Jack Klugman, veteran character actor of stage and screen, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 90. He leaves behind a resume of no less than 97 on-screen acting gigs, one of which was his memorable turn as Juror 5, a former slum kid with empathy toward the 18-year-old defendant, in Sidney Lumet's searing courtroom drama, "12 Angry Men." Juror 5 wasn't the last juror to change his vote to "not guilty," though Klugman is the last of the 12 actors to pass away.
Reginald Rose's screenplay for "12 Angry Men" was originally produced for television and broadcast live on CBS's Studio One in September 1954. Its popularity with television audiences led to a big-screen adaptation, which hit theaters on April 13, 1957. Directed by Sidney Lumet in his feature film debut, "12 Angry Men" follows 12 jurors, played by Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber (R.I.P., all), as they decide the fate of a Puerto Rican teenager accused of murdering his father -- a case that seems cut and dry until Juror 8 (Fonda) insists they look more closely at the evidence (or lack of it).
"12 Angry Men" is now considered one of the best courtroom dramas of all time -- and, indeed, one of the best films all around, period, notable for its terrific ensemble acting and exclusive use of one increasingly claustrophobic location (all but three of the film's 96 minutes take place in the jury room). The American Film Institute has ranked Juror 8 as #28 on its list of the 50 Greatest Movie Heroes of the 20th Century and ranked "12 Angry Men" the 42nd most inspiring film, the 88th most heart-pounding film and the 87th best film of the past hundred years. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, though it lost in all three categories to "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (which kind of took place mostly in just one location, too, if you think about it).
In "12 Angry Men," you believed that Juror 5 grew up in a slum and knew how to work a switchblade, as Jack Klugman's gruff everyman looks and demeanor brought a streetwise authenticity to his many working-man character roles. His other memorable parts include Neil Simon's iconic slob Oscar Madison in the television series of "The Odd Couple," which aired from 1970 to 1975, and the crusading title character in "Quincy, M.E.," which aired from 1976 to 1983. Klugman also appeared in four episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" (a record he shares with Burgess Meredith) and played John Stamos' father in the '80s series, "You Again?"
And, while Klugman amassed a great number of fans over his 60+-year career, there is perhaps no greater Klugman fan than Zorak, the wisecracking mantis on Cartoon Network's animated series, "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast," as evidenced by the episode in which he demands a Klugman tribute over the scheduled salute to "Women in the Entertainment Industry." For better or worse, it's a flourish that probably introduced Jack Klugman to a whole new generation of Adult Swim fans who came to agree that the longtime performer was, indeed, "dynamite."