Jack Lemmon (1925-2001)

Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon
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Jack Lemmon was a popular, award winning actor who appeared in many movies during his long career, in several different genres ranging from zany comedies like the classic 'Some Like It Hot', and 'The Apartment', to serious dramatic roles as in 'Missing' and 'The China Syndrome'. He was a talented performer whom other professional liked to work with and he formed productive partnerships with director Billy Wilder, and actor Walter Matthau, with whom he made eight movies.

He was nominated for Academy Awards on eight occasions, and was the first man to win 'the set', winning, first the Best supporting Actor Award in 1955 for his performance in 'Mr. Roberts' and then the Best Actor Award in 1973 for 'Save the Tiger'. He also won the Cannes Film Festival's best actor award for "The China Syndrome" and "Missing." In 1988, he received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.


He was born John Uhler Lemmon III in Newton, Boston, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1925. His father was the vice-president of sales at a bakery company which specialised in making doughnuts. The family were very wealthy and Lemmon's early life was very comfortable. Young Lemmon attended a series of expensive private schools in New England but proved a poor student.

His father's money enabled him to enter Harvard University in 1943, where he found his true metier in the performing arts, particularly in music - he was a very accomplished self-taught pianist. He also discovered his talent for acting, which led to his becoming an active member of several Drama Clubs and President of the famous Hasty Pudding Club, writing and performing in its annual shows. In 1946 he interrupted his education to serve for three months as an ensign in the Naval Reserve. After the war he returned to Harvard, eventually graduating in 1947.

Professional Actor 1947

Jack's father had long hoped for his son to enter the world of business, but when it became clear that Jack's ambition and skills lay elsewhere, he accepted the inevitable and loaned Jack money to start him off as an actor in New York.

Jack studied under the influential acting teacher, Uta Hagen and in the late 1940's began getting regular acting jobs in radio, theater, and television, initially augmenting his income by playing piano in clubs and for silent movies.

He quickly became well known as a skilful, dependable actor and by the early 1950's he had appeared in many live radio and TV shows such as 'Studio 1' in 1949 and 'Robert Montgomery Presents' in 1953. He appeared in the 1953 Broadway revival of 'Room Service' and although the production only had a short run of 16 performances, Lemmon's talent stood out and later in the year Hollywood, and Columbia Pictures in particular, began to take a serious interest in the young actor.

Hollywood Career 1954

He made his movie debut in 1954 in Columbia's comic hit 'It Should Happen to You', directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Holliday. He received positive reviews and after it he signed a seven year contract with Columbia. It marked the start of a long and successful movie career.

In 1955, in only his fourth movie he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant performance as the opportunistic Ensign Pulver in 'Mister Roberts', acting alongside James Cagney and Henry Fonda. He continued to enhance his acting reputation in three films with director Richard Quinine during the 1950's, 'My Sister Eileen' in 1955, 'Operation Mad Ball' in 1957 and 'Bell, Book and Candle' the following year.

Hollywood Star 1959

He went on to establish himself as one of Hollywood's finest acting talents particularly with his two most creative partnerships, firstly with with director Billy Wilder and then with actor Walter Matthau. He appeared in two comic masterpieces directed by Wilder, the classic 'Some Like It Hot' in 1959, co-starring Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, and 'The Apartment' in 1960 with Shirley Maclaine. He was nominated for the Academy Best Actor Award for both movies.

Wilder again teamed him up with Shirley Maclaine in 'Irma la Douce' in 1963 and in 1966 paired him for the first time with the other great creative partner in his career, Walter Matthau in 'The Fortune Cookie', and later in 'The Front Page' in 1974. He and Matthau were good friends and their screen chemistry was immediately obvious. In 1968 they teamed again for the screen adaptation of Neil Simon's 'The Odd Couple'. Their styles complimented each other perfectly - Lemmon's nervy, neurotic Felix Unger, and Matthau's laid-back, slobbish Oscar Madison. Matthau figured in Lemmon's only venture into directing when, in 1971 he was directed by Lemmon in 'Kotch' for which Matthau received a nomination for the Best Actor Oscar.

Although best known and remembered for his comedic roles, Lemmon was also a very able dramatic actor. He got rave reviews for his first major dramatic part in 1963 in Blake Edwards's study of an alcoholic marriage, 'Days of Wine and Roses', and he played a pitiable middle-aged businessman in 'Save the Tiger' in 1973, for which he won the Academy Best Actor Award. He also gave two of his best performances in the political thrillers - 'The China Syndrome' in 1979 and 'Missing' in 1982 - each of which earned him a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Lemmon returned to his acting roots on Broadway at various times during his career. In 1960 in 'Face of a Hero!', 'Tribute' in 1978 and the difficult role of James Tyrone in O'Neill's 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' in 1986. During the 1990's, although his pace slowed, he continued to give excellent performances in smaller roles in such films as Oliver Stone's 'JFK' in 1991, 'Glengarry Glen Ross' the following year and 'Short Cuts' in 1993.

He continued his partnership with Walter Matthau in the successful 'Grumpy Old Men' in 1993 and the sequel 'Grumpier Old Men' two years later. The pair also made the less successful 'Out to Sea' in 1997 and 'The Odd Couple II' in 1998. Lemmon continued to work through the late 1990's with appearances in 'Getting Away With Murder in 1996, 'Forever Hollywood' in 1999 and Robert Redford's 'The Legend Of Bagger Vance' in 2000. His final appearance in a television movie was in 1999 in 'Tuesdays with Morrie' for which he won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor.


Lemmon married twice, firstly in 1950 to actress Cynthia Stone with whom he had a son, Chris, and the second time, from 1962 until his death in 2001, to actress Felicia Farr, with whom he had a daughter, Courtney.

Lemmon had an alcohol addiction which he successfully managed to hide from the media until he went public in 1998. The following year he was diagnosed with colon and bladder cancer.

Jack Lemmon died on June 27, 2001 at the age of 76. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California. The inscription on his headstone reads: "Jack Lemmon - in".

Jack Lemmon Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Best Actor ... Missing (1982))
Best Supporting Actor ... Mister Roberts (1955)

Six Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... Some Like It Hot (1959)
Best Actor ... The Apartment (1960)
Best Actor ... Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Best Actor ... Save the Tiger (1973)
Best Actor ... The China Syndrome (1979)
Best Actor ... Tribute (1980)


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Jack Lemmon Filmography

It Should Happen to You
Three for the Show
Mister Roberts
My Sister Eileen
You Can't Run Away from It
Fire Down Below
Operation Mad Ball
Bell Book and Candle
Some Like It Hot
It Happened to Jane
The Apartment
Le voyage en ballon (voice)
The Wackiest Ship in the Army
The Notorious Landlady
Days of Wine and Roses
Irma la Douce
Under the Yum Yum Tree
Good Neighbor Sam
How to Murder Your Wife
The Great Race
Meet Whiplash Willie
There Comes a Day
The Odd Couple
The April Fools
The Out of Towners
Kotch (uncredited)
The War Between Men and Women
Save the Tiger
The Front Page
The Prisoner of Second Avenue
La polizia ha le mani legate (voice)
Alex & the Gypsy
Airport '77
The China Syndrome