The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Bill Eggert

January 20, 2013

BILL EGGERT | Oscar the Grouch: Remembering Jack Klugman

— We have lost another television icon recently. A versatile and highly respected character actor of stage, screen and television, Jack Klugman’s career spanned approximately 60 years. His performances garnered three Emmy Awards and several additional nominations. Klugman’s Broadway credits include “Golden Boy,” Gypsy” and “The Odd Couple.” His film credits include memorable performances in “12 Angry Men” (1957), “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) and “Goodbye Columbus” (1969).

But it was on television that Klugman shone the brightest. Many remember him from his longest-running medical drama “Quincy, ME” (1976-1983). (Klugman, echoing his Quincy role, also had a real-life impact in helping to pass the Orphan Drug Act of 1983.) However, most of us remember him best as the sloppy, grouchy Oscar Madison of the classic sitcom “The Odd Couple” (1970-1975) to Tony Randall’s fastidious Felix Unger. It was Klugman and Randall’s portrayals of Oscar and Felix that best personified Neil Simon’s comic meditation of the yin and yang of two best friends forced to live together.

There was a sense of these two actors, Klugman and Randall, playing off each other to a higher level, in a rarified air that few could attain. It was like watching Larry Bird play basketball against Magic Johnson, or Arnold Palmer play golf against Jack Nicklaus. The comic timing, complemented with a few poignant moments of drama, led these two actors to rise to a higher plane not often seen in standard sitcoms. It made this Garry Marshall sitcom a must-see program for five years on network television. The show remains popular today on the retro channel MeTV.

Of course, those of us of a certain age also remember Klugman for starring roles in four of the most beloved episodes of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” program. Klugman usually played lovable losers, down on their luck, seeking some form of redemption. My two personal favorites were “A Passage for a Trumpet” (1960), where Klugman plays Joey Crowne, a trumpet player with an alcohol problem who gets a chance to see his life where he has died (a bit like “It’s a Wonderful Life”) after attempting suicide. Another trumpet player, named “Gabe” (the angel Gabriel) shows him the folly of his ways. My other favorite episode is “In Praise of Pip” (1963) where Klugman plays a bookie who finds out his son Pip (in the Army) is dying in a hospital in Vietnam.

Regretful of not spending more time with his son when he was younger, Max Philips (Klugman) asks God to take him instead and to let Pip live.

There is a local connection with Klugman. Born in Philadelphia, Klugman migrated to the other side of the state to Pittsburgh after serving in World War II.  Bitten by the acting bug, Klugman applied to, and was accepted, into the drama department of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University). Told at one point by faculty there he would make a better truck driver than actor, Klugman nevertheless persisted at his craft, and moved onto Broadway productions, sharing an apartment with another Pennsylvanian actor: Charles Bronson.

Fast-forward to 2005. I had just moved back to Johnstown and learned that Klugman would be appearing at a book signing (his memoir “Tony and Me,” about his friendship with Randall, who had died the previous year) at a bookstore on Pittsburgh’s trendy South Side. While making plans to meet my Uncle Ronny’s family that weekend, I hit the road to Pittsburgh to meet them and Klugman, of whom I was a longtime fan.

It was a big thrill to meet Klugman, and to tell him how much I enjoyed not only “The Odd Couple,” but also those “Twilight Zone” episodes. While very gracious, the then-83-year-old actor was still dealing with the effects of throat cancer that he suffered from his 1989 surgery. That distinctive voice was barely a wispery shadow of its former self (as was he), but it was still exciting to meet one of my acting heroes from childhood.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Bill Eggert
  • EGGERT AND CHILLY BILLY Bill Cardille brings back childhood chills

    One of the nice things about moving back to this area was being able to connect with childhood heroes from local television. Some, like Paul Shannon (“Adventure Time”) and Hank Stohl (“Popeye and Kinesh”), unfortunately have passed on. Others, like wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino and Bill Cardille (“Chiller Theatre”) are happily still with us.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT6 Riverboat reverie on ‘uncle time’

    Thoughts of the summer months bring to mind annual weeklong vacations with Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don in Pittsburgh. One memorable summer, “Unck” took me to see the Delta Queen riverboat, sitting majestically in the Monongahela River, moored at the Mon wharf.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Bill Eggert | ‘Whatever it takes’: remembering Chuck Noll

    Once upon a time there was a colorful yet inept professional football team, owned by an equally colorful Irishman who participated in sports during his younger days. Unlike their crosstown professional baseball and collegiate football team counterparts, the pro football team never tasted the sweet nectar of success for about 40 years. That all changed in 1969, when Steelers owner Art Rooney and his family found a wise, humble and grounded 37-year-old man named Chuck Noll.

    June 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo Life after Dad: A Father’s Day reflection

    One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo BILL EGGERT | Hollywood’s take on the Great Flood

    About 37 years after the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, Hollywood decided to make a motion picture of Johnstown’s most catastrophic event.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT4 75 years of Batmania: The Dark Knight’s evolution

    The appeal of Batman is universal. We can identify more with Batman.
    Local resident Wayne Faucher has been a professional artist/inker on the various Batman titles for over 20 years.

    May 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

    When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • BILL EGGERT AND FRANK COONELLY BILL EGGERT | Pirates: a rite of spring

    Opening day for the Bucs is March 31. Every year, hope springs eternal for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Especially for the past two decades, since outfielder Barry Bonds’ errant throw allowed gimpy-kneed Sid Bream to score the come-from-behind winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

    One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads