R.I.P. Two Great Actors

R.I.P. Two Great Actors

Posted by Sicilian Cowboy on Dec 26, 2012 4:33 pm

Jack Klugman, the character actor who achieved TV star status in the 1970s as the sloppy half of “The Odd Couple”, sportswriter Oscar Madison and later in his career as the crusading forensic pathologist of “Quincy, M.E.,” died on Monday at his home in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles.

Charles Durning, who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, whether on stage, in film or on TV, died Monday at his home in New York City.

Klugman was 90 and Durning was 89. Both of these men had great success on stage, screen and television.

Jack Klugman was born and raised in South Philadelphia on April 27, 1922, the youngest of six children of immigrants from Russia. After a stint in the Army he returned home, but racked up enough of an IOU to local loan sharks that he had to leave town. He landed in Pittsburgh, where he auditioned for the drama department at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon). After two years he moved to New York where he tried to make a living as an actor, and he roomed with Charles Buchinski (Bronson).

He had more than 100 television credits behind him, including four episodes of “The Twilight Zone” (tied for most with Burgess Meredith) and a 1964 episode of the legal drama “The Defenders,” in which he delivered an Emmy Award-winning performance as a blacklisted actor. He had numerous guest roles on television shows including “The F.B.I.”, “Ben Casey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Insight”.

Among his most visible movie roles, he portrayed the father of a Ali MacGraw in “Goodbye, Columbus”; a police colleague of Frank Sinatra’s in “The Detective” ; Jack Lemmon’s A.A. sponsor in “Days of Wine and Roses” ; and a murder-trial juror, alongside Henry Fonda, in “12 Angry Men”. In his solo moment in that film, his character, known only as Juror No. 5, recalls growing up in a tough neighborhood and instructs his fellow jurors in the proper use of a switchblade, one of several details that sways the opinion of the jury.

Klugman gave Fonda credit for helping him to get crucial early roles on Broadway, including “Golden Boy,” with John Garfield and Lee J. Cobb, and the musical “Gypsy,” in which he co-starred with Ethel Merman, singing several numbers. Of course, the role that really made him a star was Oscar, the sloppy half of “The Odd Couple” the TV version of Neil Simon’s Broadway hit (which starred Walter Matthau, with Klugman later replacing him, on stage). He won the Emmy Award twice for the role, as well as a Golden Globe.

Soon after the cancellation of “The Odd Couple”, Klugman went on to star in “Quincy, M.E.,” a series based loosely upon L.A. Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi, wherein the title character would discover a routine death to be the result of foul play, and become a detective instead of M.E., finally solving the case. This series also ran for five seasons, and was a forerunner of such shows involving the mix of medicine and crime detection as “CSI”, “Diagnosis Murder”, “Crossing Jordan”, etc.

A long time smoker, Klugman suffered from throat cancer and had a vocal chord removed, vastly altering his vocal strength. He was married to actress Brett Sommers, (who played his wife on “The Odd Couple”), and later to Peggy Crosby.
Charles Durning was born on Feb. 28, 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., a small town on the Hudson River near West Point. He was the ninth of 10 children, and five of his sisters died of smallpox or scarlet fever in childhood. Durning dropped out of high school and worked as a farmhand and did other menial jobs before moving to Buffalo, where again he took odd jobs, including being an usher in a burlesque house.

One night a performer didn’t show and Durning, who had memorized the comic’s jokes, persuaded the manager to let him go on. Soon afterwards he would up being drafted. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Durning engaged in hand to hand combat, and he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Durning was among the few to escape, and he was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

Starting in the early 1960’s Durning signed on with the NY Shakespeare Festival, and over three decades eventually did 35 plays for them, along with many other Broadway and Off-Broadway roles. Durning starred as the Mayor in “That Championship Season” in 1972, a production that started Off-Broadway and then ran for 700 performances on Broadway. This role led film director George Roy Hill to cast Durning as the corrupt police lieutenant in “The Sting”, who winds up being scammed by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Two years later he played a police detective trying to negotiate with Al Pacino’s bank robber in “Dog Day Afternoon” and Nick Nolte’s assistant football coach in “North Dallas Forty”. He co-starred with Maureen Stapleton in the TV drama “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom”, where they played a lonely widow and a postal worker who discover late-in-life romance when they meet at the local dance hall. He had a string of strong supporting roles in movies through the 70’s and 80’s, including Doc Hopper, a man who owns a frog leg restaurant “The Muppet Movie”, and a hypocritical power broker in “True Confessions”.

Durning’s two Oscar nominations were for supporting roles, as a slippery governor in the Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1982 and as a buffoonish Nazi colonel in the 1983 remake of “To Be or Not to Be,” starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. He also played a “love interest” for Dustin Hoffman’s cross dressing “Tootsie”, which led to them later appearing together in “Death of a Salesman” on TV. Other film roles included Holly Hunter's father in "Home for the Holidays” and Pappy O'Daniel, a governor of Mississippi in “O Brother, Where Art Thou”.

Hs portrayal of Big Daddy, the bullying, dying plantation owner in a 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee William’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” brought him a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play. In 1996 he played Matthew Harrison Brady opposite George C. Scott in the Broadway revival of “Inherit the Wind,” and in 2004, he played the folksy ex-President in Gore Vidal’s "The Best Man”.

In his TV career, Durning won nine Emmy Awards, and played varied roles such as town doctor Harlan Eldridge on the Burt Reynolds sitcom “Evening Shade”, a recurring role on “Everybody Loves Raymond” as a parish priest, and Denis Leary’s retired firefighter father on “Rescue Me”. In 2008 the Screen Actors Guild gave Mr. Durning its Life Achievement Award, as if to dispel any lingering doubts he had about being recognized by his peers.

(Local survey connection: Durning’s cousin Bob was an engineer in the Queens Topographical Bureau.)


Re: R.I.P. Two Great Actors

Posted by MLB on Dec 26, 2012 11:56 pm

These two were greats.