Jack Klugman

Active - 1955 - 2011  |   Born - Apr 27, 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States  |   Died - Dec 24, 2012   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Mystery, Thriller, Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Commenting on his notorious on-set irascibility in 1977, Jack Klugman replied that he was merely "taking Peter Falk lessons from Robert Blake," invoking the names of two other allegedly hard-to-please TV stars. Klugman grew up in Philadelphia, and after taking in a 1939 performance by New York's Group Theatre, Klugman decided that an actor's life was right up his alley. He majored in drama at Carnegie Tech and studied acting at the American Theatre Wing before making his (non-salaried) 1949 stage-debut at the Equity Library Theater. While sharing a New York flat with fellow hopeful Charles Bronson, Klugman took several "grub" jobs to survive, at one point selling his blood for $85 a pint. During television's so-called Golden Age, Klugman appeared in as many as 400 TV shows. He made his film debut in 1956, and three years later co-starred with Ethel Merman in the original Broadway production of Gypsy.

In 1964, Klugman won the first of his Emmy awards for his performance in "Blacklist," an episode of the TV series The Defenders; that same year, he starred in his first sitcom, the 13-week wonder Harris Against the World. Far more successful was his next TV series, The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 through 1974; Klugman won two Emmies for his portrayal of incorrigible slob Oscar Madison (he'd previously essayed the role when he replaced Walter Matthau in the original Broadway production of the Neil Simon play). It was during Odd Couple's run that the network "suits" got their first real taste of Klugman's savage indignation, when he and co-star Tony Randall threatened to boycott the show unless the idiotic laughtrack was removed (Klugman and Randall won that round; from 1971 onward, Odd Couple was filmed before a live audience). It was but a foretaste of things to come during Klugman's six-year (1977-83) reign as star of Quincy, M.E.. Popular though Klugman was in the role of the crusading, speechifying LA County Coroner's Office medical examiner R. Quincy, he hardly endeared himself to the producers when he vented his anger against their creative decisions in the pages of TV Guide. Nor was he warmly regarded by the Writer's Guild when he complained about the paucity of high-quality scripts (he wrote several Quincy episodes himself, with mixed results).

After Quincy's cancellation, Klugman starred in the Broadway play I'm Not Rappaport and co-starred with John Stamos in the 1986 sitcom You Again?. The future of Klugman's career -- and his future, period -- was sorely threatened when he underwent throat surgery in 1989. He'd been diagnosed with cancer of the larynx as early as 1974, but at that time was able to continue working after a small growth was removed. For several years after the 1989 operation, Klugman was unable to speak, though he soon regained this ability. He continued working through 2011, and died the following year at age 90.

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  • Following his first audition, was told he was better suited to be a truck driver.
  • Roomed with Charles Bronson at the start of their acting careers.
  • Tied with Burgess Meredith for the most appearances (four) on The Twilight Zone.
  • Was part of the original 1959 Broadway cast of the musical Gypsy with Ethel Merman. But because he had no singing voice, he had no solo numbers.
  • Replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway during the production of The Odd Couple before playing Oscar on the TV series (and winning two Emmys for it).
  • Though he and wife Brett Somers legally separated in 1974, the two never divorced.
  • Slowly regained his voice following surgery for throat cancer in 1989; credits Tony Randall with helping to get his career back on track with a one-night stage performance of The Odd Couple in 1991 to benefit Randall's National Actors Theatre.
  • Published the memoir Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, which documented his relationship with Tony Randall, in 2005.