Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jack Klugman: A man of many roles

'I'm alive when I work. I'm dead when I don't."

-Jack Klugman 

 The above quote reminds me of my father and many men of his generation, of which Jack Klugman was of as well. It showed in the care he took. He worked steady from the earliest days of his career until close to the end, and even through throat cancer.

Jack Klugman lived a long life and had a long, very successful career. He left his mark on almost every genre, medium and person I know in some way or another. I will summarize in great detail some of the highlights. Two you are probably well aware of, most you likely are not.

"They never wanted me for comedy. I have a great face for an upset stomach."

Jack Klugman was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1922   the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father came from Russia in 1906 via the underground and was a house painter. There is some thought that Jack was named Jacob, and in fact he went by that in his very early days, but his birth certificate said Jack.
Like all of his five siblings, he was born in the house he grew up in. None of them were born in hospitals. He was the youngest of the six.
He describes growing up in South Philadelphia as a wonderful place to grow up. He grew up in a very rough neighborhood, which was mostly Italian. He claims that is why he talks with his hands and that he is an actor.

"Loyalty was a very important ingredient in a relationship (where he grew up). That is where I learned about loyalty. How important friendship was and keeping your word.

 Growing up, he learned to gamble and that would lead to some of the things he did in later life, of which attending the horse races, buying racehorses and taking on risky roles were some of those.
 When he was 14 or 15, his older sister took him to the theater and that is what got him started with his interest in acting.

"I never figured I would be an actor. But the theater was just brilliant and I loved it so much.... That kind of put the germ of love for the theater in me."

He attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, where he stayed for two years before leaving in 1947. Two of his classmates there were Sada Thompson and Nancy Marchard. 

 Although he got an education there he claims that he got street smarts growing up in that tough neighborhood in Philly and that helped him when he got to New York and started his acting career. He even never told the kids in the old neighborhood that he was studying acting. He would have been thought of as a sissy. So he lied to them and told them that he was studying electrical engineering. Even his family thought he was crazy when he was 25 and went to New York to be an actor. "Like a bum." That was the mindset that his family had. But he persevered.

Klugman served in the United States Army during World War II. 
At first he was rejected when he went in for the draft. It was found that he had a kidney condition. He went back and they took him the second time. However, his kidneys were very bad, he got sick often and after a few months they discharged him. He returned to Philadelphia in 1945 and had no idea what he was going to do with his life. He was still gambling heavy and losing. He owed a lot of money to loan sharks. Because of that he had to get out of town. He made his way to Pittsburgh,  Carnegie Mellon University where he auditioned for the drama department on the advice of his older brother. They told him that he was not suited to be an actor and more suited to be a truck driver. But, since they had no men in the drama department to do scenes with (because the war was still on) they took him on short term. He couldn't go home anyway because of the loan sharks, so he stayed. That is how he got his start.

"After the war, I was a waiter, a bartender. I had about 20 jobs. I didn't really know what I was going to do...I got on that stage and I knew.... I was more comfortable on that stage than I was in life."

After Carnegie Melon, he left for New York immediately at the end of 1946 to pursue acting roles. At first he moved into a building with many former Carnegie Melon classmates and paid $7 a week for a room while he made the rounds looking for work.
 In 1948, he met Charles Bronson while both of them were working for Ed McMahon's father in Atlantic City at his theater while they made the rounds together during the day looking for acting work. Eventually, in 1948, he began to live with Bronson for a couple of years. 
While making the rounds, it was incredibly cold in the winter and when they couldn't make enough money to pay the rent, they would sell their blood.

"I never thought I would making a living at it (acting)."

Klugman began his career in the late 1940s on the stage. Even though he acted in many plays off Broadway he got paid nothing for it. That was the way it was back in those days.

"We got nothing. There was no pay."

During the 1950s and 1960s, Klugman was active in numerous stage, television and film productions. Although there was no pay for the early stageplay work in theaters, he took on a stage manager role, again for no pay, but he got his equity card. That led to more work and the chance to start making his name when his big break came shortly after.

In 1950, he got that big break when he was the understudy for the second lead in the stageplay version of Mr. Roberts and the actor got sick. Because of that he got to act with Henry Fonda, who was already a big star at the time. Mr. Roberts toured all over and Klugman performed the role for six weeks with the road company. Klugman tells the story of how he got the role, which was mostly due to living with Bronson.

 "I have to thank Charlie a lot for it (getting the role in Mr. Roberts). We had a very small room and Charlie came in one day and he had two Pepsi-Cola boxes, wood boxes. "What are you going to do with those, Charlie?" He put them down, put his feet up on the desk and did 125 push ups. I mean this guy was strong. Then he came in with the legs of a washing machine. "What are you going to do with those, Charlie?" Got my books and tied to the end of them and did another exercise. And I would watch...and he got me interested in exercising. And I had nothing else to do. Well, I worked out and I got into pretty good shape. When I went in to audition for Mr. Roberts the first thing you had to do was take off your shirt. If they didn't like your body you never read. Had nothing to do with acting talent. That was secondary. So, I was in pretty good I went out and I read, took off my shirt, I read and I got the part."

There he met and worked with Fonda, who made a big impression on him and taught him many things.

"I played the second lead with Henry Fonda. The best actor I have ever worked with. Not one of, but the best. For six weeks. It was like dying and going to heaven. I learned so much from this guy (Fonda), but I learned mostly integrity and honesty...He didn't know how to lie. I just loved this man."

Later that same year, he made his television debut in an episode of Actors Studio. In March 1952, Klugman made his Broadway debut in Golden Boy, as Frank Bonaparte. He describes that as one of his favorite experiences because of all the actors he got to work with on that project. Among them was Lee J Cobb who was his idol and an icon to him.

Klugman married actress Brett Somers in 1953. The couple had two children before separating in 1974. They never divorced and were still married when Somers died in 2007.

In 1954, he played Jim Hanson on the soap opera, The Greatest Gift

In 1955, Klugman appeared in the live television broadcast of Producers' Showcase, in the episode "The Petrified Forest" with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda. Although, at this point he was not really much of a name, and didn't appear at all in the opening credits. Klugman later said the experience was the greatest thrill of his career. He actually got that job because Henry Fonda has recommended him and pulled some strings.

"We (theater actors) were overqualified for television. But I don't think anybody put it down."

One of his first significant roles was in the series Studio One in 1950. In addition,  from 1950 to 1957 he did many of the popular Playhouse Theater shows of the day, including Producers Showcase, The Philco Television Playhouse, Goodyear Television Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Alcoa Hour and The United States Steel Hour. 

In addition, he also acted in many Kraft Television theater presentations and wrote two, most notably "Big Break". The most famous of the Kraft Theater productions was Patterns (1956),  which launched Rod Serling's career. Klugman would work many times in the future with Serling on other productions.


He would also work with Serling in his production of "The Velvet Alley" for Playhouse 90 in 1959. Originally the producers of the show did not want Klugman and were insisting on Walter Mathau, but they couldn't reach a deal with him so Klugman got the role. He calls it the turning point in his career.

"They had a social message...and I liked that. They got the best people. The best actors and directors. They were classy." 
All of those roles led him to his first big TV exposure in 12 Angry Men (1957) and Cry Terror! (1958). 

In 1959, he returned to Broadway in 1959 in the original production of Gypsy: A Musical Fable. He remained with Gypsy until it closed in March 1961.

"I just loved Ethel Merman. We had a great platonic love affair with her for years. I just loved to hear her sing."

 During the 1960s, he guest starred on numerous television series. 
 including The F.B.I., Ben Casey, The Name of the Game, and Insight.

He won his first Primetime Emmy Award for his guest starring role on The Defenders, in 1964. An episode called "The Blacklist."
Klugman himself lived and worked through the actual blacklist period and knew of many people who had their careers ruined and also many who ratted on some to save their own careers and avoid being blacklisted.

"There was no way to fight was a terrible dark history for us. None of it was true...people ratting on people. It was a terrible time...I was working with people who were blacklisted. I saw the fear. I saw the fear all around me. I have never seen fear like that."

He also appeared on Broadway in Tchin-Tchin, from Oct 1962 to May 1963.

He made a total of four appearances on The Twilight Zone from 1960 to 1963. 

 "A Passage for Trumpet" (1960),

 "A Game of Pool" (1961), 

"Death Ship" (1963), 

and "In Praise of Pip" (1963)

"You loved to roll his (Rod Serling's) words around. You never changed a word. With others you did. Never with him...there was always something underneath. Another dimension."

