Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quincy-Part Three: Rogues Gallery

Quincy's first name is never revealed, and even Jack Klugman claims the character never had one. It just adds to the mythic, god-like persona. Zeus. Yahweh. Quincy. However, one episode does feature a business card that says "R. Quincy," but that probably just stands for Raging, Raving or Rabid.

He's L.A. county's chief medical examiner, and the chicks dig him like he's Shaft... even though he drives one grim mutha of a station wagon and his address is "One Dock Down From the Mackerel Stacks."

A fierce meddler, Quincy couldn't be content with doing his job within the confines of the coroner's office. He took on the dual role of bush-beating detective, largely because the cops in his world can't be bothered. It's also a great outlet for his Tourette's syndrome--after all, it's no fun yelling at a cadaver.

Early on, Quincy doggedly proved that every apparent suicide was, in fact, murder. However, he soon branched out and heatedly warned the world of the deadly ills of incest, diet pills and punk rock.

Before the show's timeframe, Quincy was in private practice. After he lost his wife Helen to cancer, he moved into a boat and became a coroner--a hot-tempered, crusading coroner. For several years, he was content with a bevy of houseboat bimbos, but head-shrinker Dr. Emily Hanover (Anita Gillette) shackled him in the seventh season. He gave up the babes and the boat and got married.

Klugman was married to Match Game mainstay Brett Somers, technically, for 54 years. Actually, the two separated in '74 but, because of a good friendship, never divorced.

The Klug battled throat cancer for years, lost a vocal cord, kept on acting and is still as feisty as ever. NBC has been poor-mouthing it for years, claiming loses despite strong DVD sales and the fact that the show is still being broadcast around the world. The Klug wants his residuals. It took one lawsuit to get NBC to even show him his contract. He's filed another for the residuals. To this day, he's proud of the show, as well he should be. Good luck to you, Klug.

People around the world love the Klug, as well they should. Until last year, the Church of Klugman ( kept up the Klug reverence, but, sadly, it has closed its doors. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love Jack Klugman. For all of his work. And simply for being The Klug. Mr. Klugman, sir, you are badass.

I think we can all agree that Sam is the real brains behind the coroner's office. He's also the most patient man on Earth. He not only weathers Quincy's rants but also maintains an unflappable, professional demeanor. He does all the work while the Klug goes out yelling at everyone and 'mancing the ladies. Sam gave up more Friday night dates to do Quincy's scut work than I can count. The poor guy never got laid. I think he was patiently biding his time to take over after Quincy finally burst into flames during one of his tirades.

Robert Ito was a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada for years before diving into acting in the mid-60s. Along with Mako, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita and Sho Kosugi, Ito made the best of the Asian roles TV doled out through the 60s and 70s. I always admired the fact that Sam was never written as a stereotype. He was just a guy with a Japanese name and a Vancouver accent.

It was enough that he was great as Sam, but the fact that Robert Ito went on to be Professor Toichi Hikita in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension that forever cements him in my esteem. I'd do the man's jail time. In fact, my admiration went even higher when I learned that he wanted the role so badly that he whipped up his own makeup job and disguised himself as an old man for his audition. According to my calculations, that's badass.

John S. Ragin was stuck with the show's thankless job, the role of the Mustache. Your better shows in the '70s and '80s had a Mustache installed: William Daniels on St. Elsewhere, John Hillerman on Magnum, P.I. and Rene Auberjonois on Benson, just to name a few. The Mustache was the hardass, the ball breaker, the sour/dour sonuvabitch who had absolutely no redeeming qualities and existed for no other reason than to be a drag on the rest of the cast. Oh, and to make the main character look better.

In this case, the Mustache is Quincy's uptight, long-suffering administrator. He was basically a prop for Klugman to rail against. He'd come in to bust Quincy's chops only to have his own ass handed to him. As a youngster, I always cheered, "Yeah! Take that, Mustache!" You just know he's the one all the assistant medical examiners and lab techs bitch about around the water cooler.

