skip navigation
Jack Lemmon

Jack Lemmon

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (8)

Recent DVDs

 
 

GoodFellas Blu-ray MORE > $14.98 Regularly $14.98 Buy Now

GoodFellas DVD MORE > $5.98 Regularly $5.98 Buy Now blu-ray

The Front Page DVD MORE > $12.98 Regularly $12.98 Buy Now blu-ray

Missing DVD MORE > $9.99 Regularly $9.99 Buy Now blu-ray

Mister Roberts DVD MORE > $19.98 Regularly $19.98 Buy Now blu-ray

JFK: Director's Cut DVD MORE > $5.98 Regularly $5.98 Buy Now blu-ray



Also Known As: John Uhler Lemmon Iii Died: June 27, 2001
Born: February 8, 1925 Cause of Death: complications from cancer
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA Profession: actor, producer, screenwriter, director, piano player

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the most consistently acclaimed actors in motion picture and television history, Jack Lemmon became the first man to win Academy Awards as both Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Mister Roberts" (1955) and Best Actor for "Save the Tiger" (1973). In between and after, Lemmon amassed an envious résumé of credits that included a wide range of comedic and dramatic roles. But most importantly, he enjoyed long-running collaborations with director Billy Wilder and actor Walter Matthau, both of whom helped Lemmon produce some of his finest work. Lemmon first worked with Wilder on the iconic comedy "Some Like it Hot" (1959) before again turning in a high-quality performance in "The Apartment" (1960. He went on to establish his dramatic bona fides with "Days of Wine and Rose" (1962) before starring opposite Matthau in their first partnership "The Fortune Cookie" (1966). But it was their iconic clashing of personalities in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" (1968) that cemented their place as comedy partners in the public's mind. Lemmon went on to a string of critical hits that garnered a number of awards and nominations, including "The China Syndrome" (1979), "Tribute" (1980) and "Missing" (1982). He...

One of the most consistently acclaimed actors in motion picture and television history, Jack Lemmon became the first man to win Academy Awards as both Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Mister Roberts" (1955) and Best Actor for "Save the Tiger" (1973). In between and after, Lemmon amassed an envious résumé of credits that included a wide range of comedic and dramatic roles. But most importantly, he enjoyed long-running collaborations with director Billy Wilder and actor Walter Matthau, both of whom helped Lemmon produce some of his finest work. Lemmon first worked with Wilder on the iconic comedy "Some Like it Hot" (1959) before again turning in a high-quality performance in "The Apartment" (1960. He went on to establish his dramatic bona fides with "Days of Wine and Rose" (1962) before starring opposite Matthau in their first partnership "The Fortune Cookie" (1966). But it was their iconic clashing of personalities in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" (1968) that cemented their place as comedy partners in the public's mind. Lemmon went on to a string of critical hits that garnered a number of awards and nominations, including "The China Syndrome" (1979), "Tribute" (1980) and "Missing" (1982). He delivered fine turns in "JFK" (1991) and "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992) before finding surprising commercial success alongside Matthau with "Grumpy Old Men" (1993) and "Grumpier Old Men" (1995). Though the pair faltered with "Out to Sea" (1997) and the ill-advised sequel "The Odd Couple II" (1998), Lemmon gave searing performances on the small screen in "12 Angry Men" (Showtime, 1997) and "Tuesdays with Morrie" (ABC, 1999), proving that his considerable gifts became more refined with age.

Born on Feb. 8, 1925 in Boston, MA, Lemmon was raised by his father, John, the president of Doughnut Corporation of America, and his mother, Mildred, a homemaker. At four years old, he had his first stage experience in an amateur production of "Gold in Them Thar Hills." A sickly child - he had three major ear surgeries by the time he was 10 - Lemmon took up cross-country running to alleviate his frail health and went on to eventually break the New England record for the two-mile. Meanwhile, he attended the prestigious Phillips Academy where he dove head-long into drama, which carried over throughout his tenure at Harvard University. Though a relatively poor student at Harvard, Lemmon nonetheless excelled in drama and music, and even managed to become president of the school's famed Hasty Pudding social club. He took time off in 1945 to join the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II, serving as a communication officer before returning to the Ivy League school to graduate in 1947. Lemmon received an offer from his father to enter into the doughnut business, but instead turned him down to make his way as an actor.

After receiving some money and the blessing from his parents, Lemmon moved to New York City, where he struggled for a solid year to find work. He wound up waiting tables and put his piano-playing skills to use as master of ceremonies at the Old Nick Saloon, which boasted an employee roster that also included future stars Maureen Stapleton and Cliff Robertson. Lemmon eventually broke into show business in the late 1940s with running parts on several radio soap operas, while also performing in off-Broadway productions. Meanwhile, he produced and acted in three short-lived television series - "That Wonderful Guy" (ABC, 1950), "Ad Libbers" (CBS, 1951) and "Heaven for Betsy" (CBS, 1952) - with first wife, Cynthia Stone, before making his Broadway debut in "Room Service" (1953). That performance led to a contract with Columbia, which launched his film career with a pair of Judy Holliday pictures, George Cukor's "It Should Happen to You" (1954) and Mark Robson's "Phfft!" (1954). Lemmon's fourth picture, "Mister Roberts" (1955), cast him as the opportunistic Ensign Pulver opposite Henry Fonda and William Powell in a role that brought him not only prominence, but the first of his two Academy Awards after winning for Best Supporting Actor.

