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Charles Durning and Jack Klugman, double RIP


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I don't think anyone had this pair in the dead pool...



Extraordinary Actors Ennobling the Ordinary


Published: December 25, 2012You’ve heard and probably used the phrase “perfectly ordinary” in various contexts. Today consider it in a new one: as an excellent description of what Jack Klugman and Charles Durning did so very, very well.


Associated Press

Jack Klugman and Charles Durning.



That’s not to say his or Mr. Klugman’s performances were ordinary. Mr. Durning earned an Oscar nomination (the first of two) for his flashy turn as the governor of Texas in the 1982 film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJG75FJkjr8(though, again, he was a secondary character, supporting Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton). And Mr. Klugman won two Emmys for his work in the 1970s sitcom “The Odd Couple” — tellingly for playing a classic one-of-the-guys character, the slobby Oscar Madison, in a show that was essentially a two-man ensemble piece (

being the other half of the “couple”).

But for both men, between the occasional signature roles came dozens of other, pay-the-bills sorts of jobs. Mr. Klugman has almost 100 acting credits on the entertainment database site IMDb.com, as well as numerous other appearances as himself on game shows, talk shows and variety shows. Mr. Durning has an astonishing 207 acting credits on the site — a barkeep, a priest, a police officer, Santa Claus, assorted politicians.

Acting is essentially a look-at-me profession, so taking on one don’t-call-attention-to-myself role after another is an admirable career path. Few movies, plays or television shows can succeed with only an A-list star; supporting players are the infrastructure.

There is an anonymous army of actors (of both sexes) who make a living doing just that sort of work. When they die, you see their obituaries and a photo and say, “Oh, yeah; him.” You recognize the everyday face but are hard-pressed to put a name to it. Mr. Klugman and Mr. Durning were at heart part of that fraternity, but they managed to transcend it and achieve household-name status.

For Mr. Klugman, though he was already a well-regarded actor, the television version of “The Odd Couple” in 1970 was the breakthrough, the role that for many Americans finally made the name stick with the face, and his subsequent series,

cemented that status.

For Mr. Durning name recognition was more a matter of constant exposure. Maybe it was his performance in “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975 that first caused you to register the name, or “Tootsie” in 1982, or the recurring role in “Everybody Loves Raymond” early in this century. Eventually you knew his name, because he had become as familiar as your father.

Each man also had notable success in ensemble works, pieces that by definition had no one star. Mr. Klugman was Juror No. 5 in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men.” Mr. Durning had a Broadway hit with “That Championship Season” in 1972, a production that ran for 700 performances. Solid actors surrounded by others just as solid, none of them under pressure to stand out. For Mr. Klugman and Mr. Durning, perfect fits.

Edited by bickster
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