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Don Klugman Collection, 1964-1986

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Collection Identifier: C.2009-01
Extent of collection
31 reels of 16mm film totaling 17,950 feet; 10 filmstrips with accompanying audio cassettes and educational materials
Inclusive Dates
1964 - 1986
Bulk Dates
1964 - 1969
In 2008, three experimental films made by Chicago-based filmmaker Don Klugman were preserved with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation in 2008. NIGHTSONG is a portrait of the Chicago Near-North nightlife scene in the mid-1960s, centering on the struggles and romantic desires of an African American singer played by long-forgotten folk sensation, Willie Wright. I'VE GOT THIS PROBLEM traces the romantic relationship between a young man and woman (played by Klugman and Judy Harris) who meet in a downtown coffee shop. Their nonstop dialogue fluctuates between playful psycho-babble and sincere attempts to relay their innermost feelings. YOU'RE PUTTING ME ON seems to pick up the same couple (again played by Klugman and Harris) a few years later, as they attend a swinging bohemian party where they pilfer personal objects from the unsuspecting guests. The archival materials created from these three Klugman films comprise the Don Klugman Collection.

NIGHTSONG is a rare portrait of the Chicago Near-North folk club and nightlife scene in the mid-1960’s.  The film centers around the struggles and romantic desires of the film’s star, long-forgotten African-American folk sensation Willie Wright.  NIGHTSONG features rare exterior and interior footage of legendary hot spots such as The Fickle Pickle, Mr. Kelly’s, the Kismet Club, the Esquire, and the Tender Trap.  It also features as what is likely the only extant performance footage of Willie Wright, an African-American performer who crossed from the doo-wop and soul music scenes of Chicago’s South Side into the Near-North side’s burgeoning folk music community.  Wright, who gives an incredibly charming and heartfelt performance both on stage and as the film’s protagonist, is a man struggling for respect and survival as an African-American artist in a primarily white musical genre and neighborhood.  He achieved a small amount of recognition in the 1960’s for his folk performances, but quickly fell into obscurity.

I’VE GOT THIS PROBLEM, released in 1966, was a collaborative production of “The Problem Company,” which was comprised of Don Klugman, Ron Clasky, Judy Harris, Josephine Forsberg, and Mike Shea, among others.  The film was formerly distributed by Walter Reade, CCM, and Films Incorporated, won awards at the Cork, Edinburgh, Mannheim, Melbourne, Sydney, and American Film Festivals, and screened in theatrical release in the United States before Peter Watkins’ THE WAR GAME.

I’VE GOT THIS PROBLEM traces the development of a romantic relationship between a young man and woman (played by Klugman and Judy Harris) who meet in a downtown Chicago coffee shop.  Their unconventional attraction to one another is based in their mutual ability to analyze each other’s actions, which range from the quotidian (whether or not to have sugar, and how many lumps, in one’s coffee) to the psycho-sexual (relayed in his remembered Oedipal dreams and her guilt-ridden dates with Ferrari-driving playboys).  The non-stop dialogue between the couple fluctuates between playful psycho-babble and sincere attempts to relay their innermost feelings and sense of displacement in modern society.  The film’s humor is based in their relentless self-analysis and superficial adaptation of the tropes of psychoanalysis, yet this overt criticism of the popularity of psychoanalytic discourse in the mid-century is matched by the ridiculous futility of Klugman and Harris’ attempts to analyze the greater ills of society by means of a conscious turn inward.

YOU’RE PUTTING ME ON, released in 1969, mirrors the same aesthetic style, themes, and criticism of pop-psychoanalysis present in I’VE GOT THIS PROBLEM, and seems to pick up the same couple, again played by Klugman and Harris, a few years into their relationship.  It was also produced by Klugman’s “The Problem Company,” previously distributed by Walter Reade and Radim, won awards at the Cork, Edinburgh, and Sydney Film Festivals, and screened in theatrical release in the United States before Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOWUP.

