Tuesday, December 25, 2012
By Robert LloydLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Jack Klugman, who died Monday at the age of 90, was already 48 years old when he became a TV star, playing slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison on ABC's adaptation of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple."
He was not unknown, being by that time the possessor of an Emmy, for his work on episode of "The Defenders" ("The Odd Couple" would earn him two more) and a Tony nomination for the original Broadway production of "Gypsy." But henceforth, and through seven seasons of NBC's "Quincy, M.E.," he would be better known, and beloved.
He had played Jack Lemmon's AA sponsor in "Days of Wine and Roses" and Juror No. 5 in the film "12 Angry Men." On "The Twilight Zone" he had appeared variously as a bookie, an alcoholic trumpeter, a pool player and a spaceship captain. He tended to play good guys, though sometimes good guys down on their luck, or driven to extremes, and when he played bad guys, they were of the sympathetic rather than socio- or psychopathic sort.
Born in Philadelphia of Russian Jewish parents (a hat maker and a house painter), he was urban and Eastern and anything but posh and he never tried to disguise it, pronouncing "liver" as "livah" and "beer" as "beyah," and exclaiming "Whatevah? Whaddya mean whatevah?" as would any East Side Kid.PHOTOS: Jack Klugman -- 1922 - 2012
He had the slightly mournful face of a hound, when he wasn't animating its deepening folds with a smile. His voice, before he lost a vocal cord to cancer in 1989, was a trombone he could take from pianissimo to fortissimo in the space of a sentence.
Carefree and careless where Tony Randall's Felix is anxious and obsessive, Oscar is the well-adjusted member of "The Odd Couple," happy with himself if not always his situation. (He's the one you identify with, or heaven help you.)
To balance Felix's neurotic grandiloquence, Klugman stayed down to earth. He was a dramatic actor primarily, and he played Oscar straight: His reactions are always authentic, his exasperation colored with tenderness. This was a love story, after all.In 1976, one year after the fifth and final season of “Odd Couple,” Klugman went into the forensic pathology procedural “Quincy, M.E.,” one of the first of a now-familiar breed.
As Quincy, Klugman was called gruff, because that is what we call older people -- he was 54 when the series began -- who raise their voices to express a strong opinion. He could certainly get loud -- loudness was a hallmark of his style -- but he never sounded strident.
"Quincy" is, at bottom, about passion, about a man who cares too much to settle for quick or easy answers -- Klugman pressed the producers to make it an issue-oriented show -- and while watching the star solve murders the police had somehow missed, we also learn about child abuse, anorexia, punk rock, and the dumping of hazardous waste.
Quincy had his lighter side: He lived on a sailboat, and, like Oscar Madison, he was something of a ladies' man. But we remember most the knit brow, the concerned look, the quick acceleration into a fifth-gear state of outrage.
The writing gets in the actor's way at times and the production can seem dated and laughable. But Klugman never does. He is right in the moment, then, now and forever.
2 Favorite Character Actors RIP: Jack Klugman and Charles Durning
Extraordinary Actors Ennobling The Ordinary
Extraordinary Actors Ennobling The Ordinary
You've probablyheard and probably used the phrase “perfectly ordinary” in various contexts. Today consider it in a new one: as an excellent description of what Jack Klugman and Charles Durning did so very, very well.
Columbia Pictures, via Associated Press
Both men died Monday, Mr. Klugman at 90 and Mr. Durning at 89. And Hollywood and the theater world lost two actors who remained remarkably employable for more than half a century because they were masters of the kind of effortless-looking acting that makes ordinary, often secondary characters believable.
Some actors — Dustin Hoffman, say — build long careers on technique and immersion in a character. Others — Paul Newman and Robert Redford, for instance — are known for their marquee looks and savvy use of them. Both of those types end up at the top of the bill.
Mr. Klugman and Mr. Durning had their star turns too, but their careers were fueled more by supporting roles and ensemble work, jobs that require a different skill set, a knack for being plain old joes. So while “Tootsie” was a vehicle for Mr. Hoffman and “The Sting” was a showcase for Mr. Newman and Mr. Redford, who was that, a little way down the credits list in both films? Mr. Durning.
That’s not to say his or Mr. Klugman’s performances were ordinary. Mr. Durning earned an Oscar nomination (the first of two) for his flashy turn as the governor of Texas in the 1982 film“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”(though, again, he was a secondary character, supporting Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton). And Mr. Klugman won two Emmys for his work in the 1970s sitcom “The Odd Couple” — tellingly for playing a classic one-of-the-guys character, the slobby Oscar Madison, in a show that was essentially a two-man ensemble piece (Tony Randall being the other half of the “couple”).
But for both men, between the occasional signature roles came dozens of other, pay-the-bills sorts of jobs. Mr. Klugman has almost 100 acting credits on the entertainment database site IMDb.com, as well as numerous other appearances as himself on game shows, talk shows and variety shows. Mr. Durning has an astonishing 207 acting credits on the site — a barkeep, a priest, a police officer, Santa Claus, assorted politicians.
Acting is essentially a look-at-me profession, so taking on one don’t-call-attention-to-myself role after another is an admirable career path. Few movies, plays or television shows can succeed with only an A-list star; supporting players are the infrastructure.
There is an anonymous army of actors (of both sexes) who make a living doing just that sort of work. When they die, you see their obituaries and a photo and say, “Oh, yeah; him.” You recognize the everyday face but are hard-pressed to put a name to it. Mr. Klugman and Mr. Durning were at heart part of that fraternity, but they managed to transcend it and achieve household-name status.
For Mr. Klugman, though he was already a well-regarded actor, the television version of “The Odd Couple” in 1970 was the breakthrough, the role that for many Americans finally made the name stick with the face, and his subsequent series, “Quincy, M.E.,” cemented that status.
For Mr. Durning name recognition was more a matter of constant exposure. Maybe it was his performance in “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975 that first caused you to register the name, or “Tootsie” in 1982, or the recurring role in “Everybody Loves Raymond” early in this century. Eventually you knew his name, because he had become as familiar as your father.
Each man also had notable success in ensemble works, pieces that by definition had no one star. Mr. Klugman was Juror No. 5 in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men.” Mr. Durning had a Broadway hit with “That Championship Season” in 1972, a production that ran for 700 performances. Solid actors surrounded by others just as solid, none of them under pressure to stand out. For Mr. Klugman and Mr. Durning, perfect fits.