‘Don’t stop. It’s comin’ out beautiful.’

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Y’know who’s a cool guy? Jack Klugman.

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?

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