Santa Claus was busy on Christmas Eve, and so was the Grim Reaper, claiming two great actors.
Actor Jack Klugman, whose portrayal of sloppy Oscar Madison in the TV spinoff of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple made Tony Randall's fussy Felix Unger tolerable, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 90. Klugman's physical constitution must have been as sturdy as his talent because he survived almost a century despite two bouts with throat cancer, the most recent of which was in the 1990s. Until The Odd Couple made him a TV star, Klugman was one of those actors you recognized but couldn't always name. But he never struck a false note on stage or screen, giving solid performances in dozens of plays, movies, and television shows. A favorite of Rod Serling, Klugman made four appearances on The Twilight Zone. There was never any showboating in a Klugman performance. He never resorted to attention getting histrionics. Like the best actors, he knew that the secret to a great performance wasn't to "act," but to simply be. It's not surprising that Klugman was nominated for an Emmy during each of The Odd Couple's five seasons and won twice. After The Odd Couple was cancelled, he started a long run as Quincy M.E., a less grisly forerunner to CSI. If you’ve never seen it, try to hunt down One of My Wives Is Missing, an eerie made for TV thriller from 1976 with Klugman as a cop investigating the disappearance of James Franciscus’ wife. It’s terrific.
Actor Charles Durning also died on Christmas Eve. Like Klugman, Durning's credits are so exhaustive that I'd recommend looking him up at the Internet Movie Database rather than attempt to list his many credits, but it should be noted that he was twice Oscar nominated as best supporting actor (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and To Be Or Not To Be). Some of his most moving performances came late in his career when he would recount his experiences as a soldier in World War II on the annual Memorial Day concert from Washington D.C. that airs on PBS. Durning was 89.