Tribute: Charles Durning and Jack Klugman

The veteran stage and screen actors died on Monday.



Two stalwarts of stage and screen died on Monday. Charles Durning, 89, and Jack Klugman, 90, were World War II veterans who had careers in Hollywood and on Broadway that spanned decades.

Charles Durning

Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge.

His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in "Tootsie."

Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place.

He told The Associated Press in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working. "They're going to carry me out, if I go," he said.

Durning's longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told AP that he died of natural causes in his home in New York City.

Although he portrayed everyone from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon everymen, Durning may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

Many critics marveled that such a heavyset man could be so nimble in the film's show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. He met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.

Besides a four-decade Broadway career that included the premiere production of "That Championship Season," the actor worked on regional stages in plays and musicals, including for the Pittsburgh CLO.

"Though 'of a certain generation' of men known for character and tough guy roles, who will go down in acting history as a 'man's man,' might we remind the chorus of angels that in 2001, at age 78, Charles Durning played Mr. Lundie in CLO's 'Brigadoon,' " Van Kaplan, executive director of Pittsburgh CLO, said via e-mail to the Post-Gazette on Christmas Day.

"With all the recent 'Les Mis' film hoopla, I think it is terrific that we have come back to a place where real men sing and dare to do musicals."

The year after the film version of "Best Little Whorehouse," Durning received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks' "To Be or Not to Be." He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon."

He won a Golden Globe as best supporting TV actor in 1991 for his portrayal of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in the TV film "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

-- By Bob Thomas, Associated Press






Jack Klugman

For many, Jack Klugman will always be the messy one.

His portrayal of sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison on TV's "The Odd Couple" left viewers laughing but it also gave Klugman the leverage to create a more serious character, the gruff medical examiner in "Quincy M.E." His everyman ethos and comic timing endeared him to audiences and led to a prolific, six-decade acting career that spanned stage, screen and television.

Klugman died Monday at age 90 in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge with his wife at his side. His sons called on his fans to embrace their father's tenacious and positive spirit.

"He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it, and he would encourage others to do the same," son Adam Klugman said.

The cause of Klugman's death was not immediately known. Adam Klugman said his father had been slowing down in recent years, but wasn't battling cancer, which robbed him of his voice in the 1980s. Klugman taught himself to speak again, and kept working.

He remained popular for decades simply by playing the type of man you could imagine running into at a bar or riding on a subway with -- gruff, but down-to-earth, his tie stained and a little loose, a racing form under his arm, a cigar in hand during the days when smoking was permitted.

Off-screen, Klugman owned racehorses and enjoyed gambling, although acting remained his passion.

Despite his on-screen wars with Tony Randall's neat-freak character Felix Unger on "Odd Couple," the show created a friendship between the men that endured after the series ended.

When Randall died in 2004 at age 84, Klugman told CNN: "A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognize."

The "Odd Couple," which ran from 1970 to 1975, was based on Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates -- divorced New Yorkers who end up living together. The pairing was so good, the show didn't need constant help from the writers.

"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Klugman said. "A script might say, 'Oscar teaches Felix football.' There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part."

Fans and fellow actors agreed it worked, posting clips of their favorite Klugman roles on Twitter and other social networking sites late Monday.

"RIP Jack Klugman. You made my whole family laugh together," actor-director Jon Favreau wrote on Twitter.

"He was a wonderful man and supremely talented actor," wrote actor Max Greenfield, who worked with Klugman several years ago. "He will be missed."

In "Quincy, M.E.," which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder in cases where others saw natural causes.

"We had some wonderful writers," he said in a 1987 Associated Press interview. "Quincy was a muckraker, like Upton Sinclair, who wrote about injustices. He was my ideal as a youngster, my author, my hero.

"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.

For his 1987 role as 81-year-old Nat in the Broadway production of "I'm Not Rappaport," Klugman wore leg weights to learn to shuffle like an elderly man. He said he would wear them for an hour before each performance "to remember to keep that shuffle."

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon). After serving in the Army during World War II, he went on to summer stock and off-Broadway, rooming with fellow actor Charles Bronson as both looked for paying jobs. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of "Golden Boy."

His film credits included Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" and Blake Edwards' "Days of Wine and Roses" and an early television highlight was appearing with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in a production of "The Petrified Forest." His performance in the classic 1959 musical "Gypsy" brought him a Tony nomination for best featured (supporting) actor in a musical.

He also appeared in several episodes of "The Twilight Zone," including a memorable 1963 one in which he played a negligent father whose son is seriously wounded in Vietnam. His other TV shows included "The Defenders" and the soap opera "The Greatest Gift."

Throat cancer took away his raspy voice for several years in the 1980s. When he was back on the stage for a 1993 revival of "Three Men on a Horse," the AP's review said, "His voice may be a little scratchy but his timing is as impeccable as ever." See more »



-- By Anthony McCartney, Associated Press, with Polly Anderson and Beth Harris

people

First Published December 25, 2012 6:45 PM


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