That same year, Klugman landed the starring role in the sitcom Harris Against the World. The series was a part of an experimental block of sitcoms that aired on NBC entitled 90 Bristol Court. Harris Against the World, along with the other sitcoms that aired in the block, were canceled due to low ratings the following year.
Klugman liked the show, of which they did 13 episodes, but it was cancelled because only one show of the 3 made could stay on the air. He was happy to get out of it, because the producers were terrible and they tried to bribe him by buying two racehorses for him,  which he said finally made up his mind that he didn't ever want to do another series. That almost cost him  the chance to star in The Odd Couple on TV six years later.

In 1965, Klugman starred in the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple as a replacement for Walter Matthau, who was going to do a movie for four months. He got that role because he had worked with Neil Simon's (who wrote The Odd Couple) brother Danny on Harris Against The World. He ended up staying for the rest of the run (after he quit over money but returned to the role in Europe)  because Matthau had a heart attack and couldn't return.

 In 1970, Klugman reprised his Broadway role of Oscar Madison in the television adaptation of The Odd Couple, opposite Tony Randall. The series aired from 1970 to 1975. He almost didn't take the role. He related the story in an interview about how initially was going to turn it down.

"I was with Penny Marshall. I was doing a show called Here Comes Bronson. We were lying in the sun and she came back and said 'I just talked to my brother and he wants to know if you want to do a series on The Odd Couple.' I said 'Whose your brother?' She said Garry Marshall. I said I don't know him. I don't want to do another series. I'm a serious actor. I don't do comedy. I don't do series anymore. I had a bad experience with it. And that was it. Then I thought, what am I, crazy? I'm 46 years old, I got $12,000 in the bank, I got two kids. I could work all I wanted but couldn't make the real money. So I said the hell with it. I'll do The Odd Couple."

 Over the course of the show's five-year run and 114 episodes, Klugman won two Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on the series. The series ended in 1975. Klugman wanted out. He was instrumental in making that happen.

"Whenever I get in something, I want out right away. I don't want to stay in anything too long...I like to go on to other things...I said after that I didn't want to do another series. The next year they sent me a whole bunch of sitcoms. I turned them all down."

Klugman explains what he brought to the character of Oscar Madison for the TV version, something that wasn't there in the play.

"I added took me a long time to find it out. But there was something wrong here...they are arguing all the time...but we did in the series, every Thursday, after all the comedy had been written and all the jokes I'd say, "Okay fellas, but where's the love scene? In every show we added a love scene. Otherwise, the audience would say, " Why should they stay together?"

 The show was never a ratings success, and in fact was almost always at the bottom of the ratings. It was cancelled every year but returned because ABC was the third network and ended up not having anything to put on, and it was a relatively cheap show to make. It also did well in summer reruns each year. After the first 15 shows they got rid of the laugh track and went to a live studio audience.

"Tony and I acted like it was the theater." 

 Although the show was never a hit in first run, it was a huge success in syndication. Klugman was smart enough to get a percentage of that and that made him rich. He knew that it would, based on the quality of the writing, the acting experience of both him and Randall and the reaction week in week out of the studio audience. As well, they worked late into the night most nights perfecting, writing and re-writing the show until it was of a very high quality.

A long-time smoker, Klugman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1974. The cancer returned in 1989. During the course of treatment, Klugman lost a vocal cord which left him with a raspy voice. 

Following the end of The Odd Couple, he returned to television in 1976 in Quincy, M.E.. Klugman portrayed Dr. Quincy, a forensic pathologist in 148 episodes over 7 seasons, who worked for the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and solved crimes.

Klugman was not going to do Quincy. He didn't want to do another series. Then he sold himself on it by accident and did four or five of them. At that point, he didn't want to carry on with it. It was becoming a cops and robbers show, something he didn't want to do. To stay on, he had the condition that he wanted new writers and the producer fired and they were to write and produce it the way he wanted it to go. It was something he did often and he got a reputation for that, one that was well earned as he admitted in an interview.

"And I got a terrible reputation. Most of it true. I loved writers but I got rid of a lot of them because they were not good. The ones I got went on to become multi-millionaires in their work and were good."

Jack Klugman didn't write much. He didn't consider himself a writer and didn't do it often. But he really was an actor in a writers body. He knew good writing and demanded it from anything he worked on. He respected the great ones he worked with and loathed the ones that turned in substandard work.

He was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on the series and also wrote four episodes. Quincy aired on NBC for a total of seven seasons, ending in 1983. The show also educated people on many issues and facts they didn't know. Legislation was actually passed because of a few episodes. Klugman stated that he is very proud of that.