YOU’RE PUTTING ME ON follows the young couple from a car to the streets of Chicago, and finally into a swinging 1960’s bohemian party - complete with a bearded, pipe-smoking bouncer, scientific-discourse espousing priest, and a meditating “enlightened soul” wearing only sunglasses, underwear, and knee socks.  The couple’s non-stop self-analytical psycho-babble is taken a step further in this film, as they prattle on about their fears of everyday activities such as driving, and the overwhelming complexity of mechanized objects such as lipstick tubes.  YOU’RE PUTTING ME ON pushes Klugman’s comedic commentary on the inability (or unwillingness) of young people to move beyond self-absorption into the realm of political activism to new and outrageous heights.

Klugman, Don (created by)
Don Klugman graduated with a Masters in Cinema at the University of Southern California in 1956. He returned to Chicago and began working as a production assistant at WGN-TV, a writer-producer at EWR&R Advertising and a scriptwriter at Dallas Jones Productions.

In 1960 Don joined Encyclopedia Britannica Films to script their landmark biology/ecology series; and, three years later, when it was nearly complete, he travelled to New York City, to write for McGraw-Hill and ACI Films.

Unhappy with the New York lifestyle and production environment, Don returned to Chicago, where he free-lanced for Fred Niles Studios. During this time he made three short films, NIGHTSONG, I'VE GOT THIS PROBLEM and YOU'RE PUTTING ME ON, that were widely distributed and critically acclaimed. All have been restored with funding from National Film Preservation Foundation grants, and are available from the Chicago Film Archives. In addition, his student films, RIDE THE GOLDEN LADDER and RIDE THE CYCLONE, were preserved with funding from the NFPF.

Don also worked as an actor -- in his own films, at Stagelight Theatre in Wheeling, Illinois, and in the CBS historical drama, If I Should Die. Returning to educational scriptwriting, Don was hired by Coronet, where, in seven years, he wrote nearly a hundred educational film scripts. Thereafter, on an independent basis, Klugman continued to write and produce films for Coronet, Encyclopedia Britannica, Nystrom and FilmFair.

Early in the 1970s Klugman wrote and directed a long-form film that brought back the principal characters of I'VE GOT THIS PROBLEM and YOU'RE PUTTING ME ON. Featuring Chicagoans Judy Harris,, Del Close, Win Stracke, Carl Stohn and Faith Quabius, A MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST was screened as a work print but was not completed. He's now planning to release a digital version.

During the 1980s Don rented space in Britannica's Los Angeles studio, where he produced for both EB and Coronet. His favorite film from this time is CONSUMER ECONOMICS AND YOU, shot at Woodfield Mall, which uses music, dance and fantasy to explain basic economic principles. He also produced the MISSION THIRD PLANET series in which a spaceman and a robot introduce children to life on earth.

As educational AV declined, Don's work transitioned to business education and corporate multimedia. At The Creative Establishment, Chicago, and at Motivation Media, Glenview, he wrote and directed dozens of corporate seminars, exhibitions, sales training and business shows and several significant public service films and videos -- including THE BALANCE SHEET for Illinois Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped.

Currently Klugman teaches filmmaking and communication at Columbia College Chicago.
Custodial History
Michelle Puetz and Andy Uhrich found a print of Nightsong at the Siskel Theater. Later, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago donated the print to CFA. Nancy Watrous contacted Don Klugman about his work, specifically Nightsong, and Puetz became interested in exhibiting and preserving 3 titles from Klugman's early filmmaking days. A grant from the NFPF resulted in the preservation of 3 Klugman titles. All preservation materials remained at CFA and became the Klugman Collection.
Language of Materials
Access Restrictions
This collection is open to on-site access. Appointments must be made with Chicago Film Archives. Due to the fragile nature of the films, only video copies will be provided for on-site viewing.
Use Restrictions
Don Klugman retains the rights to these films. He is agreeable to exhibition if he is notified.
Collection Item
The American Experience: Lifestyles and Roles - Advertisements for Myself
The American Experience: Lifestyles and Roles - Emancipated Women
The American Experience: Lifestyles and Roles - Frontier Family
The American Experience: Lifestyles and Roles - Pictures from the Twenties
The American Experience: Lifestyles and Roles - Spare Time