Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Jack Klugman RIP

Jack Klugman obituary
Actor who won fame as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and crimesolving medical examiner Quincy

Ronald Bergen
Tuesday 25 December 2012

Television was the medium that conferred stardom on the actor Jack Klugman, who has died aged 90. In a long, distinguished career in theatre, film and television, he was principally identified with two characters: Oscar Madison, the slovenly, down-to-earth, cigar-smoking flatmate of the neurotically neat Felix Unger (Tony Randall) in the long-running comedy series The Odd Couple (1970-75), and Quincy in Quincy, ME (1976-83), a crime-solving medical examiner.

Born in a poor neighbourhood of Philadelphia, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Klugman had a tough childhood. His father, a house painter, died young, forcing his mother to make hats in her kitchen to buy food and clothing for her six children. Young Jack, who worked as a street peddler, later observed: "Poverty can teach lessons that privilege cannot." This background may have contributed to many of his impassioned and gritty performances.

After serving in the army in the second world war, Klugman was able, under the GI bill, to enter Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied drama. But after his first audition, his teacher told him: "You're not suited to be an actor. You're more suited, Mr Klugman, to be a truck driver. Not that there's anything wrong with truck drivers, but you're really not ready for this."

However, he persevered, and in 1949 made his stage debut at the Equity Liberty Theatre, New York, in a play called Stevedore, with Rod Steiger. Yet, even though he was on stage, Klugman and his roommate Charles Buchinsky (later Charles Bronson) had to take menial jobs to pay the rent. At one point, Klugman was even selling his blood for $85 a pint.

He made his Broadway debut in the 1952 revival of Clifford Odets's Golden Boy with Lee J Cobb and John Garfield. In the same year, he made his first film appearance, as a heavy in a cheapie black-and-white western, Apache Gold (1952). He gradually got his big break in television, much of it live, with character roles in Kraft Television Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Naked City.

There were also a few films, such as Timetable (1956), an effective film noir with Klugman as a phony ambulance driver with bank robbery loot in the back. More memorable was his Juror No 5 in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957). The character (and Klugman), coming from a similarly rough neighbourhood as the Puerto Rican youth on trial for murder, argues, with passion, that it would be very unlikely for the knife to have been thrust downwards when the boy was apparently expert with knives. (Klugman was the last surviving member of the 12-juror cast.)

On Broadway, he played Herbie opposite Ethel Merman in the hit Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne musical Gypsy (1959). Although Klugman was a major presence in the story, he had only a couple of duets, You'll Never Get Away from Me and Together Wherever We Go, since his singing voice was little more than a croak.

Simultaneously busy working on television, he won an Emmy for his performance in the celebrated Blacklist episode (1964) from The Defenders. Klugman's sporadic film roles included a thug in the thriller Cry Terror! (1958); a sympathetic former alcoholic trying to persuade Jack Lemmon to join an organisation to help deal with his drinking problem in Days of Wine and Roses (1962); Judy Garland's frustrated manager in I Could Go On Singing (1963); and a police colleague of Frank Sinatra in The Detective (1968).

Then came The Odd Couple, the TV series based on Neil Simon's play: on Broadway in 1965, Klugman had taken over the role from Walter Matthau, and its small-screen version brought him two further Emmys. His hit teaming with Randall – a great friend outside the studio – was resumed long after the show had ended with a feeble 1993 TV movie, The Odd Couple: Together Again, and on Broadway in The Sunshine Boys, another personality-clash comedy by Neil Simon.

Quincy, ME, inspired by the well-known Los Angeles county coroner Thomas Noguchi, immediately followed the long run of The Odd Couple, with Klugman as the gruff medical examiner whose first name was never revealed. The actor appreciated the series' scope for what he saw as "muckraking" on social issues.

In 1974, Klugman was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. Like Oscar, his most notable character, he always had a cigarette in his mouth. "I saw John Garfield smoke. He was my idol, so I smoked. I even smoked like him," Klugman explained. With surgery and some treatment, he was able to continue acting, though he refused to give up smoking. In 1989, he underwent surgery again to remove the cancer, but this time his right vocal chord had to be removed, which left him without the ability to speak. Eventually, he regained it, though in a small, raspy voice.

Remarkably, he was able to continue with stage acting. In 1996, he and Randall revived The Odd Couple in London. (Klugman had already played Oscar opposite a miscast Victor Spinetti in the West End in 1966.) He also gave a two-hour, one-man show, An Evening with Jack Klugman in 2003, during which he told anecdotes of his five decades in show business.

In 1953, Klugman married Brett Somers, who went on to play his ex-wife in The Odd Couple. They separated in 1974, and she died in 2007. A long relationship with Barbara Neugass resulted in her losing a palimony claim in 1997. By that time, he was living with Peggy Crosby, the ex-wife of Bing Crosby's son Phillip. They married in 2008, and she survives him, as do two sons from his first marriage.

Jack (Jacob Joachim) Klugman, actor, born 27 April 1922; died 24 December 2012

And then there were none... Jack Klugman, last of the 12 Angry Men, dies aged 90

James Cusick
Tuesday 25 December 2012

The death of the American actor Jack Klugman will be mourned by TV fans of the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and the forensic medic Quincy, M.E.

But his death at 90 will be noted by Hollywood historians for another reason. Klugman was the last survivor of the dozen jurors in Sidney Lumet's landmark 1957 film, 12 Angry Men.

Five years ago the Library of Congress selected the film as being culturally and significantly important in US history. The US Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, recently said the jury drama was crucial to her decision to follow a career in the law.

Klugman made his name on television in the early 1950s, but got his big-screen break in Lumet's film. For the 12 actors who appeared together in the one-set jury room throughout virtually all the film's 96 minutes, the drama became the defining, and in many cases the proudest, project of their careers.

Based on a teleplay by Reginald Rose, it explores the tense road towards a unanimous verdict of a jury following the murder trial of an 18-year-old Puerto Rican in New York.

The acting credits for 12 Angry Men are a Hollywood rarity. No names are used in Rose's script. The accused is simply referred to as "the boy". Klugman played juror # 5 whose backstory included a violent slum past and support for Baltimore's baseball team. He was the youngest of all the jurors.

For an American audience that had for six years endured the anti-Communist witch hunts of McCarthyism, Lumet's film would have made uncomfortable viewing. For Lee J Cobb, who played juror #3, a hot-tempered businessman who was the main antagonist for juror #8, Henry Fonda's liberal architect, the horrors brought by Senator McCarthy were real. Cobb was accused of being a Communist, and refused to give evidence to the House Un-American Activities Committee, for which he was blacklisted. But in 1953, after his wife had been institutionalised, he "named names", 20 of them. He said he'd been worn down.

Klugman went on to appear in a succession of film and TV roles throughout the 1960s before securing his starring role in The Odd Couple from 1970 to 1975, for which he was nominated for two Emmy Awards. A year later he was back on the small screen in Quincy, the series about a medical examiner in Los Angeles who used forensic science to get to the bottom of suspicious deaths. The show aired on NBC until 1983 and netted Klugman another four Emmy nominations. He described Quincy as a precursor to later crime-scene investigation shows, which he said "just took what we did and made it bloodier and sexier".

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