Wednesday 10 December 2014

Paul Kligman, Actor, Author and Reindeer

Go ahead. Call me a humbug. But I have never warmed to any of the Rankin-Bass stop motion shows, including the grand-daddy of them all, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” But I sure like the voice cast.

Every once in a while, I hear grumblings about “cheaper Canadian voice talent,” as if it’s somehow inferior to the hundreds of people in Southern California on the audition circuit for cartoon roles. Well, “humbug” I say to that. The huge legions of fans of “Rudolph” sure don’t complain about the actors as they cozy up to their TVs every December to enjoy Romeo Muller’s tale of the bullied outcasts who become admired in the end. The fans don’t complain because the actors come up with an enjoyable performance.

In every major Canadian city, there’s a little group of people that seems to get 90 per cent of the voice work; commercials, voiceovers and so on. And Toronto of the 1960s was no different. Many of the same actors in “Rudolph” lent their voices to other animated series, such as “Spider-Man” and “Tales of the Wizard of Oz.” It’d be tough to pick a favourite from that group. Carl Banas was wonderfully versatile and, according to people I know who worked with him on radio, a very funny and unassuming man. Bernard Cowan had a nice matter-of-fact, straight narrative delivery (his character voices sounded like Bernard Cowan trying to do character voices). But the guy I like best is Paul Kligman.

Kligman brought life to those cheesy-looking Spider-Man cartoons as the perpetually-annoyed J. Jonah Jameson. Like just about any voice artist in Toronto then, Kligman had acted in dramatic radio on the CBC. He spent some years in Vancouver before he realised the thing many actors in Vancouver eventually realise: jobs are limited so you have to go to a bigger city. So off he went to Toronto.

Here’s a story from the Ottawa Citizen of November 7, 1953. As you might expect, it dwells mainly with the all-important Theatre.

“Varied” Is The Word For Actor Paul Kligman
“Variety” is the first adjective you think of for the talent of Winnipeg-born actor Paul Kligman, whose name appears so often in the cast lists for CBC radio and television productions from Toronto: but when you consider the comic and serious stage roles he has carried in Vancouver and Toronto, as well as all the villains, buffoons, strange-accents imports and plain ordinary Canadians he has portrayed on the air, you begin to get a picture that borders on versatility.
Kligman, now 30, the father of two small children and (since March), the owner of a new house in the Wilson Heights northern suburb of Toronto, has been in show business for 17 years—on a full-time basis only since he moved to Toronto from the West in 1949.
Before that he led a double life over a period of many years, earning a living primarily as a salesman (shoes, groceries, clothing, furs, in turn) and supplementing this with a less dependable revenue from radio and stage work.
Produced Dramas
At the University of Manitoba (which he attended for two years—1941-42) he acted in or directed such plays as The Man Who Came to Dinner and Waiting For Lefty. Then he produced drama and variety shows for the RCAF. First from Winnipeg, then from Vancouver, he was heard in many CBC drama productions during and after the war and in Vancouver he put in six (summer) seasons with the Theater under the Stars, cast usually in “heavy comic” roles (he stands five-foot-eleven and weighs 240 pounds).
For the 1952 season he returned to Vancouver from Toronto to do The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Senator Billboard Rawkins in Finian’s Rainbow, Frosch in Die Fledermaus and the Burgomaster in the Red Mill—just a sample of the musical comedy experience which stands to his credit.
On the CBC, particularly when he was in Vancouver, he has appeared often as the villain in melodramas. During and after the war he was much in demand, because of his facility with German and other “dialects”, for “filthy Nazi” parts. There have been many other similar roles like that one for him in CBC plays, and most recently, on TV, he portrayed the villainous type in The Duke in Darkness.
As for dialects, he can talk natural understandable English through many foreign-language filters and this is one of the abilities that often make him the obvious choice for a special role, otherwise difficult for the producer to fill.
He is “fluent” in English as it might be spoken by men whose native tongue is Russian, Italian, German, Yiddish or French. (His own ancestors were Russian Jews). For the CBC Wednesday Night production of Jacobovsky and the Colonel he carried the leading part with a convincing suggestion of Polish-Jewish origins; he was Papa Bonaparte in The Golden Boy on Ford Theater and on the stage in Vancouver—and who doesn’t recall the odd characters who used to stumble into the Wayne and Shuster Show when least expected?
Interested In The Theater
His interest in the stage is not confined to the musical-comedy field. A member of the founding board of the Jupiter Theater in Toronto, he played in two of that group’s productions—Aristophanes in Socrates and Slick in Crime Passionel. He was Jack in Wayne and Shuster’s Mother Goose production which was seen at His Majesty’s in Montreal and the Grand Theater in London in 1951, and heard later on CBC Wednesday Night.
One of the things he likes about radio and TV (and he says he’s never been happier in his life than during the last few years of concentrated effort in those fields) is that “no two jobs are alike.” And a glance at his recent record of recent activity serves to explain this. He is Mayor McTaggart in Jake and The Kid, Stanford Van Crump in Public Eye series of take-offs on the Dragnet-type program; gets frequent “straight” Canadian roles on Stage 54, Ford Theater, CBC Wednesday Night and Cross Section; and he appeared with his singing sister (Libby Morris) in the light comedy series Libby with Paul. On TV, he was Josh Smith, the Mariposa hotel proprietor in the Sunshine Sketches, and amateur geologist Gideon Spillet in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. One of his forthcoming radio appearances will be in Esse Ljunghs production of George Orwells 1984 for CBC Wednesday Night on November 18.
Off the set and away from the studio, Kligman gardens with relish and works at his collection of Jewish folk lore of all kinds. A hobby he hopes eventually to have more time for is the making of copper pictures. But nearly all his time is devoted to his acting work. “There’s no room for fooling around in this business,” he says. It has to be worked at, talked about all the time—just like any other profession.”
Having by this time acquired considerable experience in TV as well as radio, he is in a position to compare the two media from the play’s point of view. Work in TV has had the effect of “completely relaxing me in radio.” After the tremendous concentration of effort the player must put into a single TV performance, radio looks easy he says, and there is a great danger of the quality of a player’s radio work suffering if he does not deliberately “pull up his socks,” and remind himself that although he can read his lines from a script (instead of having to memorize them) there is still the other side of the coin—the fact that he must project his voice and role entirely with his voice and that he is deprived utterly of visual contact with the audience.
After noting Kligman’s flair for dialects and character roles, and his excellent sense of timing which fits him so well for comedy parts, it may come as a surprise that one of his strongest points is what producers call a fine natural voice with a distinctive intonation—the sort of voice that will fit happily and modestly into a documentary rather than a dramatic setting, and stand in clear contrast to other voices. Strangely enough, this quality is none too easy to find—so Kligman scores again, this time with what would appear to be the commonest of commodities—an ordinary Canadian voice.

The story is incorrect about Kligman’s birth. He was born in Romania and came to Canada with his parents in 1923 when he was nine months old. When he was about eight, his father opened a grocery store across from Winnipeg’s Leland Theatre. Perhaps that piqued his interest in acting. Kligman later wrote a fictional account of his dad in the book It All Ends Up In a Shopping Bag.

The story shows Kligman had an early connection with Wayne and Shuster. He was part of their stock company (along with announcer Bernard Cowan, the long-time voice of “Front Page Challenge”) on numerous specials on Canadian TV into the 1970s.

Kligman died in Toronto on August 25, 1985. Like many voice actors, his work lives on. And so long as there are TV Christmas specials, you’ll be able to hear Kligman every December.


  1. Back when I lived in Detroit, nearly anybody could pull in the nearest CBC station, CKLW channel 9 in Windsor. I was a regular viewer of Wayne and Shuster, and at some point I began to recognize the voices of Kligman and Cowan in the Videocraft and Steve Krantz films. I agree that they were excellent actors. I too was never really a fan of the Videocraft shows except maybe Tales of the Wizard of Oz.

  2. In my foolish youth I used to call the production companies, "Rank and Base" and "Videocrap Intenational". Now I just say, "Burn the Negatives"!

  3. 12/11/14 Wrote:
    You Said It, Mike Kazaleh. I too am familiar with the presence of Channel 9 in Detroit/Windsor's border, and was familiar with it's CKLW Big 8 radio format in the 1970's. Kligman's voice was a familiar sound, although ironically, when I first saw Rudolph On NBC back in the late 60's, I originally thought it was Don Adams doing the voice Of both Rudolph's selfish father and the reindeer coach. Surprise that it wasn't, and I've become familiar with Kligman's voice ever since. The biggest memories of those Rudolph repeats on NBC? The NBC Peacock opening and those memorable GE commercials. Incidentally, Gene Autry was originally supposed to be the narrator of Sam The Snowman on Rudolph, but he wasn't available, so burl Ives got the role instead. Rankin and Bass both thought that Autry was a contender because he had the original hit version of "Rudolph" in 1949.By the way, Mike, I loved your art work in the Ren & Stimpy comic books of the 1990's.

  4. Just a minor point. The author of the article refers to the "Stanford van Crump in Public Eye" series on CBC Radio. If my memory serves me correctly, the series was called "Stankford van Crump, Public Eye". Note the "k" in "Stankford". I think that "Public Eye" was a play on "Private Eye". This series was one of my favourites when I was a wee lad, lo these many years ago.

    I came across the article on which I am commenting after doing a google search on "Stankford van Crump". It was the only hit that I got. Pity.
    It would be nice to find/listen to tapes of the old series.