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QUINCY MADISON

27 Apr

89 years ago, on Thursday, April 27, 1922, Jacob “Jack” Klugman was born in Philadelphia. Although best known to TV audiences as Oscar Madison, the sloppy half of “The Odd Couple,” his other well-known series “Quincy, M.E.” actually ran for more seasons (7 to 5) and produced more episodes (148 to 114).

Klugman began to act after serving in World War II. His early TV appearances include multiple episodes of famed series like “Inner Sanctum,” “Studio One,” and “Playhouse 90.” Jack Klugman was a working actor, but when he was cast in the TV version of “The Odd Couple” he became a star. While the show achieved some popularity during its run on ABC (1970-1975), it was in syndication that the show really caught fire.

Postcard sent to fans of ABC’s “The Odd Couple” in the 1970s.

In 1993 I interviewed Klugman and Tony Randall in Central Park while they were filming scenes for “The Odd Couple: Together Again” reunion movie. It was about three years after Klugman had surgery for throat cancer, and it left him with a slight and raspy voice. But I was a bit surprised when Klugman was actually apologetic for his inability to answer in full voice. He seemed to be a genuinely nice man.

Reverse side of the same postcard with “autographs” from the stars.

Of course, “The Odd Couple” was followed by “Quincy, M.E.” on NBC in which Klugman played Dr. R. Quincy, a medical examiner (or coroner) who had no first name. In the 1980s Klugman went back to sitcoms with NBC‘s “You Again?” co-starring John Stamos. It lasted just one season.

Happy 89th Birthday Jack. You’re an American treasure.

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…THIS TIME TOGETHER

26 Apr
78 years ago, on Wednesday, April 26, 1933, Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas. As the child of two alcoholics, Burnett was raised by her grandmother who moved them to Hollywood.
 
When she would tug on her ear at the end of “The Carol Burnett Show” it was her way of saying hello to that beloved grandmother.

Pseudo-autographed 8x10 photo sent to fans of “The Carol Burnett Show"

Carol Burnett herself has won three Emmys. “The Carol Burnett Show” also won three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy, Variety or Music Series.

In 1985 Burnett was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, and in November 2005 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Carol Burnett also received a Peabody Award in 1962.

Recently she has been touring the country with her “Laughter and Reflection” stage show, which is similar to the opening of her old TV show. Burnett simply answers questions from the audience and talks about her life.

While I titled this post “…THIS TIME TOGETHER” I was obviously playing off Carol Burnett’s famous closing song from her show. What I did not know is that Ms. Burnett has an autobiography, also entitled This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection (now out in paperback). Great minds think alike.

Happy 78th Birthday Carol (as I tug on my ear).

OH MY

20 Apr

74 years ago, on Tuesday, April 20, 1937 actor George Takei was born in Los Angeles. Although best known for his role as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek,” Takei has hundreds of television appearances to his credit, starting with a live episode of “Playhouse 90” in 1959.

In his 2007 autobiography, To the Stars, Takei says he and his family were among more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II. Takei lived in Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and Camp Tule Lake in northern California.

After the war, the Takeis returned to southern California, where George would eventually earn a masters degree in theater from U.C.L.A. in 1964.

Takei’s life would change forever when he was cast as Mr. Sulu in 1965 for the second “Star Trek” pilot.

George Takei autograph signed in NYC, 1973.

The above autograph was signed by George Takei during the 1973 Star Trek Convention at New York’s Commodore Hotel. I was 12 years old. What I remember most about our encounter is how George kept repeating to us all, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.” Throughout the past 38 years I have occasionally heard people refer to him as George “tuh-KIE” – and I don’t know if he ever used this pronunciation. But to the best of my knowledge, from George’s own mouth, “It’s pronounced ‘tuh-KAY’ as in O.K.

While some will only remember him as Sulu, George Takei’s acting career has lasted more than 50 years. Recently  he had a recurring role on NBC‘s “Heroes” from 2007 to 2010, and this year he joined the cast of Nickelodeon‘s new series “Supah Ninjas” as Hologramps, the holographic grandfather.

