Friday, September 30, 2011

I Heart Jack Klugman ~ The Odd Couple (1970-1975)

The Odd Couple was a television series that aired from 1970 to 1975 and starred Jack Klugman as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix. The original story was a Neil Simon play that was performed on Broadway. The Broadway production had Walter Matthau as Oscar. Matthau would later reprise his role as Oscar in the 1968 film with the same name and opposite Jack Lemmon as Felix. Jack Klugman had seen Walter Matthau perform Oscar on Broadway and when Matthau suffered a heart attack while filming Fortune Cookie and couldn't continue also performing Oscar on Broadway, Klugman took on the role. Klugman performed the role for a year and for less money than Matthau had earned. Matthau and Klugman weren't the only actors who played Oscar. Mickey Rooney did too!

With the hit of The Odd Couple (1968), it was inevitable that the popular film would produce a spin-off TV series. Lots of '60s films did especially if they were comedies. Garry Marshall produced the show and brought Jack Klugman on board, even though Tony Randall encouraged him to pick Mickey Rooney instead.

The basic premise of the story is that Oscar Madison and Felix Unger are friends. Oscar is a messy sports journalist who loves to drink, gamble and chase women. Felix is an uptight neat freak (on the TV show he's a photographer) who loves to clean, organize and cook. Oscar has been divorced for a while and Felix is recently separated from his wife. Oscar takes Felix in and with their opposing personalities they clash and hilarity inevitably ensues.

For the first season, they kept somewhat close to the original film. They filmed on the same set that was used in the movie and they even reprise the roles of Pigeon Sisters as well as the circle of Poker playing buddies (same actresses but different actors). During the filming of the pilot, the wardrobe people had a very difficult time finding appropriate clothing for Oscar's character. So someone had asked Jack Klugman that if in exchange for $350 he could give them his entire personal wardrobe. Klugman was more than happy to oblige.

The first season was comprised of 15 episodes and shot with one camera. It did poorly in ratings and the show was canceled after the first season. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall both thought the first season was crap. Klugman went as far as saying only one episode out of the 15 was decent according to his opinion. They begged ABC for more cameras and for another shot at a new and better season. Klugman and Randall worked with the writers, improvised a lot and came up with a lot of their own dialogue and plot. They fed off each other's energies and became great working partners. The ratings improved with each season and the format changed greatly. The poker buddies all but disappeared except for Al Molinaro who played Officer Murray. They added actress Penny Marshall as Myrna Turner and got rid of the Pigeon Sisters. They changed the set and Klugman and Randall became more and more involved in the storyline of each episode. It was filmed in front of a live studio audience because Klugman and Randall both hated the laugh track and they enjoyed the energy they got from doing the show in front of an audience. However, the show was canceled after each and every season. It would be revived with begging and pleading until it was canceled for good in 1975. For a show, which is still well-known to so many today over 40 years later after it first aired, it's a wonder it was canceled so many times!

The TV show is well-known for it's fun theme song. Tony Randall hated it but Klugman was okay with it. Originally, the intro showed Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Simon was horrified and asked for them to remove his name. He hadn't even seen an episode! When he did, he saw how true it was to the concept of The Odd Couple but his name was not associated with it nevertheless. Randall, Klugman, Garry Marshall and the writers had a difficult time with the whole two-men-living-together plot. They were under constant scrutiny and felt pressure to make it very clear to audiences that the were not a couple in the romantic or sexual sense of the term and they were both clearly interested in women. You'll see in many episodes Oscar is a big-time skirt chaser. In the early episodes, Felix is a bit of a womanizer himself however he is later given the goal of getting back his ex-wife. 

I don't agree with Jack Klugman. I think the first season was wonderful. I didn't like the shift away from the Poker player group and the addition of Penny Marshall. However, the show continued to be as funny as ever. One of the big flubs of the first season is that they have a 12 Angry Men (1957) inspired episode in which Oscar and Felix meet for the first time while on Jury duty. Felix plays a Henry Fonda-like role and Oscar is like Lee J. Cobb. Later on in the season, they added some voiceover to the intro and the narrator mentions that Oscar and Felix were childhood friends. How could they be childhood friends if they met during Jury duty?! Oops! I find this kind of mistake happens a lot on TV shows especially when new writers are introduced and those new writers perhaps are not familiar with all the details of the show when they come on board.

