Tuesday, June 23

You Don't Know Jack

Oh, I'm so sorry.  You thought this was going to be about Jack Nicholson or maybe Jack Lemmon and it's not.  Eat some chocolate.  You'll feel so much better.  No, this is about three character actors all named Jack and all prominent in the 60s, 70s and on.  You might have even confused one's name with another one.  Don't look.  Guess.  Who do you think they are?  When you're ready, click on...

Jack Klugman was never subtle.  Character actors are often thought of as being in the background but there was never anything background about this guy.  His features were large, his face rubbery, his voice gravelly and loud and he was always very emotional.  His characters were forthright.  One might even say they delighted in a good argument.  He played regular guys, never distant or stuck-up.

He was born in 1922 in a tough neighborhood in South Philly to a milliner and a house painter, both Russian Jew immigrants.  He ran the streets mostly, shot marbles and pool for money and did some peddling.  Young Jack developed a yen for acting when he saw his first play at 14.  He attended Carnegie Institute of Technology where his drama teacher told him, you're not suited to be an actor.  You're more suited to be a truck driver.  The remark made him more determined.  His burning ambition was to be on the stage.  While rooming in New York with Charles Bronson and making the rounds, he landed a role in the stage production of Golden Boy in 1952.  He said that his television appearance in The Petrified Forest with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda was the greatest experience of his entire career. 

He made his film debut in the low-budget film noir Time Table in 1956 and the following year became Juror #5 in the acclaimed 12 Angry Men.  Its producer and star, Fonda, personally asked Klugman to join him in the jury room.  Klugman's South Philly childhood allowed him to be convincing when explaining to the others jurors the proper use of a switchblade, which, in turn, was a key element in their deliberations.

He didn't stay long in Hollywood, returning instead to Broadway and Gypsy, where he played Herbie opposite Merman.  Funny...  his demeanor always reminded me of Karl Malden who, of course, went on to play Herbie in the film version.  Klugman was warm and thoughtful as Jack Lemmon's AA sponsor in 1962s The Days of Wine and Roses, a police colleague of Sinatra's in The Detective (1968) and the father to Ali MacGraw's Jewish-American princess in Goodbye, Columbus (1969).

He made surprisingly few theatrical films. His life was on the stage (which he loved best) and in a lot of television.  Most famously, of course, was his 1970s TV turns in the comedy, The Odd Couple, and the drama, Quincy, M.E., which was so nauseatingly preachy it came near putting me off Klugman forever.

He was married to, but separated for years from, actress Brett Somers.  He survived throat cancer in 1974 but in 1989 it returned and he had a vocal chord removed, making his voice even more gravelly.  He died in California three years ago of prostrate cancer.  Jack Klugman was 90.

Jack Warden was a great favorite of mine.  I always got a little excited knowing he was in a film I was on my way to see.  He made a career  of playing tough mugs... usually cops, coaches or soldiers.  Always a great scene-stealer, he saved many a movie with his dedication to getting it right.

He was born in 1920 Newark, New Jersey, but the German-Irish family moved to Louisville, Kentucky.  The tough mug bit wasn't a great stretch for him because he was in lots of trouble as a kid, usually involving his fists.  Kicked out of high school for fighting, he shortly thereafter had a bit of a go at professional boxing.  He was in three branches of the military... Navy, Merchant Marines and Army.  He was injured at one point and sent home to recuperate.  It was at this time, and for the first time, that he got bitten by the acting bug.  It came out of reading a play written by the brilliant Clifford Odets. 

His enthusiasm got him noticed among Broadway's movers and shakers and he was cast in a number of repertory plays, most written by Tennessee Williams.  Like Jack Klugman, he had an early Broadway role in Odets' Golden Boy and was in the original production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.  He also did a phenomenal amount of television, particularly in those early days.

