The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

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
Local News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Siehl JIM SIEHL | Music to my ears

    Seldom has $15 produced such a high level of entertainment as it did a few weeks ago when I found myself in the second row just left of center keeping back the tears once again during my third live performance of “Les Miserables.”

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Michele Bender Bye, bye, Easter birdies

    Animals fascinated my mom. Riding the train between Johnstown and Philly, she saw horses, pigs, sheep, cows … a Mattel See ’n Say of farm critters.

    April 19, 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

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads