That’s right – mutha-effin’ Quincy, ME. And today happens to be his 89th birthday, so it gives me the chance to talk about what are some of my favorite Klugman performances – namely, his featured turns in The Twilight Zone. Klugman starred in four episodes, but his tremendous acting skill somehow makes it seem like more.
I’ll admit to being old enough to have been raised on Klugman’s later series, Quincy, M.E., but it was Twilight Zone that introduced me to the actor. Reruns, people, I’m not that old. But even today, when his name comes up it’s these performances I think of.
One of Klugman’s most enduring and well-known Twilight Zone episodes is also one of my favorites – “A Game of Pool,” in which he co-starred with a wonderfully subdued Jonathan Winters. In it Klugman is a pool hustler, an embittered, wanna-be champion who tells anyone who’ll listen that he’d be considered the greatest if it weren’t for the legend of dead pool player Fats Brown (Winters). Brown, proving legends never really die, hears Klugman’s Jesse and challenges him to a game where the stakes are life, death and glory. Obsessed with being the best, Jesse ignores Fats’ warning that the stakes may be even higher than he thinks.
Another favorite of mine was the relentlessly melancholy “A Passage for Trumpet.” In this one Klugman is Joey Crown, an on-the-skids drunk of a trumpet player looking for a second chance. Depressed and at a dead-end, Joey pawns his trumpet and, upset, steps off the curb and unknowingly into the path of an oncoming bus. Later coming to on the sidewalk, Joey realizes he’s been killed right before hearing the lonely strains of a trumpet coming from a fire escape above him. Hearing Klugman deliver the next line - “Don’t stop. It’s comin’ out beautiful” – still gives me chills. This episode really showcases Klugman’s Everyman strength as an actor, a kind of weary resolve, a strained nobility that can range from fury to finality in the course of seconds. It’s amazing to watch.
The last two episodes on Klugman’s Twilight Zone resumé are equally great, though not as well-known. These include “Death Ship” (a mind-bending essay on time-loops and free will) and “In Praise of Pip,” one of the earliest examples of the Vietnam War being mentioned on a TV show and a heartbreaking look at a father’s love for his son.
All of these are worth the trouble of finding, and the pleasure of watching, especially since The Twilight Zone is now available on Netflix streaming. Go on, treat yourself to some fine acting and raise a glass to Jack Klugman – I think he’d appreciate the gesture. Right, Jack?
Hey, it’s April 20th, and you know what that means — it’s time to crack open a window, grab some of our favorite recreational herb and get waaaaa … aaaaait a minute. I’m sorry, I can’t …. I can’t do this.
Look, I’ll be honest with you. It’s been pretty well-established that I’m a nerd. After all, I read comics, like, a lot. I watch sci-fi unironically. I like board games and science and will gladly talk to you about fonts and the relative qualities of paper grades for hours if you let me. For God’s sake, I write a blog.
But even among fellow geeks I tend to be seen as a little uncool because of what I don’t do — drink or smoke.
OK, before the mental machinery gets going, let me explain that I’m not a prude. Seriously. I don’t care if you drink or smoke, as long as I don’t end up having to take care of your sloppy ass, because really, lame. I don’t think there is anything morally wrong with it as long as it’s not done to excess, but that’s how I feel about everything. (We won’t get into the problem of the drug trade and how the huge U.S. market is at the root of it … ahem.) And strangely enough, or maybe not considering I live in Austin, I have a disproportionate number of friends who smoke. Hell, I used to play in a gaming group where I was one of the few not smoking, but I’d still come home reeking. In fairness, it was always a good game, though.
Side note: Hey, when I say “smoke,” you know I’m talking about weed, right? Just checking.
Anyway, I’m only bringing this up to make a point: While I myself don’t get high, I really enjoy the art and artifacts that come up around the culture of getting high.
Side note 2: I should make it clear that my tolerance ends at marijuana; use anything harder and you’re a moron. Back to this week’s Very Special Episode.
Maybe it’s from growing up on Cheech & Chong, but I find drug humor hilarious. Even the more serious-minded anti-drug PSAs, movies and that sort of thing are fascinating, both for their earnestness and the sheer craziness some of them dive into in an effort to scare people straight. And they’re a snapshot of America at a particular time and place, both socially and artistically. Of course, a lot of these efforts are aimed at kids and young adults, including this comic published in 1970, Users Are Losers!
The kid in the second-to-last panel kills me. And all in all, it’s a surprisingly informative collection of facts and consequences without a lot of the hyperbole that might be expected. Plus, the art is pretty great, in that loosey-goosey, 70s sorta way. You can read the whole thing over at Comics with Problems (a site well worth looking through), and then treat yourself to a big bag of Fritos and a nap. Whatever, man, s’cool.
Hey, you like cowboys, right? And robots? And the bald dude who danced with Moses and argued with his kids’ schoolteacher? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?!?
Then, buddy, have I got something for you.
In 1973 Yul Brynner beat The Terminator to the punch by more than a decade when he played an unstoppable cyborg killing machine in the folly-of-man movie Westworld, a film that still packs a creepy punch today. There are some other guys in it, including the one who played the Van Helsing heir in Love at First Bite (Anyone? No?), but it’s really all about Brynner and the strange delight his Gunslinger takes in wasting a bunch of weekend wannabes. Since that sounds like good, clean fun to me, the latest selection for Great Caesar’s Movie Club is:
OK, let me give you a little more background: In the “future,” rich folks looking for new thrills are flocking to a new resort, where cyborgs that are indistinguishable from their human guests play out their various roles and fulfill the patron’s fantasies. And when I say “fantasies” … well, it was the 70s. The resort is broken into three sections — Medieval World, Roman World and Westworld — each with its simulated pleasures and dangers, and all perfectly safe due to the cyborg’s programming, which prevents any nasty accidents.
You can see where this is going, right?
Along for the ride with Brynner (in full Magnificent Seven dress, no less) are character actor Richard Benjamin and a young James Brolin, who form the core of this Michael Crichton written and directed murder-fest. It’s just this side of pulp, and it’s totally on this side of radical. Check out the original promo: