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Friday, December 28, 2012

Farewell, Jack Klugman

For today's look back through the history of television, I would like to pay tribute to a television legend who passed away earlier this week.

On Christmas Eve, the world said goodbye to veteran actor, Jack Klugman. He happened to pass away on the same day that character actor, Charles Durning died.

(NOTE: I'm planning a tribute for Durning for my December 31 entry, so keep that date in mind.)

Klugman passed away at the age of 90 in Woodland Hills, California. He is survived by his second wife, Peggy Crosby, his two sons Adam and David (from his first marriage to Match Game panelist Brett Somers), and two grandchildren.

Klugman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 27, 1922, the son of a house painter and a hat maker, both of whom were Russian immigrants. In 1948, he graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now going by the name of Carnegie Mellon University), and served during World War II. After his service in the war wrapped up, he relocated to New York City to try his hand at acting.

TRIVIA: Klugman once roomed with the late Charles Bronson while he was living in New York trying to secure auditions and acting gigs.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Klugman scored dozens of jobs within various stage productions. He starred in the Broadway productions of “The Golden Boy”, and “Gypsy: A Musical Fable”, took on a role in the soap opera “The Greatest Gift”, and starred in his first high-profile role as Juror #5 in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men”.

TRIVIA: Of the twelve actors who played the jurors in “12 Angry Men”, Klugman was the last surviving one.

As the 1960s began, Klugman began to take on various television roles. He tied the record for most individual appearances on “The Twilight Zone” with roles in four separate episodes (only Burgess Meredith had as many). He also made cameo appearances and guest starred in “Ben Casey”, “The F.B.I.”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Insight” before landing the first of two roles that would make his name a household one.

When the Broadway production of “The Odd Couple” was playing, Klugman ended up replacing the departing Walter Matthau, who had acted alongside Jack Lemmon (himself a replacement for Art Carney) in 1965. Klugman played the role of Oscar Madison, a slobbish sportswriter who couldn't have a more different personality from his roommate, the obsessively neat Felix Unger.

The play was hugely successful on Broadway, and in 1970, ABC decided to adapt the play into a television series. By 1970, both Matthau and Lemmon were involved in other projects to sign onto the series, so replacements had to be hired instead. Tony Randall was cast as Felix Unger (though Dean Martin and Art Carney were also briefly considered). As for Oscar, actors Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam were up for consideration, and Randall had lobbied for Rooney to get the part. However, co-creator of the television series Garry Marshall had wanted to cast Jack Klugman for the role, and lobbied quite a bit to get people to listen to his recommendations.

Once casting was firmly in place, and the writers had come up with enough scripts for half a season, the series debuted on ABC on September 24, 1970.

The series run for “The Odd Couple” was not exactly a breeze. Did you know that the Nielsen ratings were so low during every season of “The Odd Couple” that each season, it was almost pulled off the schedule for good? The only saving grace was that when the show went on its summer hiatus, the reruns often scored higher ratings than it did any other time of the year, and those numbers kept the show on the air until July 4, 1975!

I should also note that despite the mediocre ratings and the threat of cancellation that plagued the show's five-year run, both lead roles ended up being nominated for Emmy Awards. Klugman ended up winning the Emmy Award in 1971 and 1973, with Randall taking home the trophy in 1975. Klugman also won a Golden Globe in 1974, and the show itself was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1971, 1972, and 1974.

I suppose one could say that “The Odd Couple” was sort of like the little prime time show that could!

Though “The Odd Couple” wrapped up its run on America's 199th birthday, Klugman didn't stay unemployed for very long. By the time Americans were ringing in the bicentennial, Klugman had signed on to star in another series, this time for NBC.

The series was “Quincy M.E.”, which started airing in October 1976. The series itself was inspired by the Marshall Houts book “Where Death Delights”, and the character that Klugman played (Dr. R. Quincy) was modelled after Los Angeles based medical examiner/coroner Thomas Noguchi, then known as the “Coroner of the Stars”.

