NEW YORK — What a couple of mugs, sporting less-than-perfect physiques in the bargain.
But was there anything lovelier than Jack Klugman or Charles Durning doing what they did for an audience?
Rumpled Klugman exploding at his prissy flat-mate Tony Randall in the long-running sitcom "The Odd Couple." Portly Durning hoofing, fleet of foot, and singing how "E, I love to do a little sidestep" in the film "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Each was a luminous display of the extraordinary possibilities of the ordinary. http://wwwww
Klugman and Durning (both of whom died Monday, Klugman at 90 in Los Angeles, Durning at 89 in New York) spent storied careers building catalogues of roles that classed them indisputably as "character actors."
Even with a certain "always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride" taint attached to it, the term "character actor" commands respect and affection among audiences, even audience members who may not quite realize their level of investment in such artistry.
Traditional stardom – "leading man" status – is conferred on the actors who embody a fantasy, an ideal. They are famously out of reach of a ticket holder or a couch potato, other than through sitting back and watching from afar. Dreams are a powerful engine of Hollywood, and these actors – whether Clark Gable or Will Smith – are thrilling dream agents.
But there's another breed of actor – the group in which Klugman and Durning reign supreme – who sustains us in more comfortable ways. If a star like Brad Pitt stirs the frisson of eternal longing in the audience (oh, to be with him, or be him!), a character actor serves another need: cinematic kinship.
Klugman solving crimes as a lab geek on his series "Quincy, M.E.," or Durning as a stressed-out cop ("Dog Day Afternoon") or a romantic who's smitten with Dustin Hoffman in drag ("Tootsie") – these are actors we identify with, instantly and eagerly. Nothing seems to stand between us and what they do. They, with their just-coping-with-life heroics, show us who we are, or could be if we try a little harder (or warn us of the jam that might befall us if we don't). They are our proxies.
They never go out of style. They never lose their appeal. They are never put away because their looks have faded or their waistline thickened. We stick with them, just as they stick with us. (Durning was working into his late 80s in a recurring role as the irascible father of Denis Leary's firefighter protagonist on the drama "Rescue Me"). In this way, too, they resemble everybody we truly love: We love them in every phase of their lives.
Like most of us, the character actor seldom if ever gets the girl or saves the world. They aren't flashy. But with their own special magnetism, they remind us, in role after role, that everyday people are special, too.
Sure, we love being dazzled by Hollywood glamour. We love stars who make us weak in the knees.
But an actor like Klugman or Durning bears a message that applies far beyond the realm of Tinseltown, a message worth remembering with every performance: Beauty is, as beauty does.
Now, with their passing, we don't feel the pain of loss as much as gratitude for all the happy hours shared with Durning and Klugman. We are so glad for knowing them. Never mind we never met.
EDITOR'S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier
Michael Clarke Duncan
"The Green Mile" actor Michael Clarke Duncan died at the age of 54 on Sept. 3, 2012 in a Los Angeles hospital after nearly two months of treatment following a July 13, 2012 heart attack.
"Sesame Street" puppeteer Jerry Nelson, shown here with "Sesame Street" character Count von Count in New York in June 2012, died at age 78 on Aug. 23, 2012, in Massachusetts after battling emphysema.
Actress/comedienne Phyllis Diller, who was best know for her stand-up act, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/phyllis-diller-dead_n_1812818.html">died at the age of 95</a> on Aug. 20. 2012 in Los Angeles.
"The Music Man" star <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/susan-luckey-dead-music-man-actress-dies-age-74_n_2245690.html">died at the age of 74</a> in Dec. 2012.
Director Tony Scott, whose projects include "The Hunger," "Top Gun," "Enemy of the State," died after jumping off a bridge in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, 2012.
"San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" singer Scott McKenzie, seen here in the center with "The Mamas And The Papas" 1967, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/scott-mckenzie-dead-dies-san-francisco-73_n_1809989.html">died on Aug. 18. 2012</a>, after battling Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease that affects the nervous system.
A 1980 file photo provided by CBS shows actor William Windom, who won an Emmy Award for his turn in the TV comedy series "My World And Welcome To It," died Aug. 16, 2012, of congestive heart failure at his home in Woodacre, north of San Francisco. He was 88.
This June 8, 2008 file photo shows actor Ron Palillo at the TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. Palillo, best known as the nerdy high schooler Arnold Horshack on "Welcome Back, Kotter," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/ron-palillo-dead-dies-welcome-back-kotter-heart-attack_n_1776155.html">died Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012</a>, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., of an apparent heart attack. He was 63.
