By: TrinityServices017

As Baby Boomer Women’s Editor, I interviewed film star Jack Klugman, who has been in our lives and homes since we were very young. Starting from the early days of live television, his TV and movie credits occupy more than eight pages and span every decade from the 1950s through the present. They include such important movies as 12 Angry Men and Days of Wine and Roses, and popular television shows like Playhouse 90, Kraft Television Theatre, The Alcoa Hour, General Electric Theatre, Naked City, The Twilight Zone, Ben Casey, The Fugitive, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Mike Douglas Show, The Carol Burnett Show, This is Your Life, The Love Boat, Quincy and many others.

Mr. Klugman is perhaps best remembered for his lovable, true-to-life portrayal of the character of Oscar Madison in the 1970s TV hit series, The Odd Couple, for which he won two Emmy Awards. After losing his longtime acting partner and best friend, Tony Randall, in the spring of 2004, Mr. Klugman decided to write Tony and Me—A Story of Friendship, the subject of this interview. Here is a glimpse of Jack Klugman’s new book and a peek inside the life and mind of this remarkable celebrity.

Linda: I searched all the county libraries for your new book, Tony and Me, but found that every copy was taken with a one-month waiting list to receive the book. Then I called three or four Borders BookStores. Every store was sold out; until I finally located one remaining copy 15 miles away. How does it feel to be the author of a book that is rapidly gaining such popularity and what is your reaction to all of this?

Jack Klugman: It’s very exciting that the book is starting to take off, of course. But what has been even more satisfying is the response I’ve been getting from the people. I just finished a 19-city book tour and everywhere I went there was this tremendous out-pouring of love. People not only remember Tony and me, there’s still a lot of affection for us. At 83, it’s incredibly gratifying to know that you are not only still remembered, but loved and respected. That has been a tremendous gift.

Linda: Why did you decide to write Tony and me, was it difficult, and how did you first go about it?

Jack Klugman: It wasn’t as much a decision to write the book as it was a working through of my feelings about Tony’s death. When your best buddy in the foxhole next to you gets hit, it immediately raises the issue of your own mortality. Suddenly you’re on a short list that is getting shorter all the time. I wanted to make sure that I had told the world what my friendship with Tony Randall had done for my life before my own number came up.

Linda: The DVD of The Odd Couple out-takes is hilarious. How did you select clips for this DVD and why did you decide to include a DVD with the book?

Jack Klugman: I included the DVD with Tony and Me because I thought fans would get a big kick out them. My son Adam, who also published the book with me, was a film editor for many years and so he and I put it together in his studio. We had so much fun that we laughed ourselves sick during the process.

Linda: As pioneers of early television, you and Tony Randall are icons to the baby boomer generation. You’ve been in our living rooms for decades. We grew up watching you both on Playhouse 90, The Kraft Television Theatre, The Alcoa Hour, Mr. Peepers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, The Johnny Carson Show, What’s My Line, The Odd Couple, Quincy, and a host of other programs too lengthy to mention. Can you describe to us what the early days of “live” television were like—perhaps tell us about a most memorable live show or a moment that you remember?

Jack Klugman: There was nothing in the world like the early days of live television. It combined everything I love about the theatre with the potential to reach millions of people. It really was amazing. I was young and building a career in a fledgling industry. It was the most exciting time in my life.

Linda: In the book you talk about being the tough guy from South Philadelphia who ended up studying acting at Carnegie Tech just to get out of town to escape a gambling debt. You mention your first acting experience at school and how you were so nervous before going on stage. But then you discovered that when you stepped out onto the stage you felt more comfortable there than you were in real life. You say that that’s still true today. Can you tell us what you mean by this and why it is so?

Jack Klugman: I’ve never been comfortable in my own skin, especially when it comes to social things. I’m truly a loner and for many, many years I refused to trust anyone completely. That made it difficult for me to be around people. A lot of that has changed now, largely because of my relationship with Tony. But at the time I discovered acting, it was like being unchained from my personality. I was free. Acting had made me free because I was more comfortable on the stage than I ever been in life. It never occurred to me I would make my living as an actor. I would have done it for nothing.

Linda: When people talk about why the TV show, The Odd Couple, was so successful they often mention how true-to-character you and Tony Randall seemed to be. He was the straight-laced, artsy fusspot and you were the messier, bold, tell-it-like-it-is guy. People saw the two of you as portraying complete opposites—and very convincingly. But in the book you say that it was not the differences between you and Tony that made the show a success, but your similarities. What did you mean by that? In what ways were you and Tony Randall similar?

Jack Klugman: We were opposite in a million ways, many of them consistent with the characters we played on The Odd Couple. But we were similar in one, very important way: we both loved acting. We were both trained actors who had spent many years learning our craft and it bonded us in spite of our differences. It gave us a way to work together that lasted a lifetime.

