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In Memoriam: Jack Klugman (1922-2012)

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Jack KlugmanOn December 24, 2012, Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple, Quincy M.E.) passed away at the age of 90.  Joe Marchese shares a personal reminiscence about this great actor, and The Second Disc celebrates the career of an actor for whom music always played a major role – on The Odd Couple (and its spin-off LP The Odd Couple Sings!), and even on a Broadway stage, where Jack once sang nightly opposite Ethel Merman in Gypsy.  Rest in peace, Mr. Klugman. 

“Don’t believe a word she said about me!”

The occasion was actress and Match Game panelist Brett Somers’ New York cabaret debut, and the remark was Jack Klugman’s.  He made the quip to me, a total stranger,  in his unmistakable, gravelly rasp as he passed by my table en route to the stage. The twinkle in his eyes hadn’t abated with the passage of time as he good-naturedly zinged his long-separated wife. I couldn’t have known then that a few years later, I would find myself working on a production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys in New Brunswick, New Jersey, starring the man for whom I’d had so much admiration  over the years.  Whether comically sparring with his beloved pal Tony Randall on television’s The Odd Couple or barking, “Ah, Rose!” to Ethel Merman on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Gypsy, Jack Klugman was a larger-than-life presence.  At George Street, Klugman reprised his Broadway role of Willie Clark, rival comedian and foil to Al Lewis, portrayed in our production by Paul Dooley.

Despite that famously gruff exterior, it didn’t take long for me to learn that Jack Klugman was a sweetheart. (He’d probably hate my saying so.) Every day, he, Dooley and our director David Saint set the tone for one of the most talented ensembles with whom I’ve ever had the privilege of working, an ensemble which included Jack’s longtime girlfriend, the talented Peggy Crosby. As I recounted in 2007 for the George Street Playhouse blog, one day of the rehearsal period was particularly special for this very special couple: “Jack just beamed sharing the news of their engagement with the company, despite his great, ever-present modesty. Peggy is as beautiful as she is kind and talented, and she & Jack deserve every moment of the happiness they share together in life. Onstage, they enjoy their double entendre-laden scene with big smiles and evident pride nightly. I particularly enjoy the evenings when Nurse MacKintosh is greeted by catcalls from ardent audience members — she deserves each one!”

The Odd Couple SingsJack never forgot his roots. I remember how he chided Paul Dooley and me after we had enjoyed a particularly pricey hamburger from the restaurant next door; Jack was confident that no burger could possibly be worth what we paid for it. I remember the place he held in his heart for Tony Randall.  Jack was always at the ready to tell a “Tony story” or reminisce about The Odd Couple episode in which they were paired on Password. I remember the great love he shared with his wonderful soon-to-be-wife Peggy. I remember his tenacity in giving 110% in every performance he gave at the age of 85, bounding about the stage with energy that would have challenged a much younger man. Perhaps most of all, I remember sharing a backstage handshake with Jack every night on the George Street stage, just before the curtain went up. On our first night of previews, I visited Jack in his stage right chair, in which he would relax for a few moments prior to the show’s start. I was concerned that first night about disrupting his few moments of silence pre-show, even to wish him “Good show, Jack.” The next evening, when I didn’t meet him stage right before the performance, he found me after the show: “Where were you at 8:00?” And so, each night during which I was in attendance, I walked up the flight of stairs from the green room to the backstage area, and Jack Klugman clasped my two hands as I wished him a simple, “Good show.”  Needless to say, he always delivered.  I believe that every one of us at George Street felt lucky to have Jack in our lives.

I worked with Jack one more time following The Sunshine Boys, and found myself once again impressed by his passion, his bravery, and his truly indomitable spirit.  Those recent days spent with Jack and his vivacious wife will always be days I cherish.  Jack spoke many times of his wish to have a Broadway theatre named for his friend Tony Randall. Wonderful though that would be, I’d like to cast my vote for The Tony Randall and Jack Klugman Theatre. I know that, somewhere up there, Jack is presiding over a poker game.  The racing form is nearby, the Mets are on the television, Tony’s playing a hand, and all is well with the world.

We extend our condolences to Jack’s wife, Peggy, and his children David and Adam.

Written by Joe Marchese

December 24, 2012 at 21:42

Posted in Jack Klugman, News