Penny Marshall: Jack Klugman Taught Me Laverne's Timing

Jack Klugman Script Reading - P 2012
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Jack Klugman Script Reading - P 2012

Reflecting on the sitcom legend's death, the actress tells THR she gave her co-star Cindy Williams this advice: "Watch 'The Odd Couple.' That's the chemistry."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 11, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Jack was great. He got me the part [on ABC's The Odd Couple]. When the show switched to multicamera -- the first year it had been a one-camera show -- they decided to add more characters, and Jack’s character needed a secretary. So he was talking to my brother Garry [Marshall, the show’s producer] and Jack said: “Why don’t you use your sister? She’s the one who got me involved in this.”

My brother had wanted Jack for The Odd Couple from the start and fought for him. At the time, I was doing Then Came Bronson, if you remember that show. Jack was in an episode, and I had a small part. We were shooting in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I told my brother, and he said, “Ask him if he wants to do The Odd Couple on TV.” So we were sitting by the lake, and I said to Jack, “So do you want to do The Odd Couple?” And he said, “Why are you asking me?” I said, “Because my brother is going to do it.” So that was the first time he heard of it, and he thought I was crazy altogether, but he ended up doing it, and he and Tony [Randall] were unbelievable together. Jack was more like his character, but friendlier. And on the side, he’d be on the phone making bets -- just like his character. My brother loved him a lot, as did Tony.

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Jack and Tony were so great together because their chemistry was great. The scripts were longer than any scripts I’ve ever seen — and I’ve done many a sitcom. Because Tony talked so fast, the scripts ran longer. But after one of Tony’s speeches, Jack just had to say, “What are you talking about?” and he’d get a laugh.

When Cindy [Williams] and I did Laverne & Shirley, she was more like Tony, and I did what I had learned from Jack. She could go to the moon and back because she was a much better actress than I was; she had a bigger range. But I’d just have to say, “What are you talking about?” and I’d get the laugh, and she’d get mad. But I’d say, “Watch The Odd Couple. That’s the chemistry for that.” I could do business good, but I didn’t care whether I had a whole monologue. I could just stare and say, “What are you talking about?” That’s what Jack taught me.

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He was always so helpful and terrific to me. He would just put me on my mark because I didn’t know, I didn’t have that much experience. He would just take me and place me and continue talking. A very kind guy. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, a lot of the writers on the show — Harvey Miller, Jerry Belson — have died, and Jack was always at all their memorials. I’ll miss him dearly.