Jack Klugman

During a recent telephone interview Jack Klugman made the startling revelation that he “was destined to be anactor.”

Klugman, who just turned 80 years-old has been a fixture in the theater, stage and television since 1954 when he played Jim Hanson on the soap opera, “The Greatest Gift.” Jack always seemed to portray “Everyman.” He did not possess the looks of a Cary Grant or Gregory Peck, but you knew he would give a great performance in whatever role he took. Klugman, born April 27, 1922 to Russian Jewish immigrants grew up in Philadelphia. His love for acting was connected to his love of gambling. “When I was young, I owed a bookie some money. I told him I couldn’t pay.

Even though he was friend, he could not let the debt go unpaid. He gave the debt to a collector so I decided to get out of town. We heard about Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, so I enrolled. This was 1945. I enrolled in the Dramatics program. If I wasn’t any good, I would return and try and pay off the debt. If I was good I would keep going with it. The first time I got on stage I just knew. I was calm and more comfortable than in real life.”

Jack focused and graduated in 1948. Realizing acting was his future; he made his way to New York City where he roomed with Charles Bronson. “Bronson taught me many aspects of staging. He was delightful.” By 1954 he was making regular appearances on a television legal drama, ”Justice.” The show was based on real life cases from the Legal Aid Society of New York. In a unique twist of fate, Jack appeared with another young actor in an episode of a CBS anthology series, “Appointment with Adventure.” The other actor was Tony Randall.

His career was moving with great speed. He played a juror in “12 Angry Men.” “12 Angry Men is my favorite film. I worked with someone I admired and respected-Henry Fonda. I appreciated his integrity that he brought every day. I learned so much by just watching him work.” “But my greatest thrill was appearing in “Petrified Forest” with Fonda and Humphrey Bogart,” he added. Jack also appeared in the classic, “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) and in 1969, “Goodbye, Columbus.” He was an Emmy winner for his work in series, “The Defenders.” He appeared in four classic “Twilight Zone.”

His skills were soon recognized and he went to Broadway to star in “The Odd Couple.”
On September 24, 1970, the television show, “The Odd Couple,” went on the air. Jack played the sloppy Oscar Madison while Tony Randall was the prissy clean freak. The show ran for 114 episodes, and according to Jack was a flop in the rating. The show originally was shot and a laugh track used in production to sweeten up the audience response. It was Randall who stopped the canned laughter and fought for a live audience.

The relationship between the actors extended to their personal lives. In his book, “Tony and Me,” Klugman tells stories of the depth of the love these men had for each other. “When I was in the hospital with throat cancer, Tony was the first person to come and visit. When I came out he was there. I thought my career was over-an actor without a voice. Tony said that he would personally take care of putting the mic on me to get the best quality. He taught me to be brave and to live with being vulnerable. I love him.”

The show was known for having guest celebrities. “Tony had the idea to bring on guests. I never thought to ask anyone. He did. He had Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King, Howard Cosell, and members of the New York opera and dance community as well as Roy Clarke. Our funniest shows were the two we did with Monte Hall.” To this day people still voted those shows two of the all-time funniest.

Jack is married to the lovely Peggy who has lived and loved each other since 1988.
Dean Martin once said of Jack Klugman that he was one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. We would also say that like Spencer Tracy, Jack is an actor’s actor.  Happy birthday Jack!

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