

In the Fifties Mr. Klugman would appear on Broadway twice more, in A Very Special Baby and Gypsy. He appeared on television in such shows as The Big Story, Colonel Humphrey Flack, Rocky King Detective, Inner Sanctum, Big Town, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, The United States Steel Hour, Suspicion, General Electric Theatre, Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Playhouse 90. He made his movie debut in Grubstake (1952), and also appeared in the films Time Table (1956), 12 Angry Men (1957), and Cry Terror! (1958). It was in 12 Angry Men that he played one of his most notable roles, that of Juror #5, a young man who had a particularly rough upbringing.

In the Sixties Jack Klugman played the lead in the TV series Harris Against the World. It was in 1970 that he was cast in what may his best known role, that of sports writer and slob Oscar Madison on The Odd Couple. Although the series did received particularly high ratings in its initial network run, The Odd Couple was well regarded by critics and had a very successful syndication run. In the Sixties he also appeared on such shows as Follow the Sun, The New Breed, The Untouchables, Naked City, The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, The Defenders, The Fugitive, I Dream of Jeannie, and Then Came Bronson. He appeared in such films as Days of Wine and Roses (1962), I Could Go on Singing (1963), The Yellow Canary (1963), Act One (1963), Je vous salue, mafia! (1965), The Detective (1968), The Split (1968),  and Goodbye, Columbus (1969). On Broadway he appeared in Tchin-Tchin, The Odd Couple, and The Sudden & Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson.

In the Seventies Mr. Klugman continued to appear on The Odd Couple on television. In 1977 he was cast as medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy on the TV series Quincy M.E. The series originated as part of The NBC Mystery Movie before going onto another six years as its own programme. He also appeared on the shows The Name of the Game, Love American Style, and Banyon. He appeared in the films Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow! (1971), and Two-Minute Warning (1976). In the Eighties Mr. Klugman starred on the show You Again and appeared on the mini-series Around the World in Eighty Days. He appeared on Broadway in I'm Not Rappaport.

From the Nineties into the Naughts Mr.Klugman appeared on such shows as Diagnosis Murder, Brother's Keeper, The Outer Limits, Third Watch, and Crossing Jordan. He also appeared in a reunion television movie, The Odd Couple: Together Again with Tony Randall. He appeared in the films The Twilight of the Golds (1996), Dear God (1996), When Do We Eat? (2005), and Camera Obscura (2010). He appeaed on Broadway in The Sunshine Boys and Three Men on a Horse.

If Jack Klugman was a prolific actor, it was probably because he was a great actor. Although most people might be inclined to think of him as Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple and Dr. Quincy from Quincy M.E. (both two very different roles), he played a wide of roles in his career and did all of them quite well. Over the years he played everything from a police detective (in The Detective) to the getaway driver for a heist (The Split) to a gambling addict (Two-Minute Warning). He was not an actor who was afraid to show emotion either. His style was forthright, so that he always showed whatever emotion his characters were feeling. That having been said, Mr. Klugman never overplayed his role, displaying just enough feeling to be realistic. He was a great actor, not a ham.

Jack Klugman was also seemingly indestructible. In 1974 he was diagnosed with throat cancer, yet he continued acting. Even after the cancer returned in 1989 and he had a vocal cord removed, Mr. Klguman still returned to acting. Indeed, he continued to appear in roles until 2010, when he played his last role in Camera Obscura. Jack Klugman seemed unstoppable. He also seemed to be a genuinely nice man. In interviews he always seemed warm and open, and possessed of a great sense of humour. 

Jack Klugman spent five decades acting and appeared in three different media (film, television, and the stage).  He had roles in major motion pictures and two successful television series. Few actors ever achieved the success that Jack Klugman did, but then few actors were as talented as Jack Klugman was.

1 comment:

Raquel Stecher said...

This was very nice Terry.