Jack Klugman 1922-2012

lead klugman

This wonderful character actor was born in Philadelphia the son of Rose, a hat maker and Max Klugman, a house painter both of Russian Jewish ancestry, Jack Klugman grew up a regular guy and served in the U.S.Army during World War 2. Returning to civilian life he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) and as he worked a series of menial jobs while training for the stage at the American Theatre Wing in New York, Klugman was roommates with Charles Bronson. He made his stage debut in 1949 in the Equity Library Theatre production of Stevedore. 

Klugman said the greatest thrill of his career was appearing alongside Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in a live television production (ahh, those were the days…) of The Petrified Forest in 1955.

klugman last

His film debut was in Time Table 1956 a forgettable film with second-tier talent. However, his next film role proved much more substantial as one of 12 male jurors who deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt in 12 Angry Men 1957, directed by Sidney Lumet with a formidable cast that included Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall and Martin Balsam. In the thriller Cry Terror! 1958, he was cast alongside James Mason, the lovely Inger Stevens, and Rod Steiger. Klugman outlived the casts of all these films.

In 1960 Klugman returned to Broadway as Herbie,  Mama Rose’s love interest in the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim production of Gypsy directed by Jerome Robbins and starring the sensational Ethel Merman and Sandra Church getting to sing a couple of complicated Sondheim songs and did a pretty nice job. So nice that he was nominated for a Tony.

days of wine and roses

Returning to film he had a pivotal role in the classic The Days of Wine and Roses 1962 directed by Blake Edwards with cast mates Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. He played the manager of an emotionally shattered world famous singer in I Could Go On Singing 1963 with the great Judy Garland which proved, sadly, to be her last film appearance. Klugman appeared in Goodbye Columbus 1969 with Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw which was the highest grossing picture of the year.


It was television where Klugman found his greatest rewards and fame by winning an Emmy for the “Blacklist” segment of the classic The Defenders in 1964 and starred in 4 of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone anthology series, tying with Burgess Meredith for the most starring roles. He won 2 more Emmys for the role of Oscar Madison in the wonderful TV adaptation of the Neil Simon stage ( Klugman replaced Walter Matthau during the shows original run on Broadway in 1965) and film hit The Odd Couple 1970-75, starring alongside his best friend Tony Randall.  The relationship between the 2 men radiated with a special warmth that was not lost on a young gay man (such as myself), which took the simple premise of this show to a whole different level. Klugman and Randall re-united on Broadway in 1998 in another Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys. When Randall died in 2004 Jack Klugman issued this statement “A world without Tony Randall is a world I cannot recognize”. He also said of Randall ” The best friend a man could ever have. I loved him dearly. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. I will miss him for the rest of my days. In 2005 he wrote the book, Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.


The following year Klugman began another successful series Quincy M.E. about a medical examiner who worked closely with police to solve murders. Quincy M.E. was the very first CSI program on TV. About all the CSI programs that followed Quincy, he was quoted saying, “All these other shows just took what we did and made it bloodier and sexier. Our show was actually about something, we had a message and a moral. You can’t compare gold to tin foil. I was a one man CSI”. That series lasted until 1983. Klugman ended up suing NBC over missing profits from Quincy M.E. in 2008. They settled out of court in 2010 for an undisclosed amount.   In 1987 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and lost his ability to speak for several years. He retrained himself to speak though his voice was raspy and extremely rough.

He was a no-baloney actor who conveyed straightforward, simply defined emotion, whether it was anger, heartbreak, lust or sympathy. That forthrightness, in both comedy and drama, was the source of his power and  popularity. Never remote or haughty, he was a regular guy, an audience-pleaser who proved well-suited for series television and motion pictures.

Jack Klugman married Brett Somers (of Match Game fame) in 1953 and they had 2 sons David and Adam. They legally separated in 1974 but never divorced and remained married until her death in 2007. He began living with girlfriend Peggy Crosby in 1998 and they married in 2008 and remained so until his death at 90 years of age. Upon Klugman’s death last night on Christmas Eve, his son Adam issued this statement, “He had a great life and we love him very much. We will carry on in his spirit”… ”

klugman christmas


Posted on December 25, 2012, in obit. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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