Linda: You mention in the book that Walter Matthau played the first Oscar in The Odd Couple on Broadway, with Art Carney. He received fifty-eight hundred dollars a week (and you say he deserved it). But when he had to leave to do a movie, Neil Simon’s brother asked you to do the part. Although you were packing the house, the producer refused to give you the five hundred dollars a week raise you wanted. So you quit the show. It takes a lot of guts to quit a big Broadway show. In your various acting roles you often portrayed a tough guy with a lot of confidence. Do you feel you have that kind of confidence? How did you walk away from the role and, looking back, would you do it again?

Jack Klugman: Absolutely. An actor has to stand for what he/she thinks she’s worth. It’s a tough business that chews people up by constantly making them feel unworthy. If you want to be successful, in any business, you have to be willing to blow the job if you’re not getting what you think you are worth. Set your own value and then be willing to walk away. I’ve lost some opportunities that way, but I always remained in control of my own value. In the end, it’s the most attractive thing in the world.

Linda: You describe how you eventually landed the role of Oscar Madison in the 1970s TV show, The Odd Couple. Co-Executive Producer Garry Marshall saw you on stage opposite the great Ethel Merman in Gypsey. She was singing to you and spitting in your face, on your clothes and in your eyes, but you never flinched. That is how he decided you were a “good actor” and gave you the role. We’d like to know what it’s like to do a Broadway play, especially with someone like Ethel Merman. How did your on-stage Broadway performances compare with later TV and movie roles?

Jack Klugman: It’s all acting to me! It doesn’t matter what I’m working on, I take the same approach. However, I prefer the theatre because I can rehearse. Rehearsal is for actors what re-writing is for writers—a chance to perfect your art. For actors, the only place you can do that is in the theatre.

Linda: You humorously describe how you and Tony Randall could not even share the same limo when you first got together to do the TV series, The Odd Couple—you were smoking and Tony was violently against it, so you each threatened to quit. But the relationship that developed between the two of you quickly became one of mutual respect and true friendship. In the book you are very complimentary of Tony Randall in every respect—as an actor, a family man, and a human being. You say that Tony taught you about good improvisation—it is about provoking the other actor into a response. Can you tell us how the two of you went from a couple who were truly “at odds” to a couple completely “in sync”?

Jack Klugman: We were never really at odds, although our styles were very different. The trust we established over time was the result of professional attitudes and the respect we showed one another. When I got throat cancer, however, is when I found out the kind of friend Tony was. If there was any turning point in our friendship, it would have been the moment he walked into the hospital after my throat operation. He made a commitment to stand by my side and he never left.

Linda: You describe Tony Randall’s roll in designing your comeback after throat cancer. He was your first visitor in the hospital and was deeply concerned with your getting back your voice and returning to work. You seemed surprised at Tony’s compassion and say that it changed your life. He coaxed you into an on-stage performance of The Odd Couple to benefit the National Actors Theatre (which Tony founded). You were uncertain that you could do it, but you worked on getting your voice back and managed to get through the performance with Tony’s help. You describe how Tony’s eyes lit up every time you got a laugh; how he “pulled you through” your comeback performance. In your words, “you never trusted another person as much as you did Tony that night.” Can you tell us a little about what this meant to you and why it was such an important moment in your life?

Jack Klugman: I’m going to let people read the book to get that answer.

Linda: I marvel at the many compliments you give to your best friend, Tony Randall, in the book. You say that he had a “presence”—a presence that you can’t fake, you can’t learn, you either have it or you don’t. You say that “Tony had it in spades.” What do you mean by that?

Jack Klugman: Talent, presence, charisma—these are natural gifts that can’t be taught. Technique made the most of Tony’s God-given abilities, but he was a compelling person to watch perform not because of anything he learned. It was because he had a performer’s gift in his bones.

Linda: Growing up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood with repressed Jewish immigrants, you learned to protect yourself. You say in the book that only Tony’s friendship gave you the capacity to truly trust another human being. You mention “living in a shell” before knowing him and say you can’t help wondering what you missed for all those lost years. You regret that you didn’t get to tell Tony what he meant to you before he died. You say that he made you a better father, that now you let your children “inside,” and you’re “not afraid to let them see you as you are.” Those are all powerful words and a great tribute to what your acting partner and dearest friend, Tony Randall. meant to you. Can you tell us the one thing about him that meant the most to you?

Jack Klugman: Loyalty. Tony was the most loyal man I ever knew. And there is no single ingredient more important to a successful friendship than loyalty.

Linda: Thank you for your time and sincerity in speaking to us. We’ve always loved the person you played in your roles, we love the real person we’ve gotten to know from your new book, Tony and Me, and we celebrate your poignant story of how true friendship can be life-changing, far surpassing fame, fortune, and any other of life’s successes. We hope to see you on TV again soon, promoting this book and acting in new roles. We wish you continued good health and longevity, good fortune and perhaps another great book in the near future.

Linda Sittler is a freelance writer whose bio and articles appear on Boomers International Website, http://www.bookstoretoday.com/
Copyright © 1995 - 2006 Boomers International ™,
All rights reserved.

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