For his 1987 role as 81-year-old Nat in the Broadway production of “I’m Not Rappaport,” Klugman wore leg weights to learn to shuffle like an elderly man. He said he would wear them for an hour before each performance “to remember to keep that shuffle.”
“The guy is so vital emotionally, but physically he can’t be,” Klugman said. “We treat old people so badly. There is nothing easy about 80.”
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college at Carnegie Institute of Technology. After serving in the Army during World War II, he went on to summer stock and off-Broadway, rooming with fellow actor Charles Bronson as both looked for paying jobs. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of “Golden Boy.”
His film credits included Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” and Blake Edwards’ “Days of Wine and Roses” and an early television highlight was appearing with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in a production of “The Petrified Foresildren and that memorial services have not been set.
Charles Durning, Oscar-nominated king of the character actors, dies at 89 in New York City
Charles Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday at his home in New York City. He was 89.
Durning’s longtime agent and friend, Judith Moss, told The Associated Press that he died Monday of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan.
Although he portrayed everyone from blustery public officials to comic foils to put-upon everymen, Durning may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
Many critics marveled that such a heavyset man could be so nimble in the film’s show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. Indeed, he had met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.
The year after “Best Little Whorehouse,” Durning received another Oscar nomination, for his portrayal of a bumbling Nazi officer in Mel Brooks’ “To Be or Not to Be.” He was also nominated for a Golden Globe as the harried police lieutenant in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.”
He won a Golden Globe as best supporting TV actor in 1991 for his portrayal of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald in the TV film “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” and a Tony in 1990 as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Durning had begun his career on stage, getting his first big break when theatrical producer Joseph Papp hired him for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
He went on to work regularly, if fairly anonymously, through the 1960s until his breakout role as a small town mayor in the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play “That Championship Season” in 1972.
He quickly made an impression on movie audiences the following year as the crooked cop stalking con men Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning comedy “The Sting.”
Dozens of notable portrayals followed. He was the would-be suitor of Dustin Hoffman, posing as a female soap opera star in “Tootsie;” the infamous seller of frog legs in “The Muppet Movie;” and Chief Brandon in Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy.” He played Santa Claus in four different movies made for television and was the pope in the TV film “I Would be Called John: Pope John XXIII.”
“I never turned down anything and never argued with any producer or director,” Durning told The Associated Press in 2008, when he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Other films included “The Front Page,” “The Hindenburg,” “Breakheart Pass,” “North Dallas Forty,” “Starting Over,” “Tough Guys,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Spy Hard” and ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?”
Durning also did well in television as a featured performer as well as a guest star. He appeared in the short-lived series “The Cop and the Kid” (1975), “Eye to Eye” (1985) and “First Monday” (2002) as well as the four-season “Evening Shade” in the 1990s.
“If I’m not in a part, I drive my wife crazy,” he acknowledged during a 1997 interview. “I’ll go downstairs to get the mail, and when I come back I’ll say, ‘Any calls for me?”’
Durning’s rugged early life provided ample material on which to base his later portrayals. He was born into an Irish family of 10 children in 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., a town near West Point. His father was unable to work, having lost a leg and been gassed during World War I, so his mother supported the family by washing the uniforms of West Point cadets.
Actors Jack Klugman, Charles Durning die
Jack Klugman and Charles Durning (December 25, 2012)