Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jack Klugman (1922 - 2012)

Jack Klugman (1922 - 2012)
It’s hard to imagine The Twilight Zone without Jack Klugman. The prolific character actor, known for his ability at portraying the twentieth century everyman, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 90. Klugman enjoyed a rare kind of success as an actor and during his lifetime he remained a sought-after performer on television, in film and on the stage. Klugman’s low key, approachable personality lent itself wonderfully to the misfit characters he so often portrayed.  

Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters in
"A Game of Pool"
He and Serling first worked together in 1959 in Serling’s heavily autobiographical Playhouse 90 production of "The Velvet Alley." So when it came time to cast someone as hopeless vagabond Joey Crown in the season one episode “A Passage for Trumpet” Serling turned to Klugman and actually postponed the initial production date of the episode in order to work around Klugman’s schedule. His next appearance on the show was as angry young pool hustler Jesse Cartiff in the season three classic “A Game of Pool” in which he starred alongside Jonathan Winters.  His third episode of the program was season four’s “Death Ship” in which he played a militant Airforce captain leading a crew of three men whose spacecraft has crashed on a bizarre planet. Klugman’s character here is an atypical one for him and he confessed in interviews years later that this was his least favorite episode out of the four he appeared in. Nevertheless his performance is great and I have always considered the episode to be a vastly underrated one. His fourth and final episode was Serling’s “In Praise of Pip” for Season Five in which he played a washed-up gangster whose son is dying in a military hospital in Vietnam. In all, he played the lead in four episodes of the program, a record he holds with Burgess Meredith. Klugman also appeared in Serling's adaptation of Whit Masterson's novel The Yellow Canary in 1963. It was directed by Twilight Zone veteran Buzz Kulik.

Jack Klugman and Tony Randall on
the set of The Odd Couple
Outside of The Twilight Zone Klugman enjoyed a highly prolific career. In 1957 Sidney Lumet cast him as Juror #5 in Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men and in 1962 he appeared with Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses. He was a regular fixture on anthology programs and in the live dramas of the 1950’s including a critically praised 1955 televised adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play The Petrified Forest for Producer’s Showcase where he starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall and Jack Warden. He put in four appearances on The United States Steel Hour and Studio One in Hollywood and five appearances on Kraft Theatre where he also directed an episode.  His other television credits during this time include appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Inner Sanctum, Gunsmoke, Suspicion, The Untouchables, Naked City, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Fugitive and The Defenders to name just a few. From 1964-65 Klugman was given a shot at his own show when he starred as Alan Harris in the NBC half-hour comedy Harris Against the World. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only thirteen episodes. From 1970-1975, however, he achieved pop culture immortality as Tony Randall’s unrefined roommate in the television adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Klugman had already played the role of Oscar Madison in 1965 when he replaced original cast member Walter Matthau in the Broadway production. At the end of the show’s run in 1975 Klugman stepped from one iconic television program into another when he took the role of crime-solving medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy in Quincy, M.E. The show ran from 1976–1983.  After Quincy Klugman continued to appear regularly on television and on the stage. In 1989 Klugman, a lifelong smoker, had to have part of his larynx removed as a result of throat cancer.  This left him with a raspy, harsh voice but despite this setback he continued to act regularly for the next decade or so until his health forced him to retire. He was one of the last great living icons from television’s golden age and his passing marks the end of an era and the end of a long and remarkable career.