"Everybody said, Quincy'll never be a hit.' I said, 'You guys are wrong. He's two heroes in one, a cop and a doctor.' A coroner has power. He can tell the police commissioner to investigate a murder. I saw the opportunity to do what I'd gotten into the theater to do — give a message."

"I remember my big audition with Jack for a show I was blessed to do with him, called You Again. Every young actor in town wanted to play Jack Klugman's son. A bunch of us were waiting outside NBC just to see the great Jack Klugman pull up in his limo. We knew he would show up in style -- the way a man of his stature would. All of a sudden we hear the sound of a helicopter. We see it fly over and land on top of a building. There he is, the man. As we were trying to get a glimpse of Jack coming out of his helicopter, someone nudged me (maybe Ben Stiller -- yes, he wanted to be Jack's son too) and said, "That's not Jack Klugman that's Johnny Carson."
Suddenly, we hear what sounds like the crappiest car you could imagine. And we all look over to the parking lot at this crazy old beater pulling in. It looked like it had just been driven from Cuba. Out pops Jack with papers and programs (could've been horse racing tickets) falling out behind him like a trail of confetti. He was wearing a white sailor cap, and on the back of his car there was a bumper sticker that read: "Where the hell is Temecula?"
That was my first sight of the great Jack Klugman. And that's who he was to me for the rest of his life: a simple, humble, great man."

 -John Stamos

 In 1986, Klugman starred in the sitcom You Again?, co-starring John Stamos as Klugman's character's son. Everyone in Hollywood wanted the part of the son to play with Klugman. The series aired on NBC for two seasons before being canceled. It was Stamos's big break and he idolized Klugman, who he claims took him under his wing and taught him all about acting and show business.

 "The You Again years were quite possibly my most important years in show business. I had one of the greatest living actors as my own personal acting coach. There's not a day that goes by where I don't use something I learned from Jack. He taught me to listen. There's actually an episode of You Again where you can hear Jack say to me, "Now listen, John/Matt..." He was directing and acting with me at the same time. They didn't catch it and it made the air. "

-John Stamos
What Klugman had learned more than 30 years earlier from Henry Fonda and Humphrey Bogart, he took it upon himself to teach to an up and coming actor like John Stamos. He was one who always gave back.

 Klugman also appeared on Broadway in I'm Not Rappaport. The show closed in 1988. He said that it was the most joy he ever had in acting even though he was very sick at the time with the throat cancer. Eventually he had to get radiation for it, then surgery and meanwhile he took massive shots of cortisone when he needed to perform.

 The following year, he co-starred in the television miniseries Around the World in 80 Days.


 In 1989, Klugman's throat cancer (with which he was first diagnosed in 1974) returned. His illness sidelined his career for the next four years. He returned to acting in a 1993 Broadway revival of Three Men on a Horse  and he also reunited with Tony Randall in the television film The Odd Couple: Together Again.

 He reunited with Tony Randall again in 1998 to do the stage version of The Sunshine Boys.

He co-starred in 1994 on the television film Parallel Lives in a star studded cast that was also Dudley Moore's final film.

 In 2005, he co-starred in the comedy film When Do We Eat?.

 That same year, he published Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, a book about his long friendship with his The Odd Couple co-star Tony Randall. Klugman gave the eulogy at Randall's memorial service in 2004.

Klugman's last on-screen role was in the 2010 horror film Camera Obscura.

Klugman was the father of two children: Adam Klugman and David, both from his marriage to Brett Somers. He separated from Somers in 1974 but didn't divorce and remained married until 2007 when she passed away. He began living with Peggy Crosby in 1988. They married in February 2008.

 A heavy smoker, Klugman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1974. In 1989, he lost a vocal cord to cancer, but continued to act on stage and television, though he was left with a quiet, raspy voice. In later years subsequent to his operation, Klugman did regain limited strength in his voice. He rarely worked after that but made the best of what he had left.

Klugman was an avid thoroughbred racing fan. He owned Jaklin Klugman, who finished third in the 1980 Kentucky Derby behind the great filly Genuine Risk and Grade 1 stakes winner Akinemod. Klugman said Jaklin Klugman's success from meager beginnings was the biggest thrill in his life.

Klugman died at the age of 90 at his home in Woodland Hills, California, on December 24, 2012 from prostate cancer.