Takei may be the only TV actor (certainly one of the few) with an asteroid named in his honor. In October 2007 the International Astronomical Union‘s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature approved the official, scientific name of 7307 Takei for the asteroid, which is located between Mars and Jupiter.

According to Takei’s own website, he and his husband Brad Altman made television history when they became the first gay couple to appear on “The Newlywed Game” on GSN cable network in October 2009. They won the game and donated their $10,000 prize to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Happy birthday George… now warp speed to 75!

UP YOUR NOSE WITH A RUBBER HOSE

31 Mar

66 years ago, on Saturday, March 31, 1945, Gabriel Kaplan was born in Brooklyn. Since then he has been a stand-up comedian, a financial investor, and a champion poker player… but most people know him as the creator and star of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

From the letterhead used by “Welcome Back, Kotter” in the 1970s.

The sitcom about a man who becomes a teacher in his old high school premiered in September 1975 on ABC and ran for 4 seasons. It also made stars out of Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta.

Kaplan started doing stand-up in the late 1960s and by the early 70s got the break every comic dreamed of – a spot on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” More TV appearances followed and then Kaplan recorded a comedy album called, Holes and Mellow Rolls. As he explained in his routine, a mellow roll was a kind of ice pop. The album’s title referred to the insults or “ranks” he and his friends used to say to each other in high school. “Up your hole with a mellow roll,” “in your ear with a can of beer,” “up your nose with a rubber hose.”

It was that part of his stand-up act that drew the most attention and allowed Gabe Kaplan (along with Alan Sacks) to create a sitcom based on his high school experiences. The premise had Gabe Kotter (once a remedial student or “sweathog”) return to teach the current “sweathogs” at his old high school. And it became a hit.

Card with pre-printed autograph, sent to fans of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

During the time “Welcome Back, Kotter” was a hit show, I was attending a real high school in Brooklyn. And since Gabe Kaplan was actually from Brooklyn a friend and I decided we should interview his parents for our school newspaper. We looked in the phone book and found a listing for Kaplan in the correct neighborhood. My friend called and did the talking. Gabe Kaplan’s mother agreed to let us come to their home to interview them. She asked us to call back the following week to set a date.

When we called again Mrs. Kaplan said Gabe never heard of our high school and didn’t think it was a real school. So he told her not to do the interview, and that was the end of it.

Months, maybe years, later I saw Gabe Kaplan on a talk show discussing fame. He said that when “Welcome Back, Kotter” became a hit people would call his parents pretending to be from phony high schools just to score an interview. I always wondered if he meant us.

For the record, we were real, our high school was real, and the interview request was real. Our school — Edward R. Murrow High School — was brand new and in just its second year of existence. That may be why Kaplan (out in Hollywood) had never heard of it. And I suppose “Edward R. Murrow” would’ve been a great name to use for a made-up school.

Gabriel Kaplan autograph signed outside the Ed Sullivan Theater on October 18, 1975.

After “Welcome Back, Kotter” Kaplan starred in several films and gave sitcoms one more try with “Lewis & Clark” (1981-82). His next act led him to the financial markets and then professional poker.

Since the late 1970s Gabe Kaplan has been a champion poker player participating in the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker, and winning the Super Bowl of Poker Main Event in 1980. Kaplan has earned more than $1-million playing poker professionally.

He has also been a poker TV commentator, most notably for 6 seasons on “High Stakes Poker” on GSN.

Close-up of Gabriel Kaplan’s autograph.

The cast of “Welcome Back, Kotter” will be honored at this year’s TV Land Awards in April. All the living former cast members: Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (aka Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), Ron Palillo, Robert Hegyes, and even John Travolta are planning to attend. And if anybody’s a no-show? “Up your hole with a mellow roll.”

Oh… and Happy Birthday Gabe.

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