Jack Klugman, 1981 (AP Photo)
From 1950 until his death last December, Jack Klugman enjoyed an acting career that just wouldn’t quit. For more than six decades, he inhabited many great characters – Oscar Madison, Dr. Quincy, and a host of others – on Broadway, television and in film. On the day Klugman would have celebrated his 91st birthday, we're tipping our hat to him. Several hats, in fact – one for every decade of great Jack Klugman performances.
The 1950s were Jack Klugman’s break-out decade and found him making a name for himself in every major medium. He debuted on Broadway in Golden Boy and earned a Tony nomination for his role in Gypsy opposite Ethel Merman. On TV, he appeared on an episode of Actors Studio then nabbed a role in the soap opera The Greatest Gift. And on the big screen, he starred in classics like 12 Angry Men.
By the 1960s, television reigned supreme and Jack Klugman was all over the small screen. He won his first Primetime Emmy for a guest role on The Defenders, and starred in experimental sitcom Harris Against the World. And he guest-starred on many shows, including four episodes of The Twilight Zone – giving Klugman the distinction (one he shares with Burgess Meredith) of the most guest-starring roles on that classic show.
Klugman kicked off the 1970s with the program that many of his fans remember best. Reprising the role he played on Broadway as a replacement for Walter Matthau, Klugman delighted TV audiences as The Odd Couple's Oscar Madison. During the five seasons The Odd Couple was on the air, Klugman earned two Emmys for his performance, had the opportunity to work alongside wife Brett Somers (of Match Game fame) who played Oscar’s ex on the show (in real-life, Klugman and Somers would separate during the show’s run but remained married until her death in 2007)… and he made a lifelong friend in costar Tony Randall.
The 1980s saw Klugman back on Broadway in I'm Not Rappaport. And he continued to be a frequent presence on our TV screens, starring in the sitcom You Again? with John Stamos, the miniseries Around the World in 80 Days, and of course, the long-running and much-loved Quincy, M.E.
In 1989 Klugman lost a vocal cord to throat cancer. His voice became raspy and thinner, but he continued to act through the 1990s. On Broadway, he was part of the revivals of Three Men on a Horse and The Sunshine Boys. TV viewers enjoyed his guest spots on Diagnosis Murder, The Outer Limits and Crossing Jordan. And he returned to the big screen in Dear God and The Twilight of the Golds.
By the turn of the millennium, Klugman's acting career was slowing down, but he was by no means finished. In addition to writing the memoir Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship about his one-time costar and longtime friend Randall, Klugman appeared in the movies Camera Obscura and When Do We Eat?
For Jack Klugman, it was a career to be proud of – and for his many fans, his was a career to follow and love.
Written by Linnea Crowther