Quincy M.E.” was a show that had a rather interesting beginning. Rather than debuting along with the rest of the fall premieres, it was originally broadcast as 90-minute telefilms, which were part of NBC's Sunday Mystery Movie rotation. “Quincy M.E.” was featured alongside other well-known mystery series including “Columbo”, “McMillan (& Wife)”, and “McCloud”. The “Quincy M.E.” telefilms were positively received by the public, and became so successful that the series was later spun-off into its own regular series midway through the 1976-1977 season.

Dr. Quincy could best be described as strong-willed, and not afraid to stand up to anyone who dared cross him (mostly this applied to his direct supervisor, Dr. Asten, and police lieutenant Frank Monahan). He is aided by his faithful lab assistant, Sam Fujiyama, and is friends with Danny Tovo, a marina restaurant near where his sailboat/residence is docked.

Now, “Quincy M.E.” was a show that was incredibly formulaic, as each episode of the program usually featured at least one, but sometimes all of the following criteria...

  • Someone ends up dead in each episode, seemingly from natural causes.
  • Quincy does an investigation and comes to the conclusion that the person died as a result of murder.
  • Quincy decides to launch an investigation into what caused the death of the person, much to his supervisor's dismay. Occasionally, he will refuse to sign off the cause of death in order to get the proof needed to confirm his hypotheses.
  • Quincy will get into an argument with someone higher up than him, which almost certainly puts up a temporary roadblock in the case.
  • Frequently causes Sam to cancel his social activities in order to perform a series of time-consuming tests that will solve the case.
  • Once the case is solved, the final scenes of the episode take place at Danny's restaurant.

Although the show structure quickly became quite predictable, the series earned a lot of praise for tackling hot-button topics such as anorexia, Tourette's syndrome, the proliferation of handguns (which has become a hot-button issue again in 2012), and problems caused by punk rock (which hasn't been a hot-button issue in quite some time).

Believe it or not, Klugman himself was brought forth to testify before the United States Congress in 1982 to talk about things he had learned about the subject of orphan drugs as a direct result of its use it an episode of the series!

Quincy M.E.” also has a little bit of trivia associated with it as well. For instance, did you know that the same actress ended up playing both of Quincy's wives? It's true. Actress Anita Gillette played the role of Quincy's deceased first wife, Helen, in a 1979 flashback episode, and by the end of the series in September 1983, she had signed on to play the role of Dr. Emily Hanover...Quincy's second wife!

The series ran for 148 episodes in total, but Klugman only appeared in 147 of those episodes. He took a hiatus during the episode “Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy” because he disapproved of the script (in which a body brought to the morgue was actually living). Although Klugman was not physically present in the episode, his voice was heard on two separate occasions during the program. He however was the only regular cast member to appear in the series finale, “The Cutting Edge”, which was planned as a spin-off series (which never happened).

And in 2008, Klugman sued NBC over allegations that the network had concealed profits made from the show that were owed to him.

All right, so the Quincy experience didn't exactly end well for Klugman...but it is also widely believed that “Quincy M.E.” set the standard for the wave of similar themed shows that exploded in the late 1990s, including “Crossing Jordan”, “CSI”, “NCIS”, and “Diagnosis Murder”.

Klugman tried once more to have a successful series after “Quincy M.E.” wrapped up, starring in the 1986 comedy series “You Again?”, which co-starred future “Full House” star John Stamos. However, the show suffered from low ratings, and its last episode aired on January 7, 1987. Two years later, Klugman faced a difficult health struggle when the throat cancer that he was first diagnosed with in 1974 reappeared. Klugman underwent immediate surgery to try and get rid of the cancer, which included having one of his vocal cords removed. As a result, Klugman was left with permanent damage to his voice, and was sidelined for four years after his surgery.

He made his comeback in 1993, starring alongside Tony Randall once more in the reunion movie “The Odd Couple: Together Again”. He also appeared in the Broadway revival of “Three Men on a Horse”. Beginning in 1997, Klugman revived his role as Dr. Quincy on “Diagnosis: Murder”, which starred Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, Scott Baio, Charlie Schlatter, and Victoria Rowell, and also starred in the Broadway revival of “The Sunshine Boys”.

Klugman's last appearance would be in the 2010 horror film “Camera Obscura”.

So, there you have it. The life and times of Jack Klugman. A life well lived.

Rest in peace, Mr. Klugman...and say hello to Tony Randall for all of us, all right?

Jack Klugman

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