Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Waltzing With A Mensch

We lost two great character actors this week, so naturally, attention must be paid on the Dance Party.  Extensive research has turned up absolutely no record of the unlikely duet which Jack Klugman and Charles Durning performed back in the early 70s. 
A number from Annie Get Your Gun was the perfect
vehicle for these vets.  Sadly, no record remains.

The story goes that Durning was slated to sing "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" with Bobbie Gentry on the Glen Campbell show, but at the last moment, Gentry had a hair emergency and withdrew.  Like the trooper he always was, Klugman, who was across the hall filming The Odd Couple, agreed to sub, and the duet went on.
Bobbie Gentry's hair malfunction led to
the infamous duet which has been lost.
She received her own Dance Party here.

This story is surprising for a number of reasons, chief being that Jack Klugman did not consider himself musically talented.  He had such a low opinion of his gifts in that area, in fact, that he actively discouraged writers Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim from creating a solo for his starring role in the original Gypsy.  Generations of subsequent Herbies have cursed Klugman for his resistance to singing;  the role is the very rare Leading Man In A Musical which does not have a solo song.
I won't sing, don't ask me. Klugman's refusal to sing has cursed future generations of Herbies.
Obviously, this leaves only one choice to star in this week's Dance Party.

Charles Durning
He was a decorated WWII veteran, participating in both the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.  I always enjoyed watching his sober recollections and readings during the Memorial Day Concert held annually on the National Mall.  But of course, he was best remembered for his hundreds of performances on screen and stage. 
Durning's Broadway debut was in the flop
The au Pair Man, opposite Julie Harris.
They reteamed decades later for Gin Game.

He first gained recognition in the Broadway production of That Championship Season, and he won the Tony as Big Daddy in 1980's revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, in a production which was apparently sunk by Kathleen Turner's clueless performance as Maggie.  He moved easily between stage and screen, and between comedic and heavier roles.
Charles was harried as the cop dealing with Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.  The actor just over his right shoulder is Matthew Broderick's father.
I was privileged to see Durning twice on stage.  In 1997, I caught him in a revival of The Gin Game, opposite Julie Harris;  they were stopping by the Kennedy Center on their way to Broadway. 
When the revival of The Gin Game blew through DC, I took the opportunity to see Julie Harris in one of her final stage roles. Durning gave able support.
Earlier, though, I saw Charles in one of my favorite musical failures.
Durning romanced Maureen Stapleton in the TV film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.  When the piece was adapted for Broadway, Vincent Guardenia took his role.  When the show was revamped in Long Beach, Durning took the role back.
In 1992, the originators of the TV film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom attempted to revamp the Broadway musical which had been created based on that film (that musical was simply called Ballroom).  I saw this revamped musical, which starred Tyne Daly and, in a pretty inspired casting choice, Charles Durning.  The project was torpedoed by the LA Times critic, and a hoped-for move to Broadway did not happen.  But it was in that project that I first learned that Durning could sing a bit and dance a bit more.  For a hefty gent, in fact, he cuts quite a rug, as you can see from this week's Dance Party.
Tootsie is full of fine performances, including Charles Durning as the lonely widower who unexpectedly falls for a transvestite.
I've written about The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas before.  When Miss Edna from the famous Chicken Ranch bordello died, I contributed this Dance Party clip, and when Signature Theatre in DC presented a pretty rare revival of this chestnut, I wrote about seeing it.  The film version, which was adjusted a bit to feature Dolly Parton even more heavily, contained this showstopper, delivered by Charles Durning, who received an Oscar nomination for his efforts (he lost the award to Lou Gossett in An Officer and a Gentleman).  A year later, he was again nominated, this time for the Mel Brooks film To Be Or Not To Be (this one he lost to Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment).  But Durning will always be a winner to me, playing expletive-filled games of cards with Julie Harris, or waltzing under a mirrored ball with Tyne Daly.  He died this week at the age of 89.