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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Klugman pays tribute in `Golden Pond'

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jack Klugman figures he has come full circle.

Early in his career, the actor, well-known for such television roles as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and the title character in Quincy, M.E., was on a theatrical tour with Henry Fonda. Now Klugman is on tour in On Golden Pond, playing the character that was Fonda's final screen role.

“I toured with Hank [Fonda] for 15 months in Mr. Roberts. I understudied the second lead, and the guy got sick, so I played [the role] for about six weeks. That's where I got to know him, and we became very friendly,” Klugman said in a telephone interview from Fond du Lac, Wis., where On Golden Pond was playing earlier this week.

“Hank, I think, was the best actor I ever worked with. When they asked me to do this, of course one of the first things I thought of was Hank. It's sort of his legacy. His last performance was in this movie, so I'm doing it in my own mind as a tribute to him,” he said.

Klugman comes to Toledo today for a single performance of On Golden Pond at 8 p.m. in the Valentine Theatre.

“I love it [the show],” he said, his voice raspy, but quite understandable, from the throat cancer he fought off in the 1990s. “The response has been absolutely marvelous.”

He attributes that reaction to two factors.

“First of all, we have a good cast, we have a wonderful cast. For one-night stands to get a cast like this is rare. And secondly, there are some plays that just play well in the hands of people and some plays that read well but never come off the page when they're acted. But this jumps off the page. It's very funny and very touching.”

The play is about an aging couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer, who spend the summer at their cottage on a lake in Maine. He is a crotchety retired professor, who never could figure out how to relate to his daughter, Chelsea, a fact made obvious when Chelsea arrives with her lover, Bill, and Bill's son, whom they leave with the Thayers for the summer. Though Norman's attitude toward the boy starts out being as brittle as his relationship with Chelsea, with Ethel's help he develops a fondness for the lad, and by extension, a better relationship with Chelsea.

Klugman, 81, is delighted to be appearing at the Valentine.

“I love restored theaters. They're temples to me. There aren't enough of them any more. They keep closing them down and gutting them. When I toured with Hank in 1950 there were so many touring companies. You played a week, two weeks, now it's one-night stands. But that's still better than staying home and watching stupid television.”

“On Golden Pond” will be staged at 8 tonight in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Limited seating is available for $25 and $35. Information: 419-242-2787.



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