This Oct. 7, 2008 file photo shows actress Lupe Ontiveros at Padres Contra El Cancer's 8th annual "El Sueno de Esperanza" benefit gala in Los Angeles. Ontiveros, the popular Texan actress known for her portrayal of Yolanda Saldivar in "Selena," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/lupe-ontiveros-dead-star-_n_1709783.html">died Thursday, July 26, 2012</a>, of cancer at the Presbyterian Hospital in the City of Whittier, Calif., according to friend and comedian Rick Najera. She was 69.
In this Aug. 11, 1986 file photo, actor Sherman Hemsley poses for a photo in Los Angeles. The manager for Hemsley says the late star of the television sitcom "The Jeffersons" refused treatment for lung cancer in the weeks before he died of what a coroner says were complications from the disease on July 24, 2012. (AP photo/Nick Ut, File)
In this Feb. 14, 2004 file photo, Academy President Frank Pierson arrives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Scientific and Technical Achievements Awards dinner in Pasadena Calif. Pierson's family announced that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/frank-pierson-dead-dog-day-afternoon-dies_n_1696126.html">he died of natural causes on Monday, July 23, 2012</a> in Los Angeles after a short illness. He was 87.
Deep Purple's Jon Lord, seen here in 2004, died at age 71 on Monday, July 16, 2012, after battling pancreatic cancer.
This May 1986 file photo shows country music singer Kitty Wells in Nashville, Tenn. Wells, the first female superstar of country music, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/kitty-wells-dead-queen-of-country-dies_n_1677532.html">died at the age of 92 on Monday, July 16, 2012.</a> The singers family says Wells died at her home Monday after complications from a stroke. Her recording of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" in 1952 was the first No. 1 hit by a woman soloist on the country music charts. Other hits included "Making Believe" and a version of "I Can't Stop Loving You." (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)
Perhaps best remembered for his<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/08/ernest-borgnine-movies-films_n_1657787.html" target="_hplink"> Oscar-winning performance in the film "Marty",</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/ernest-borgnine-dead-remembered_n_1658937.html" target="_hplink">Borgnine</a> continued to act until his death, voicing a character on "SpongeBob SquarePants" and earning an Emmy Nomination on the TV series "ER." He was 95 when he passed away on July 8 due to renal failure.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffith-dead_n_1645969.html" target="_hplink">Andy Griffith,</a> the star of beloved television programs "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock", <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/andy-griffith-cause-of-death-heart-attack_n_1652599.html" target="_hplink">died of a heart attack</a> on Tuesday, July 3. He was 86.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/don-grady-my-three-sons-obituary_n_1633047.html" target="_hplink">The multi talented musician, composer, and actor</a> who memorably starred on the television series "My Three Sons" lost his battle with cancer on June 27. An original Mouseketeer, Grady was 68 he passed away.
Director, author, journalist, playwright, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nora-ephron/" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</a>, and three-time Academy Award nominated screenwriter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/nora-ephron-dead-dies-age-71_n_1627757.html" target="_hplink">Nora Ephron passed away</a> on June 26 after a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/nora-ephron-leukemia-cancer-illness-death_n_1629152.html" target="_hplink">secret multi-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia</a>. With genre defining films like "Sleepless In Seattle", "You've Got Mail", and "When Harry Met Sally", Ephron, 71, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/nora-ephron-influence-movies_n_1628700.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment" target="_hplink">left an indelible mark on the film industry.</a>
Comedienne most famous for her hilarious roles on TV shows "Moesha" and "The Parkers", Wilson <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/yvette-wilson-star-of-moe_n_1600037.html" target="_hplink">lost her battle with cervical cancer</a> on June 14. She was 48.
This Nov. 5, 1971 file photo shows actress Ann Rutherford in New York. Rutherford, who played Scarlett O'Hara's sister Carreen in the 1939 movie classic "Gone With the Wind," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/ann-rutherford-dead-gone-_n_1589753.html">died at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Monday, June 11, 2012</a>. She was 94. (AP Photo/HF)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/barry-gibb-tribute-video-robin-gibb-bee-gees_n_1539954.html" target="_hplink">Co-founder of The Bee Gees</a>, Gibb was 62 when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/20/robin-gibb-dead-bee-gees_n_1531648.html" target="_hplink">lost</a> his battle with colon cancer on May 20.
From AP: Bob Welch, a former member of Fleetwood Mac who went on to write songs and record several hits during a solo career,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/07/bob-welch-dead-fleetwood-mac-gunshot_n_1579166.html"> died June 7, 2012</a>, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said. He was 65.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/donna-summer-queen-of-disco_n_1526799.html" target="_hplink">The Queen of Disco</a> lost her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/donna-summer-dead-queen-of-disco-dies_n_1524410.html" target="_hplink"> battle with cancer</a> on May 17. Summer, 63, earned that title with dance hits like "Last Dance", "MacArthur Park", and "Hot Stuff".
