Wednesday, December 26, 2012

RIP Jack Klugman

One of my favorite actors, Jack Klugman, the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who played the messy one in television's "The Odd Couple" and the crime-fighting coroner in "Quincy, M.E.," has died at age 90.

Mr. Klugman, lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s and trained himself to speak again.
Never anyone's idea of a matinee idol, Mr. Klugman remained a popular star for decades simply by playing the type of man you could imagine running into at a bar or riding on a subway with—gruff but down to earth, his tie stained and a little loose, a racing form under his arm, a cigar in hand during the days when smoking was permitted.
His was ideal for "The Odd Couple," which ran from 1970 to 1975 and was based on Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates, divorced New Yorkers who end up living together. The show teamed Mr. Klugman—the sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison—and Tony Randall—the fussy photographer Felix Unger—in the roles played by Walter Matthau and Art Carney on Broadway and Mr. Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film.
Mr. Klugman had had a taste of the show when he replaced Mr. Matthau on Broadway, and he learned to roll with the quick-thinking Mr. Randall, with whom he had worked in 1955 on the CBS series "Appointment with Adventure."
"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Mr. Klugman said. "A script might say, 'Oscar teaches Felix football.' There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part." They were battlers on screen, and the best of friends in real life.
In "Quincy, M.E.," which ran from 1976 to 1983, Mr. Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder in cases where others saw natural causes.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Mr. Klugman was born in Philadelphia and began his acting career in college drama (Carnegie Institute of Technology). After serving in the Army during World War II, he went on to summer stock and off-Broadway, rooming with fellow actor Charles Bronson as both looked for paying jobs. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of "Golden Boy." His film credits included Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" and Blake Edwards's "Days of Wine and Roses." An early television highlight was appearing with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in a production of "The Petrified Forest." His performance in the classic 1959 musical "Gypsy" brought him a Tony nomination for best featured (supporting) actor in a musical.
He also appeared in several episodes of "The Twilight Zone," including a memorable 1963 one in which he played a negligent father whose son is seriously wounded in Vietnam. His other TV shows included "The Defenders" and the soap opera "The Greatest Gift."

Throat cancer took away Mr. Klugman's raspy voice for several years in the 1980s. When he was back on the stage for a 1993 revival of "Three Men on a Horse," the Associated Press review said, "His voice may be a little scratchy but his timing is as impeccable as ever."
In his later years, he guest-starred on TV series including "Third Watch" and "Crossing Jordan," and appeared in a 2010 theatrical film, "Camera Obscura."

Mr. Klugman's hobby was horse racing, and he eventually took up raising them, too.
He was one of those actors you liked to see make an appearance on stage or screen. He will be missed.

Live Long and Prosper...

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