Monday, December 31, 2012

Jack Klugman's Best New Yorkish Roles

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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In case you missed it, Jack Klugman died on Christmas Eve at the age of 90. The actor was beloved for his high-profile television roles, but I always most adored Klugman as an archetypal New Yorker (even if he was born in Philadelphia, died in California, and filmed The Odd Couple in LA): there was something rumpled-hatted about him even when he was cleaned up; he looked like he'd had a few even when he was sober. He was the personification of "urban" in the old-fashioned sense—of rainy streets, fedoras, night clubs, loneliness. Klugman was like a character out of an Edward Hopper painting or a Frank Sinatra song. Here are some of his best roles that exemplify that.

Twilight Zone, "A Passage for Trumpet"
Klugman's first of four starring roles on the show was as a depressed and alcoholic horn-blower. In this short clip, Klugman runs through the whole of human experience, from despair to anger to satisfaction to hopeless resignation. As Marc Scott Zicree writes in his great The Twilight Zone Companion:

Perhaps better than any other actor, Klugman was able to exemplify the urban loser, the underdog struggling to improve himself but knowing deep down that the odds are overwhelmingly against him.

Several factors raise Klugman's performance here above the merely competent. The first is his total dedication to the part. Buck Houghton recalls: "Klugman took pains, for instance, to learn how to finger a trumpet. He got a good trumpeter to teach him how to do it."

12 Angry Men
Playing off that credible urban-ness, Klugman was Juror #5 in this classic—the only one with any experience handling a switchblade. The actor is surprisingly delicate in his description of knives, but there's a flash of violence when he thrusts the blade up.

The Odd Couple
A lot of actors played Oscar Madison—great ones, too—but I wouldn't take any of them over Klugman. This scene highlights his comic aptitude, his hilarious harriedness, and the show's thoroughgoing New Yorkness.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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