It was sad to learn about the death of actor Jack Klugman earlier this week. If you remember Klugman's role on "The Odd Couple" you might think you know why I'm writing about him, but you'd be wrong.
On "The Odd Couple," Klugman played a rumpled, carefree sportswriter named Oscar Madison. His character covered (and seemed to root for) the New York Mets.
The TV show was fun, but his portrayal of a sportswriter had no influence on my choice of profession.
What I remember most about Klugman is his appearances on "The Twilight Zone."
Longtime blog readers know my reverence for The Twilight Zone. The writing, often done by producer Rod Serling, was top rate. It blows away almost anything you will find on the reality show-infested world of television today.
I've always been fascinated by Serling's writing style. I've tried to study it, to figure out how he found the right words for the right situations. Whether it's had an impact on my own writing style, I can't say.
Click here to read some of the closing narrations from that series. Even without seeing the images, even without any context, the sentences flow with meaning and texture.
But the words are no good without actors who can make them come to life.
Klugman appeared in four episodes of The Twilight Zone, and each of them was memorable. He seemed to live the parts he played, as if there were no difference between actor and character. Words came from the heart.
One of those episodes is "In Praise of Pip." Klugman plays Max Phillips, a downtrodden, alcoholic bookmaker who finds out his son is dying in Vietnam. You can click here for the two-minute summary version on YouTube, though it doesn't include the narrations or the best pieces of dialogue that made the episode special. It's a wonderful performance.
Interestingly, I've read that Klugman was a one-time gambler who loved horse racing, and his father was named Max. Makes you wonder how much of that got wrapped up in the performance.
I think that episode is the best TV that's ever been done.