Now, as a decrepit old man, I almost sympathize with him. The guy had to be under incredible strain. You've got to imagine he spent most of his time talking the coroner's office out of lawsuits piling up from Quincy's frothing fits of rage. And he must've had a heart attack every time he signed Sam's paychecks. "Sweet Jesus! 80 hours of overtime?!" I hate to think of the depths to which he had to delve to make the office's budget, but it probably involved chaps. 

John S. Ragin played a lot of supporting roles on TV through the years. However, his finest hour was playing the ultimate Mustache, and I salute him.

By law, you can't have a detective-y show without ineffective cops. I mean, if your police force can actually solve a case, then how is your protagonist supposed to stand out? Fortunately for Quincy, Lt. Monahan maintains some slothful standards. Of course, when your jurisdiction includes an uppity coroner with a Sherlock Holmes complex, I can see where it'd get harder and harder to drag your ass to a crime scene. "Whatever. Quincy will figure it out."

You can often find the lieutenant at his desk with his feet up, gnawing on a huge sandwich. Chances are Quincy will storm in and bust his chops for not putting away the prime suspect. Monahan would utter those immortal words: "Sorry, Quince. My hands are tied. I need some solid evidence." Then Quincy would rage out the door, usually saying something snarky about cholesterol, and the lieutenant would have peace until the crime was solved for him.

Any time Lt. Monahan actually "cracks" a case, he's wrong. In Quincyland, only the big man himself can crack a case, leaving the cops to fill out the paperwork while he lounges on his boat with the ladies.


Garry Walberg makes the character crusty and likable. And that unique, Joe Pesci-esque voice still gets me. I always enjoyed the chemistry between Klugman and Walberg.

Walberg did a ton of TV back in the day, including the role of Klugman's poker buddy Speed on The Odd Couple. Oddly enough, Ed Begley, Jr. played a guitar burnout named Speed in a gonzo Quincy, M.E. episode involving mummified septuagenarian strippers. No, seriously.

Mr. Tovo ran Danny's, a restaurant that, literally, catered to cops and coroners. I'm sure the other clientele loved overhearing autopsy descriptions while they ate. With its dark, '70s-hell, earthtone decor, Danny's was the perfect place to deliver any given episode's epilogue over some baked ziti and vodka martinis.

The restaurant shared the wharf with Quincy's houseboat, so I'm guessing it was more a marriage of proximity instead of the draw of quality fare. Granted, Danny, all slick and smooth, always seemed like the kind of guy who could help a lonely coroner out if he were to, say, menace a health inspector every now and then. Let's just say that I'm pretty sure every time Quincy called for "take out," Danny would say, "You bet. Blonde or brunette?"

An actor's actor, Val Bisoglio appeared in all manner of shows in the '70s. On the film side, he appeared in Saturday Night Fever and Linda Lovelace for President. Yeah, that's pretty badass. On M*A*S*H, he played Sergeant Pernelli, the long-suffering cook. In one memorable episode, he was known to have said, "Would you like to pinch it or shall I?" Fortunately, he was referring sarcastically to French toast and not Gary Burghoff's ass.

Sure, there were other recurring characters, but I'm relegating them to "and the rest" a la the early Gilligan's Island theme. (Yeah, that one still burns doesn't it, Professor?) Ok, I'll mention a couple.

You've got Joseph Roman as Detective Brill, the guy who should actually be, you know, solving the cases. Instead, he's Monahan's shadow and lucky to get a line or two here and there. That was a thankless job.

For the first couple of seasons, Quince had a regular girlfriend, Lee Potter, played by Lynette Mettey. However, she vanished, and the Q adopted the Captain Kirk method of bedding whatever attractive woman happened to be on the episode that week.

Next time, we'll take a look at the formula and the fury that made this show great. Thanks for your patience while this blog gets rolling. See you then!


  1. Um, Randy, maybe you and the Klug (and perhaps Mr. Ito, too) should get a room...

  2. I know. I'm all messed up inside. Just think of it as my way of dealing with my '70s pop-culture Tourette's syndrome. I mean, it's either this or I start dressing like Charles Nelson Reilly.