This is a tribute to Jack Klugman, the man who was my hero. I was his biggest fan. These are the stories I shared at Jack's memorial service on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
I remember my big audition with Jack for a show I was blessed to do with him, called You Again. Every young actor in town wanted to play Jack Klugman's son. A bunch of us were waiting outside NBC just to see the great Jack Klugman pull up in his limo. We knew he would show up in style -- the way a man of his stature would. All of a sudden we hear the sound of a helicopter. We see it fly over and land on top of a building. There he is, the man. As we were trying to get a glimpse of Jack coming out of his helicopter, someone nudged me (maybe Ben Stiller -- yes, he wanted to be Jack's son too) and said, "That's not Jack Klugman that's Johnny Carson."
Suddenly, we hear what sounds like the crappiest car you could imagine. And we all look over to the parking lot at this crazy old beater pulling in. It looked like it had just been driven from Cuba. Out pops Jack with papers and programs (could've been horse racing tickets) falling out behind him like a trail of confetti. He was wearing a white sailor cap, and on the back of his car there was a bumper sticker that read: "Where the hell is Temecula?"
That was my first sight of the great Jack Klugman. And that's who he was to me for the rest of his life: a simple, humble, great man.
I went into the late Brandon Tartikoff's office and saw the head of casting. And as all humble, pretty boys say after an audition -- "I KILLED it." Or so I thought. They asked if I could stay for a few minutes and I hung out feeling like they were going to give me the job right then and there. I remember sitting outside the office and it being very quiet and calm until.... BAM! All hell broke loose. Jack was screaming and yelling -- I swear I heard furniture breaking -- then the door busted open and Jack came out. Face red, steam coming out of his ears, saying, "Okay, kid, let's do this again!"
When I started the scene again, I looked into Jack's eyes. I locked in and forgot about everything in the world except what we were doing at that exact moment. Being in that moment. And anyone who's ever had the honor of acting with Jack knows what I'm talking about. You had no choice. He demanded that of you.
I got the job. That was the day my life changed forever. Since I was a kid, all I wanted to do was be on a sitcom. I didn't care about movies, I wanted to be on a show like the ones Garry Marshall did. Later, I think it was Warren Littlefield who told me they NBC didn't want me. They didn't think I could do comedy. And he told me Jack said, "If John Stamos didn't do the show, then he wouldn't do the show."
Maybe he related to me. I know he came up against the similar obstacles with The Odd Couple. Or maybe he had a crush on my mother at the time -- who knows? I would've gladly thrown my mother to him...
The You Again years were quite possibly my most important years in show business. I had one of the greatest living actors as my own personal acting coach. There's not a day that goes by where I don't use something I learned from Jack. He taught me to listen. There's actually an episode of You Again where you can hear Jack say to me, "Now listen, John/Matt..." He was directing and acting with me at the same time. They didn't catch it and it made the air.
He always looked out for me. He always wanted me to work up to my potential. I never had anyone of his stature in the business care about me like he did. And the day that show ended, it was my goal to make him proud of me for the rest of my life. Everyone thought that show ended prematurely -- not sure why it did; it was doing so well in the ratings.
Oh, maybe I do know. Jack also taught me how to talk to network executives. I remember one day on the stage Jack grabbed me and made me watch a phone call he was making to Brandon Tartikoff. As I recall, the conversation went something like, "Get me Brandon Tartikoff..." "Brandon?..." "Jack?..." "FUCK YOU." Then, for some strange reason, our show was cancelled.
But it didn't matter. I had Jack in my life and he had me. Through that show I met Garry Marshall. And Garry suggested to Tom Miller and Bob Boyett that I might be good for Full House. And we all know how that went -- a blessing and a curse. (It's a blessing, but I still curse about it.)
When Full House ended, I went to my mentor for help on what to do next. All he said was: "Theater, theater, theater." I went to New York City and studied like he told me, then threw myself to the lions -- Broadway -- taking over for Mathew Broderick in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I remember asking if he was going to come see me. He said, "Maybe." And then one night I heard that great gravely laugh in the dark. I will never forget the sound. The laugh I'd been waiting for since I got the job on Broadway. My hero and mentor came to see me.
Jack came to all my shows but would never tell me when he was coming. And I loved that.
He'd come back stage, he'd give me about 10 to 20 pages of notes. But he'd always say, "You held the stage, kid." I'll never forget that.
As life went on -- thank God for his wife, Peggy -- Jack and I were off in different directions, but I think Peggy knew we needed to be around each other. So we'd see each other as often as we could. I loved seeing Jack on stage. He was so alive. Everything he taught me, he did up on that stage. It's where he was always meant to be.
With no disrespect to his own sons, Jack was like a second father to me. After my dad died, Jack and I didn't talk any more than we had before. We didn't see each other more often -- nothing really changed. But Jack became that important male figure in my life that I wanted to make proud.
One of the last times I saw him was when he surprised me at the ceremony when I got my star on the Walk of Fame. In his wheelchair -- looking sharp as ever with his cool hat -- he wasn't supposed to speak, but at the last minute he asked for the mic. He said he wanted to adopt me but that my mom wouldn't let him. And that I was pure sweetness. He said, "What can I say, I love this guy -- he's truly my... my... my..." Then he looked down and said, "I don't know."
You knew exactly what I was, Jack. I was your biggest fan, and I was most grateful to have you in my life. What a strength you will always be for me, Jack. Thank you for sharing your craft with me, and thank you for the gifts of truth and love. I will miss and love you always until I see you again. And then we will have some more good laughs as you pull up in your chariot in heaven, with pieces of paper and racing tickets flying all over the place -- just how you made your first entrance into my life.