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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Charlie Brown Christmas

Jack Klugman relatable as Oscar, fervid as Quincy

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

Associated Press
Jack Klugman and Charles Durning.

    Jack Klugman, right, with Tony Randall on “The Odd Couple,” exuded Everyman accessibility.
    Columbia Pictures, via Associated Press
    Charles Durning, right, with Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,” bolstered his leading stars.
    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, 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.


    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge.
    His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in "Tootsie."
    Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as he heard the audience laughing.
    He told The Associated Press in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working. "They're going to carry me out, if I go," he said.
    Durning's longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told The Associated Press that he died of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan.
    Although he portrayed everyone from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon everymen, Durning may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
    Many critics marveled that such a heavyset man could be so nimble in the film's show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. Indeed, he had met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.
    The year after "Best Little Whorehouse," Durning received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks' "To Be or Not to Be." He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon."
    He won a Golden Globe as best supporting TV actor in 1991 for his portrayal of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in the TV film "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
    Durning had begun his career on stage, getting his first big break when theatrical producer Joseph Papp hired him for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
    He went on to work regularly, if fairly anonymously, through the 1960s until his breakout role as a small town mayor in the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play "That Championship Season" in 1972.
    He quickly made an impression on movie audiences the following year as the crooked cop stalking con men Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning comedy "The Sting."
    Dozens of notable portrayals followed. He was the would-be suitor of Dustin Hoffman, posing as a female soap opera star in "Tootsie;" the infamous seller of frog legs in "The Muppet Movie;" and Chief Brandon in Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy." He played Santa Claus in four different movies made for television and was the pope in the TV film "I Would be Called John: Pope John XXIII."
    "I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director," Durning told The Associated Press in 2008, when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
    Other films included "The Front Page," ''The Hindenburg," ''Breakheart Pass," ''North Dallas Forty," ''Starting Over," ''Tough Guys," ''Home for the Holidays," ''Spy Hard" and 'O Brother Where Art Thou?"
    Durning also did well in television as a featured performer as well as a guest star. He appeared in the short-lived series "The Cop and the Kid" (1975), "Eye to Eye" (1985) and "First Monday" (2002) as well as the four-season "Evening Shade" in the 1990s.
    "If I'm not in a part, I drive my wife crazy," he acknowledged during a 1997 interview. "I'll go downstairs to get the mail, and when I come back I'll say, 'Any calls for me?'"
    Durning's rugged early life provided ample material on which to base his later portrayals. He was born into an Irish family of 10 children in 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., a town near West Point. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during World War I, so his mother supported the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.
    The younger Durning himself would barely survive World War II.
    He was among the first wave of U.S. soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his Army unit to survive. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners.
    In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
    "Too many bad memories," he told an interviewer in 1997. "I don't want you to see me crying."
    Tragedy also stalked other members of his family. Durning was 12 when his father died, and five of his sisters lost their lives to smallpox and scarlet fever.
    A high school counselor told him he had no talent for art, languages or math and should learn office skills. But after seeing "King Kong" and some of James Cagney's films, Durning knew what he wanted to do.
    Leaving home at 16, he worked in a munitions factory, on a slag heap and in a barbed-wire factory.
    Durning and his first wife had three children before divorcing in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Amelio.
    He is survived by his children, Michele, Douglas and Jeannine. The family planned to have a private family service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

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