Jack Klugman, the movie star and television actor who passed away in December, was honored at this year’s Academy Awards.
It seems like just yesterday I was a Bard college junior and landed my first job on a movie crew as a wardrobe mistress for “Who Says I can’t Ride a Rainbow.” The film starred Jack Klugman and was about a generous “city cowboy” who had a pony farm in lower Manhattan. In the movie script kids from Harlem visited Jack’s farm and connected with animals and learned responsibility.
I was raised on a one-acre-ranch in Colorado, with horses, ponies and lots of manure, so I related to the screenplay.
It was January 1970, in New York City, and the actors and film crew’s headquarters was an unheated warehouse garage. When the shooting took place outside our breath became visible.
On the first day of shooting after the director said, “It’s a wrap.” Jack dropped the costume clothes to the floor of his dressing room, dove into his street clothes and bolted out of the garage like a shooting star. I was left to clean up the mess.
About the third day of shooting, the director presented me with a tan canvas coat lined with sheepskin. “Mary could you make this new coat look old like something Jack’s character would wear?”
“Sure … no problem!” I said.
Like a teenage doofus working on her first movie, I took the spanking new tan canvas coat lined in sheepskin out to the horse corral. I laid it in the dry refuse left behind by the animals.
I stomped on the jacket with my cowboy boots, rubbing it into the dirt and dust until it had a patina of crud on it. Now it looks like a real cowboy’s coat, I thought. I brought it back and proudly hung it in Jack Klugman’s dressing room.
But moments later I heard a lot of screaming. “Who did this? How the h--- am I going to leave the set smelling like sh--?”
Apprehensive and trembling I approached Jack.
He glared at me.
Afraid I might be fired, I blurted out, “I am so sorry, but where I come from smelling like sh-- is normal. Some say it’s like perfume.”
“But this is New York City and I’m staying in an upscale hotel. They may not let me in if I come in stinking up the lobby!”
He must have thought I had turned his “coat of many colors” into a rag. I suppressed a laugh.
What pleased me was instead of getting me fired, Jack learned my name and every morning after the coat incident would say, “Hi Mary.” Maybe he thought he’d better keep an eye on me, and if we communicated we’d work better together — and we did.
Now 43 years later, I am reading Jack Klugman’s book, “Tony and Me: A story of Friendship.” The book is about Jack’s friendship with Tony Randall.
Jack explains in the book that he never trusted people or got close to them until he learned what a real friend was through working with Tony Randall on “The Odd Couple” television series. Maybe Jack Klugman saw I was a real person with good intentions after I trashed his coat as his wardrobe mistress. I suspect with all that bravado he exhibited, he was just covering up a soft heart.
If I meet Jack Klugman again in the great beyond, I will say “Aren’t you glad up here in heaven there’s no stinky horse manure?”
Mary McFerren Stobie is a freelance writer who has been published in The Denver Post and Chicago Tribune. She has been syndicated by Senior Wire News Service. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org