Everyman style key to actor's success

Last updated 05:00 09/01/2013
Jack Klugman
Actors Jack Klugman (left), portraying Oscar Madison, and Tony Randall, portraying Felix Unger, in their 1970s TV series "The Odd Couple".

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For many, Jack Klugman will always be the messy one. His portrayal of sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison on television's The Odd Couple left viewers laughing, but it also gave Klugman the leverage to create a more serious character, the gruff medical examiner in Quincy ME.

His everyman ethos and comic timing endeared him to audiences and led to a prolific, six-decade acting career spanning stage, screen and television.

Klugman died recently, aged 90, in Los Angeles.

He remained popular for decades by playing the type of man you could imagine running into at a bar or riding with on a subway - gruff, but down-to-earth, his tie stained and a little loose, a racing form under his arm, a cigar in hand in the days when smoking was permitted.

Off-screen, Klugman owned racehorses and enjoyed gambling.

Despite his on-screen wars with Tony Randall's neat-freak character, Felix Unger, in The Odd Couple, the show created a friendship between the two men that endured after the series ended.

The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975, was based on a play by Neil Simon about mismatched room-mates - divorced New Yorkers who end up living together.

The comedy came from their opposite personalities, Klugman playing a writer whose sloppiness consistently irritated Randall's fussy photographer character. The pairing was so good the show didn't need constant help from the writers.

"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Klugman said. "A script might say: 'Oscar teaches Felix football'. There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part."

In Quincy, ME, which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder where others saw natural causes.

Klugman was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

His film credits included Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men and Blake Edwards' Days of Wine and Roses.

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- AP

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