He first gained moviegoers' attention as a pal of Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in 1953s From Here to Eternity.  His loud barking got him a good role as the bigoted dock worker in Martin Ritt's 1957 melodrama, Edge of the City with John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier.  He once again crossed paths with Jack Klugman when Warden was Juror #7 in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957.  He was the impatient one who just wanted to get it all over with.  Three very good films... it was a great start in Hollywood.  Two years later he was Tab Hunter's paternal friend and fellow paratrooper, again for Lumet, in That Kind of Woman.  They romanced New York call girls, Sophia Loren and Barbara Nichols.  I quite liked it... Hunter was never better... and it should have been more successful.  Warden did mainly television in the 60s but returned to films with a bang in the mid-70s.

He received supporting Oscar nominations for two Warren Beatty films, Shampoo (1975) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).  He was a city editor in All the President's Men (1975), a sympathetic boxing manager in The Champ (1979), the President in Being There, also 1979, twins in Used Cars (1980) and Paul Newman's legal colleague in The Verdict (1982).  I thought one of his best roles was as Sean Connery's friend-gone-bad in The Presidio (1988).  He made so many films... it would be impossible to mention them all.  Do you recall his TV series, Crazy Like a Fox (1984-86)?

It was the movies' good fortune to have a Jack Warden around.  Again like Klugman, he was long married and long separated; he had one son.  He had been in poor health when he died in 2006 in New York from heart and kidney failure.  He was 85 years old.

Jack Weston reminded me of a chubby, whiny, often quite smart kid who got beat up in school.  His movie roles seemed to echo that as well.  He ably managed roles as a hanger-on, a friend of the lead and several roles as a not-too-serious crook.  He turned misery into comic art form and was featured in many comedy roles.  He could also turn dark as a sadistic killer and I was always surprised when he did so.  I must say he rather fascinated me in the dark roles.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1927 to a shoe repairman and his wife.  When little Jackie was 10, a teacher told his father that he was failing in school, partly because he was the class clown, and suggested he had an aptitude for acting.  Weston's father took the advice to heart and enrolled his son in the Cleveland Playhouse (the early stomping grounds for Paul Newman as well) and he stayed there until his late teens.

He admitted though that he had a hell of a time breaking into the business.  There were those who praised his talent but he didn't get a callback.  After a stint in the service, he hightailed it to Manhattan, which he would always consider home.  He often said how much he hated Cleveland and also his 18 years in Los Angeles.  He got a dream role opposite Judy Holliday in Broadway's Bells are Ringing and he would work on the stage his entire life.  He is, however, best known for television, appearing in a gazillion guest star roles.

His was first noticed in a movie role when he played a cab driver trying to interest theater critic David Niven in a musical version of the Bible in Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1961).  The same year he was one of Steve McQueen's conspirators in the comedy The Honeymoon Machine and would work again with McQueen in The Cincinatti Kid (1965) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).  He was a smarmy villain in the underrated Gregory Peck thriller, Mirage (1965).

His most memorable role is likely to be as one of the trio who terrorized a blind Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967).  It was certainly my favorite Weston work.  He was a stitch as Walter Matthau's accomplice in Cactus Flower (1969).  He cracked me up in a rare lead role in the gay bathhouse comedy, The Ritz (1976) opposite Rita Moreno, both of whom were in the Broadway version.  He was an uptight dentist and husband of Moreno in The Four Seasons (1981), about three couples who vacation together. Weston called it his favorite role and went on to appear in it again when it became a TV series.  He got to work with the Village People and the future Caitlyn Jenner in the over-the-top Can't Stop the Music (1980).  His last good role was as the fussy resort manager in Dirty Dancing (1980).

He was divorced from actress Marge Redmond and married to a non-pro when he passed away in 1996 from lymphoma in his beloved New York.  Weston was 71 years old.

Next posting:
A good 60s film

1 comment:

  1. Jack Warden,sure! I saw many films with the three Jack in the past,but I don't remember the titles. But I saw JW on TV recently in the delicious While You Were Sleeping. In my opinion his quiet, sensitive performance was great. And I won't forget Glynis Jones. Both wonderful.
    By the way,what do you think of Bill Pullman?