In this Feb. 13, 2011 file photo, Chuck Brown arrives at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Brown, who styled a unique brand of funk music as a singer, guitarist and songwriter known as the "godfather of go-go," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/chuck-brown-dead-godfather_n_1522375.html">died Wednesday, May 16, 2012</a> after suffering from pneumonia. He was 75.
Mitchell Guist, who appeared in segments of the "Swamp People" with his brother, Glenn, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/mitchell-guist-dead-swamp-people_n_1515423.html">died after collapsing Monday, May 14, 2012</a> while working on a houseboat he was building on Belle River.
Best known as one of the founding members of the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/mca-ad-rock-adam-horovitz-beastie-boys-interview_n_1539705.html" target="_hplink"> trailblazing hip-hop group the Beastie Boys</a>, Yauch, also known by his stage name MCA, was also a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/adam-yauch-films_n_1478993.html" target="_hplink">film director</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/adam-yauch-dead-tibet_n_1478359.html" target="_hplink">human rights activist</a>. At age 47, Yauch unfortunately lost his almost three year battle with cancer on May 4.
George Lindsey, seen here in character as Goober Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" in 1982,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/george-lindsey-dead-andy-griffith-show-goober-pyle-dies-83_n_1490083.html"> died early Sunday, May 6, 2012.</a> He was 83.
In this May 15, 2010 photo, Levon Helm performs on the mandolin during a Ramble performance at Helm's barn in Woodstock, N.Y. Helm, who was in the final stages of his battle with cancer,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/levon-helm-dead-the-band-cancer-battle_n_1434772.html"> died Thursday, April 19, 2012 in New York.</a> He was 71. He was a key member of The Band and lent his distinctive Southern voice to classics like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Radio personality, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/dick-clark-quotes_n_1435713.html" target="_hplink">TV host</a>, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nelson-davis/dick-clarks-business-less_b_1466150.html" target="_hplink">beloved producer</a>, Dick Clark died of a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/dick-clark-heart-attack-death_n_1435551.html" target="_hplink">massive heart</a> attack on April 18. The host of classic programs such as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120418/us-dick-clark-highlights/" target="_hplink">American Bandstand</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/dick-clarks-new-years-eve_n_1437040.html" target="_hplink">Dick Clark's Rocking New Years Eve was 82.</a>
Lead singer of hit 60's band <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/davy-jones-dead-monkees-moments-video_n_1310837.html" target="_hplink">The Monkees</a>, Jones' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/monkees-davy-jones-obituary_n_1312799.html" target="_hplink">heartthrob status</a> was cemented with hits like "Day Dream Believer" and "I Wanna Be Free". He died at age 66 on February 29 after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/davy-jones-autopsy-report_n_1406273.html" target="_hplink">suffering a heart attack</a>.
With perhaps one of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/whitney-houston-celebrate-jordin-sparks-sparkle_n_1532870.html" target="_hplink">greatest voices</a> of her generation, Houston was a multi-Grammy winning singer and actress left an indelible mark on both the pop and R&B genres. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/15/whitney-houston-xanax_n_1279947.html" target="_hplink">Houston's well documented struggles with drug addiction</a> are thought to have contributed to her unexpected and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/11/whitney-houston-dead-sing_n_1270889.html" target="_hplink">untimely demise</a> at age 48 on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/whitney-houston-death-report-last-day_n_1405206.html" target="_hplink">February 11</a>.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/don-cornelius-dead-soul-train_n_1246642.html" target="_hplink">Cornelius</a>, creator and host of the long-running, groundbreaking<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/don-cornelius-dead-celeb-tweets_n_1247021.html" target="_hplink"> TV dance show "Soul Train,"</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/don-cornelius-autopsy-depression_n_1450184.html" target="_hplink">unfortunately committed suicide </a>Wednesday morning, Feb. 1. He was 75.
In this Sept. 17, 2005 file photo, actor Ian Abercrombie is shown during the British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences third annual Emmy Nominees Tea Party in Los Angeles. Abercrombie, a veteran British stage and screen actor whose TV roles included Elaines boss Mr. Pitt on "Seinfeld" and Professor Crumbs on Wizards of Waverly Place,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/28/ian-abercrombie-tv-moments_n_1239120.html"> died Thursday, Jan. 22, 2012</a> at a Los Angeles hospital from complications of kidney failure. He was 77.
The "At Last" crooner <a href="http://http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/etta-james-dead-legendary_n_1219083.html" target="_hplink">passed away</a> on January 20 due to complications from leukemia. James, also known as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/etta-james-singers-passio_n_1222010.html" target="_hplink">The Matriarch of R&B</a>, was 73.