Character Actor Kings: Jack Klugman, Charles Durning
The Hollywood community lost two superstar character actors with the recent deaths of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning.
Let’s start with Klugman. While best known for his starring roles in the TV series The Odd Couple and Quincy M.E., when I heard that he had died at age 90, the first performance that popped into my head was from Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). Klugman is part of one of the best ensembles of character actors every captured on film surrounding star Henry Fonda, including Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Edward Binns, Ed Begley, Sr. and E.G. Marshall. The biggest compliment you can give Klugman is that he held his own in that company.
My buddy Ray also reminded me that he was excellent as Jack Lemmon’s sober counselor in Days of Wine and Roses (1962).
Still, Klugman was best known for his decades of TV work that went from the golden age of live television in the 1950s to his popular series The Odd Couple (1970-1975) and Quincy M.E. (1976-1983). Even after he battled throat cancer and barely had a voice left, he continued to do TV guest role through most of the 2000s, and in April of this year he performed 12 Angry Men at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick in a different role from his original performance.
Charles Durning was just one of those faces that brought a smile to your face whenever he would show up in a movie or TV show. When he needed to be funny, he would be hilarious, and when he needed to be dramatic, he could pull that off effectively.
And then there was that special moment in the superb TV movie Queen of the Starlight Ballroom (1975) opposite Maureen Stapleton when he became a graceful dance partner and romantic leading man.
Durning didn’t become an actor until about age 40. His resume includes professional boxer, World War II veteran and dance instructor, the latter being put to good use in the aforementioned Ballroom, and opposite Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Durning won Broadway’s 1990 Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play for portraying Big Daddy in a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
My favorite Durning roles besides those already mentioned include the flustered flatfoot in The Sting (1973), The Front Page (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Sharkey’s Machine (1983).
Durning was 89.