John Uhler "Jack" Lemmon III
(February 8, 1925 – June 27, 2001) was an American actor
known principally for his comedic roles. He starred in such movies as Some Like It Hot
, The Apartment
, Days of Wine and Roses
, Irma La Douce
, The Odd Couple
, The Out-of-Towners
, Glengarry Glen Ross
, The China Syndrome
, and JFK
Lemmon was born in an elevator
at Newton-Wellesley Hospital
, a suburb of Boston
. He was the son of Mildred Burgess LaRue (née
Noel), and John Uhler Lemmon, Jr., who was the president of a doughnut
company. Lemmon 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, among them 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 eleven 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 biography also 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 the film. Lemmon also played the piano and recorded his own versions of Monroe's trademark songs, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I'm Through With Love, for the album, which was released in 1959 as 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), becoming 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 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.
Lemmon's production company JML produced Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Paul Newman was grateful to Lemmon for his support, and offered him the role later made famous by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Lemmon turned it down. He did not like riding horses, and he also felt he'd already played too many aspects of the Sundance Kid's character before.
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 appeared, but shared 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 scenes that Lemmon performed were in The China Syndrome in 1979, and in The Legend of Bagger Vance, where he played uncredited introductory and final scenes. For his part in The China Syndrome, 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, losing 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. (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, decided to have a second award made and sent to Rhames.).
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.
Lemmon was married twice. His son, Chris Lemmon, (b. 1954), was his first child by his first wife, actress Cynthia Stone (b. February 26, 1926, Peoria, Illinois). He is also an actor. His second wife was the western actress Felicia Farr, with whom he had a daughter, Courtney, born in 1966.
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.
Lemmon's son, Chris Lemmon, made several TV shows and movies. He also wrote a book about his father after his death, named A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father.
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'. After Matthau's death in 2000, Lemmon appeared with friends and relatives of the actor on a Larry King Live show in tribute. A year later, many of the same people appeared on the show again to pay tribute to Lemmon.
Awards and nominations
Cannes Film Festival
Golden Globe Awards
Currently, Jack Lemmon holds the record for most Golden Globe
nominations with twenty-two.
- 1959 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - Some Like It Hot
- 1960 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - The Apartment
- 1972 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - Avanti!
- 1991 Cecil B. DeMille Award
- 1993 Best Ensemble Cast - Short Cuts
- 1999 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - Inherit the WindNominations
- 1962 Best Actor, Drama - Days of Wine and Roses
- 1963 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - Irma la Douce
- 1963 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - Under the Yum Yum Tree
- 1965 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - The Great Race
- 1968 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - The Odd Couple
- 1970 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - The Out-of-Towners
- 1973 Best Actor, Drama - Save the Tiger
- 1974 Best Actor, Musical/Comedy - The Front Page
- 1979 Best Actor, Drama - The China Syndrome
- 1980 Best Actor, Drama - Tribute
- 1982 Best Actor, Drama - Missing
- 1986 Best Actor, Comedy/Musical - That's Life!
- 1987 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - Long Day's Journey Into Night
- 1988 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - The Murder of Mary Phagan
- 1989 - Nominated Best Actor, Drama - Dad
- 1993 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - A Life in the Theater
- 1997 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - 12 Angry Men
- 1999 Actor in a Motion Picture Made for TV - Tuesdays with Morrie
- A Twist of Lemmon/Some Like It Hot (1959)
- Piano Selections from Irma La Douce (1963)
- Piano and Vocals (1990)
- Peter and the Wolf (1991)
- Songs and music from Some Like It Hot (2001)
- Death ends a life, not a relationship.
- I won't quit until I get run over by a truck, a producer or a critic.
- Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.
- If you think it's hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.
- It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is.
- Nobody deserves this much money - certainly not an actor.
- Stay humble. Always answer your phone - no matter who else is in the car.
- [on Marilyn Monroe] Difficult? Yes. But she was a wonderful comedienne and she had a charisma like no one before or since.
- [on Judy Holliday] She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn't give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene -- acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met.
- [on Billy Wilder] I've had directors who were marvelous at breaking scenes down and handling people. But when you would string all the pearls together, they wouldn't make a beautiful necklace. But Billy is the kind of picture-maker who can make a beautiful string of pearls. He makes the kind of movies that are classics and last forever.
- [on Walter Matthau] Walter is a helluva actor. The best I've ever worked with.
- Lemmon, Chris (2006). A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.