Jack Klugman celebrates his 90th birthday today! Klugman has made over 400 television appearances — in comedies, dramas, and even in a game show (well, sort of – remember the “Password”episode of The Odd Couple?) He’s played a blacklisted actor, a medical examiner, and perhaps most famously, sportswriter “Oscar Madison” opposite Tony Randall’s “Felix Unger” in the 1970’s sitcom The Odd Couple. One roommate was a neat-freak, one was sloppy and sarcastic: Klugman played the messy one.
Born April 27, 1922 in South Philadelphia, Klugman got his start in acting in the drama department of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon). Klugman soon moved to New York to pursue theater, securing roles in several off-Broadway plays and getting his big break in the 1948 Broadway production of “Mr. Roberts.” From there, Klugman began dabbling in the new medium of television, making appearances in the early 1950s on Actors Studio, (where he was directed by Yul Brynner), and on anthology dramas Studio One, Playhouse 90, and the 1955 Producers’ Showcase production of “The Petrified Forest,” opposite Bogey and Bacall. Klugman also wrote several scripts for Kraft Television Theatre in the late 1950s:
Klugman wasn’t restricted to theater and television, though. He appeared as “Juror #5″ in the 1957 film Twelve Angry Men, and continued to do theater, television, and film projects throughout his career. He was back on-stage in 1959’s “Gypsy” with Ethel Merman, and on TV again in the 1960s for four appearances on Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. In 1964, Klugman had a memorable role in “The Blacklist” episode of The Defenders, for which he won an Emmy:
Also in 1964, Klugman starred as the superintendent of a movie studio in his first sitcom, the short-lived Harris Against the World. Then in 1966, Klugman made his first appearance in Neil Simon’s stage play, “The Odd Couple:”
Garry Marshall was looking to make a television series of the play, which Klugman agreed to do after some initial resistance. He resumed his stage role of “Oscar Madison” for the sitcom, which ran from 1970-75:
CBS’ Fred Silverman tried to sell Klugman on a few other series after The Odd Couple ended, but it wasn’t until the chance to play muckraking medical examiner Quincy, M.E. came along in 1976 that Klugman agreed to helm another TV show. Quincy lasted eight seasons, through 1983:
Klugman appeared in the 1987 film I’m Not Rappaport with Ossie Davis and Walter Matthau, but was suffering from throat cancer and soon underwent surgery to remove his right vocal cord. His voice was quieted to just above a whisper, and Klugman worked hard to train his remaining cord to pick up the slack. He returned to acting at the urging of friend Tony Randall for a one-time stage performance of “The Odd Couple” in New York in 1991. The production was a huge success, leading to Klugman and Randall teaming up for productions of “Three Men On a Horse,” and “Sunshine Boys” on Broadway throughout the 1990s.
Klugman has continued to act in small roles here and there, most recently as “Sam” in the 2010 horror film Camera Obscura. He’s a proven success in film, television, and theater, and his perseverance in resurrecting his voice after surgery is about as inspirational as it gets. Happy 90th birthday, Jack! Here’s to many, many more!
Watch Jack Klugman’s full Archive interview.
- by Adrienne Faillace