12 July, 2008

Jack Lemmon



John Uhler "Jack" Lemmon III was a two-time Academy Award winning American actor known principally for his comedic roles. He starred in such legendary classics as Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, Irma La Douce, The Great Race, The Odd Couple, The Out-of-Towners, Glengarry Glen Ross, The China Syndrome, Short Cuts, and JFK.

Lemmon was born in an elevator at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He attended John Ward Elementary School in Newton. He later revealed that he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of eight. Lemmon attended Phillips Academy (Class of 43) and Harvard University (Class of 47), where he was an active member of several Drama Clubs - becoming president of the Hasty Pudding Club. At twenty-two years of age, Lemmon graduated from Harvard University and joined the Navy, received V-12 training and served as an ensign. On being discharged, he took up acting professionally, working on radio, television and Broadway. He studied acting under Uta Hagen. He also became enthused with the piano and learned to play it on his own. He could also play the harmonica and the bass fiddle.

Lemmon's film debut was a bit part as a plasterer/painter in the 1949 film The Lady Takes a Sailor, but he was not noticed until his official debut opposite Judy Holliday in the 1954 comedy, It Should Happen to You. Lemmon worked with many legendary leading ladies of the cinema screen. He worked with Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Judy Holliday, Rita Hayworth, June Allyson, Virna Lisi, Ann Margret, Sophia Loren, Grace Lee Whitney, Kathryn Grant and many, many more. He was also close friends with Tony Curtis, Ernie Kovacs, and Walter Matthau. He made two films with Curtis and a total of eleven films with Matthau.

He became a favorite actor of director Billy Wilder, starring in his films Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Irma La Douce, The Fortune Cookie, Avanti!, The Front Page and Buddy Buddy. Wilder felt Lemmon had a natural tendency toward overacting that had to be tempered; the Wilder biography "Nobody's Perfect" quotes the director as saying: "Lemmon, I would describe him as a ham, a fine ham, and with ham you have to trim a little fat". The same Billy Wilder biography quotes Jack Lemmon as saying: "I am particularly susceptible to the parts I play... If my character was having a nervous breakdown I started to have one".

Lemmon recorded his own album in 1958 while filming Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe. Twelve jazz tracks were created for Lemmon and another twelve tracks were added which were the soundtracks to his 1959 comedy film, Some Like It Hot. Lemmon also played the piano on his Frank Sinatra-type album. He recorded his own versions of Monroe's trademark songs, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I'm Through With Love. These two tracks can be heard on the album, which was eventually released in 1959 and was titled "A Twist of Lemmon/Some Like It Hot".

Lemmon was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1956 for Mister Roberts (1955), and the Best Actor Oscar for Save the Tiger (1973), being the first actor to achieve this double. He was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the controversial film Missing in 1982 and for his role in "Some Like it Hot" in 1959. In 1988, the American Film Institute gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Days of Wine and Roses (1962) was one of his favorite roles. He portrayed Joe Clay, a young, fun-loving alcoholic businessman. In that film, Lemmon delivered the line, "My name is Joe Clay ... I'm an alcoholic." Three and a half decades later, he admitted on the television program, Inside the Actors Studio, that he was not acting when he delivered that line, that he really was a recovering alcoholic at the end of his life.

Throughout his career, Lemmon often appeared in films alongside actor Walter Matthau. They would go on to be one of the most beloved duos in cinema history. Among their pairings was as Felix Unger (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau) in the 1968 film, The Odd Couple. They also starred together in The Fortune Cookie (for which Matthau won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), The Front Page, and Buddy Buddy. In 1971, Lemmon directed Matthau in the comedy Kotch. It was the only movie that Lemmon ever directed, and Matthau was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Additionally, Lemmon and Matthau had small parts in Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK (the only film in which they both appear, but share no screentime). In 1993, the duo teamed up again to star in Grumpy Old Men. The film was a surprise hit, earning the two actors a new generation of young fans. During the rest of the decade, they would go on to star together in Out to Sea, Grumpier Old Men and the widely-panned The Odd Couple II. The only death scene that Lemmon performed was in The China Syndrome in 1979. For this part, he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1982, he won another Cannes award for his performance in Missing (which also received the Palme d'Or). He is currently the only actor other than Marcello Mastroianni to have won it twice.

At the 1998 Golden Globe Awards, he was nominated for "Best Actor in a Made for TV Movie" for his role in Twelve Angry Men. He lost the award to Ving Rhames. After accepting the award, Rhames asked Lemmon to come onstage and in a move that stunned the audience, gave his award to him.

Lemmon was one of the best-liked actors in Hollywood. He is remembered as making time for people, as the actor Kevin Spacey recalled in a tribute. When already regarded as a legend, he met the teenage Spacey backstage after a theater performance and spoke to him about pursuing an acting career. Spacey would later work with Lemmon in the critically acclaimed film Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and on stage in a revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Lemmon's performance even inspired Gil Gunderson, a character on The Simpsons that is modeled on Lemmon's character in the film.

When Lemmon won Best Actor for Save the Tiger, many people had expected Al Pacino to win for his performance in Serpico. Many years later, however, Pacino said that he was glad that Lemmon had won, because he (Pacino) was strung out on drugs that night and wouldn't have been able to have accepted the award. Lemmon and Pacino co-starred in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Jack Lemmon died of colon cancer and metastatic cancer of the bladder on June 27, 2001. He had been fighting the disease, very privately, for two years before his death.

He is interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles, California, where he is buried next to Walter Matthau. In typical Jack Lemmon wit, his gravestone simply reads 'Jack Lemmon — in'.

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