The Odd Couple is definitely one of my favorite shows of all time. The dynamic between Oscar/Klugman and Felix/Randall is hilarious and continually entertaining. Both actors were so talented and so well-suited for their roles that it just made that show just the more fun to watch. My favorite episode is from Season Four. It's called "The New Car". Oscar wins a radio contest of Opera trivia, to which all the answers come from Felix, and his prize is a car. Oscar is determined to keep the car but he has to share with Felix who is half-responsible for the prize. The problem is, they live in New York City (the interior shots were all filmed in L.A.) and parking is tricky. Very tricky. Hilarity ensues.

Do you like The Odd Couple? Are you an Oscar or a Felix? Which is your favorite episode? If you have fun trivia facts about the show I'd love to read them!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Heart Jack Klugman ~ The Detective (1968)

Jack Klugman has a minor role a good Jewish cop in the non-Tony Rome/Frank Sinatra film The Detective (1968). He plays Officer Dave Schoenstein, whom besides Sinatra's Detective Joe Leland, is probably the most decent cop among the bunch. And he's the one cop that comes through for Sinatra in the end. Klugman's Dave also represents the viewer. We (Klugman and the audience) need to be convinced by Sinatra's Leland about his discoveries.

The Detective is not a film that holds up well today. I think the main attraction for folks is Frank Sinatra in a Tony Rome-esque role and possibly Lee Remick, Robert Duvall and a very young Jacqueline Bisset. If you love Jack Klugman as much as I do, this is a must see.  While the film was very likely avant garde for its time, looking back at it with contemporary eyes it seems homophobic. Sinatra stars as Joe Leland, a cop in a complicated marriage with sociology student Lee Remick. He's put on the case of a gay man who has been brutally murdered. The crime is of a sexual nature so the police are looking for the man's gay roommate and perhaps any other gay man in New York City with any connection to him. They convict and execute the gay man's gay roommate but Sinatra, after the execution, feels like they got the wrong guy. Even though the guy confessed and Sinatra was the one to arrest him and so on and so forth. So the guy confessed to a murder he didn't commit so he could be killed to end his life being a drug-addicted gay man?! As Klugman's character in the film would say, "Oy Vey!". There is some serious over acting on the part of Ralph Meeker who plays the gay roommate. Sinatra goes looking for the real killer even though the corrupt police force he works for is opposed to it. Sinatra and Klugman are sympathetic characers and Robert Duvall is a sad pitiful homophobe. If you like watching Lee Remick play another character on a downward spiral, watch this!

Funny coincidence but the gay roommate's character is named Felix. Felix. Hmmm.. that sounds familiar. Oh yeah! Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) are roommates in The Odd Couple. Klugman, Randall and Garry Marshall (producer) were always trying to avoid the two main characters being seen as potentially gay roommates.

Here are some screencaps of scenes from the film with Jack Klugman in it. You'll notice he's almost always in the background. I love the shots of him at the gym with all the bodybuilders! In his suit, coat and fedora he looks so out of place.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Heart Jack Klugman: Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Day of Wine and Roses (1962) was directed by Blake Edwards and stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Lemmon plays Joe Clay, a public relations man whose job is to make rich clients happy. Even if that means providing them with lots of liquor and hot girls. He meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick), the secretary of one of his boozing and womanizing clients. Kirsten is a girl from the country determined to make a life for herself in the big city, in this case San Francisco. Joe is absolutely smitten with Kirsten and they go on a date. Joe introduces Kirsten, whose only vice is a penchant for chocolate, to the wonders of alcohol. They marry, have a child and go on a wild alcoholic bender that last for years and gets worse and worse as time passes on. Can they make the marriage work? Can they raise their daughter? Can they pull themselves out of their alcoholic haze and stay sober for good?

Jack Klugman has a small role as Jim Hungerford, the leader of a local AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Jim (Klugman) reaches out to Joe (Lemmon) at the rehab center that Joe has been placed in after a major binge drinking freak out. For any of you familiar with Jack Klugman as Oscar from The Odd Couple TV series, seeing Jack has a buttoned-up sober gentleman might throw you off. Klugman's character is the only person who shows real empathy for Joe. Jim is the beacon of hope of the story. He's the person whom Joe looks up to as a role model. He's the voice of reason and the speaker of hard truths. Jim is the epitome of stability as well as an example of how someone can lead a sober life for 14 years after being an alcoholic for 12. I always think opposites work very well in stories and in this case Joe and Jim are opposites because Joe represents before and Jim represents after. Through Jim (Klugman) we see what Joe (Lemmon) could become. If only he could stick to AA long enough for it to happen. While I didn't get to see much of Klugman in this film, what I did see I enjoyed very much. And boy, did he look good all cleaned up in a nice suit.

The irony of the AA scenes in the film is that the alcoholics are also big smokers, including Klugman and Lemmon's characters. 

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