the loud bassoon concert scene

An Evening With Jack Klugman @ The Falcon Theater, Toluca Lake, California, USA
September 2003

Though I live five minutes away from The Falcon Theater (in beautiful Toluca Lake, California) I'd never once considered attending a show there. Never once that is, until the day I drove by and saw "AN EVENING WITH JACK KLUGMAN" on the marquis. Being a lifelong Klug-fan, I immediately ordered tickets. I had no idea what to expect; whether Klugman would take questions, read monologues or maybe even do a little soft shoe number, complete with styrofoam hat and cane. Frankly, I didn't care what the Klug Man did, just as long I was there to see it.

And so Saturday night I grabbed a turtleneck, donned my corduroy coat (with patches on the elbows) and headed out for a night at the theater. Klugman style, that is!

Upon arrving at the theater I examined the crowd, which contained a surprising number of younger folks. I was looking forward to being the youngest person there, but I spotted several people who looked to be just shy of high school, if even. Of course they were heavily outnumbered by the usual theatergoing crowd of mummified sixty-somethings, some of whom appeared to be held together by sheer will alone.

Before the show, we were given a piece of paper and asked to write down a question for Mr. Klugman, which he may or may not answer on stage. Try as I might, I couldn't think of a question. My friend Shelly convinced me not to ask things like, "Why didn't you star in the black version of 'The Odd Couple'" and "Were you sad when Jack Lemmon died." Finally I just asked when he was going to write his autobiography, slipped the card into the box marked "Questions For Jack," and went off to find my seat.

The set design was simple; two chairs, some books here and there, and pictures of "Klug" hanging up in the background. The pictures featured both young and old Klugman and showed the man alongside such luminaries as Fred Astaire, Ladybird Johnson and Walter Matthau. There was also a baby picture, which was a little hard to wrap my brain around, only because it's almost impossible to think that Jack Klugman was ever a baby. But photos don't lie, so I guess he was not born a grumpy 55 year old man, as I'd always surmised.

When the Klugster took the stage, he was looking happy and healthy, with a full head of white hair and a big smile. He quickly explained that though his voice sounded awful, it didn't hurt him to speak. He mentioned that he loves to speak and the longer he does it, the stronger his voice gets. "It doesn't get any prettier, but it does get stronger," quipped Klugman.

After that brief introduction, we were treated to five minutes of outtakes from "The Odd Couple," which largely featured people saying "shit" and Klugman and Tony Randall pretending to kiss. This was supposedly to annoy the network executives watching the dailies, but with Tony Randall involved, one can only wonder.

Finally Klugman took the stage and began answering questions which were fed to him by an off stage moderator. Klugman covered all the ground you would expect, discussing his childhood, why he became an actor and how he got involved in "The Odd Couple" and "Quincy."

He also discussed a few things you wouldn't expect, like the time Ethel Merman (with whom he was starring in "Gypsy") tried to get him up to her hotel room for a little "afternoon delight," or the time Jackie Gleason got upset because no one in London recognized him. When Gleason asked a waiter to place a call to Dick Van Dyke, the waiter got Van Dyke on the phone, turned to Gleason and said, "Who shall I say is calling?" Gleason's response: "Tell him the fucking Great One is calling!!!"

Klugman was extremely candid about his experiences, though after a while I noticed that he was more candid regarding the personal lives of others than he was about his own. More than once he said something like "So and so was a raging alcoholic/gambler/communist," after which he'd add "but what a wonderful person, I loved him dearly." I doubt he conceived this one man show simply to talk trash about his friends, but after several stories to that effect, I was beginning to feel a little sorry for these folks. It's bad enough that Klugman outlived them, but the fact that he took to the stage and revealed all their vices was something else entirely.

In his defense, Klugman didn't seem to realize that's what he was doing. It was more like he was just telling stories and being painfully honest about the people in them. However, more than once I did wonder if the ghost of Ethel Merman was going to rise up from the stage floor, grab Klugman and order him to stop telling people she was a horny old broad who nailed all her leading men.

After a brief intermission, we were shown a short montage of Klugman appearing in films such as Days of Wine and Roses, Goodbye Columbus, and Twelve Angry Men. Klugman then took the stage once again, still wearing his smile, but without his full head of white hair. Klugman said that the first half of the show was dedicated to vanity and his attempt to stay young. But the second half was about honesty and being the person he really is. As such, he elected to remove his hairpiece for the latter half of the show.

Kudos to Klugman for tossing the toupée, that takes real guts. And hats off to whoever makes Klug's rugs– Burt Reynolds really ought to give that guy a call.

Without his hair (and now wearing a very grandpa-esque cardigan) Klugman looked more like the 81 year old man he really is. A little slower, a little older, a little sadder. But once he got talking again, a certain youth crept back into him, the likes of which no toupee can ever replace. Klugman immediately began answering questions again, this time tackling issues such as his throat cancer and his ex-wife, who we learned is 79 and starring in a successful cabaret act.

In addition to baldness, Klugman brought another thing to the stage with him for the second half of the show: "Wisdom." Peppered throughout his monologues were little cautionary tales, designed to teach us life lessons that apparently we would be smart to learn before we're as old as Jack Klugman. While telling stories about friends who were too busy worrying about money and their next acting job to focus on anything else, Klugman encouraged us to "enjoy the journey" of life.

To be honest, while I appreciated Klugman's insight, I couldn't help thinking that his teachings are just the sort of thing you come to understand when you're 81, but which are lost on most people any time before that. Life may be about the journey, but no one can really stop to consider that until the journey is almost over. Still, good for him for at least trying to knock some sense into our thick skulls, even if it doesn't do much good.

All in all, Klugman gave a highly enjoyable show. He's like a loveable, grumpy old grandpa that you remember fondly from your childhood. Sure, he's got a little less hair, he's a little more stooped over and his voice is quite frightening indeed. But despite all that, he's still our pal Oscar, still that meddling Quincy, M.E. that we've all come to love. He spoke of his love of the stage and watching him up there, it was pretty clear that love has not diminished.

Klugman comes alive (also the title of his rock album) when he takes the stage and it's pretty clear he loves being in front of the audience. Even at 81, entertaining is still his passion and he seems to show no signs of slowing down, whether he's playing to capacity crowds in a revival of "The Odd Couple," or simply talking with 150 people about the time he almost nailed Ethel Merman.

If you find yourself in Toluca Lake anytime soon, I highly recommend checking out Mr. Klugman's show. It's a must for fans of Hollywood minutiae (a.k.a. what brand of scotch Judy Garland drank) and a joy for those who simply love the Klug Man and want to celebrate his life. After all, Jack Klugman brings out the old, bald, foul-mouthed Jewish man in all of us. And for that, we owe him a debt which can never be repaid.

Now go see him before he dies!

Review by Noah Belson