Lemmon soon enhanced his reputation in three films for director Richard Quinine - "My Sister Eileen" (1955), "Operation Mad Ball" (1957) and "Bell, Book and Candle" (1958) - before joining forces with the man who arguably had the greatest influence on his career, director Billy Wilder. Wilder employed to perfection Lemmon's high level of nervous, sometimes jittery energy in the part of an out-of-work musician who goes on the lam from the Chicago mob in drag with a fellow high-heeled musician (Tony Curtis) in the delirious comic masterpiece "Some Like It Hot" (1959). Also starring Marilyn Monroe as the seemingly unattainable object of their affections, the film was a huge moneymaker that year and raked in a number of award nominations, including a nod for Lemmon as Best Actor at the Academy Awards. It is often cited by critics as the greatest comedy of all time. After starring in the romantic comedy "It Happened to Jane" (1959) opposite Doris Day, Lemmon reunited with Wilder for arguably their greatest collaboration, "The Apartment" (1960), a comedic drama in which he played C.C. Baxter a mild-mannered insurance clerk who moves up the corporate ladder after loaning out his apartment for his superiors to carry out their extramarital affairs. While he manages to earn his promotion, Baxter tries to pursue the object of his desire, the elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine), only to learn she's the mistress of the CEO (Fred MacMurray). Despite earning negative press for its themes of infidelity, "The Apartment" was nonetheless a big box office hit and earned several Academy Awards, though Lemmon failed to win after being nominated for Best Actor.

Periodically returning to Broadway, Lemmon starred in "Face of a Hero!" (1960) before taking a turn to darker dramatic territory in "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962), director Blake Edwards' study of a marriage undone by alcoholism. Also starring Lee Remick as Lemmon's wife, the film earned respectable box office numbers and was hailed as one of Edwards' finest works, while Lemmon delivered one of the best performances of his career and earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. After rejoining Wilder and MacLaine for the comedy "Irma la Douce" (1963), he made his last film with director Richard Quine, "How to Murder Your Wife" (1965), a comedy in which he was a wealthy cartoonist who gets drunk and marries a beautiful Italian woman (Virna Lisi) he later tries to get rid of to please his disappointed fans. Lemmon worked for the first time with good friend and frequent collaborator Walter Matthau on "The Fortune Cookie" (1966), a Billy Wilder comedy about a CBS cameraman (Lemmon) injured while covering a game on the field, who is convinced by his scheming lawyer brother (Matthau) to fake a serious injury for the insurance money. Though Lemmon was the star, Matthau delivered a standout performance that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Because their screen chemistry was immediately obvious, Lemmon and Matthau soon teamed up for arguably their most definitive vehicle, director Gene Saks' screen adaptation of Neil Simon's hit play "The Odd Couple" (1968). Though Lemmon's part as the finicky Felix Unger was originally coveted by Matthau, who went on to play the slovenly Oscar Madison, the two both inhabited their roles so perfectly that audiences expected a similar juxtaposition of opposites and resultant repartee from later Lemmon/Matthau pictures. After starring opposite Catherine Deneuve in the romantic comedy "April Fools" (1969), Lemmon earned a Golden Globe for his performance as a middle-aged husband from Ohio who experiences a series of mishaps with his wife (Sandy Dennis) while in New York City for a job interview in Neil Simon's "The Out-of-Towners" (1969). He next directed his one and only film, "Kotch" (1971), which snared Matthau a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as an elderly widower who runs away to avoid his family putting him in a home. As the star of the variety special "Jack Lemmon in 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous 'S Gershwin" (NBC, 1972), Lemmon won an Emmy for his performance in this musical tribute to the songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin.

Continuing to essay one role after another, Lemmon pushed to make "Save the Tiger" (1973) despite it limited commercial potential because of its bleak portrayal of a businessman who finds himself mentally collapsing after the failure of his clothing company. While the prospects of bad box office came true, Lemmon delivered one of his most gripping dramatic performances of his career and earned an Oscar for Best Actor - the first actor to win in both that category and for Best Supporting Actor. He returned to Billy Wilder comedies for "The Front Page" (1974), playing an ace reporter working for a ruthless newspaper editor tasked with uncovering political corruption in Chicago. Lemmon went on to play an out-of-work ad man living off the income generated by his wife (Anne Bancroft) in the screen adaptation of the lesser Neil Simon play "Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1974). Back on the small screen, he received an Emmy nomination for his work in "The Entertainer" (NBC, 1975), before making an ill-advised appearance in the rather implausible, all-star disaster sequel "Airport '77" (1977). Meanwhile, Lemmon found himself back on Broadway as a press agent dying of cancer in "Tribute" (1978), a role he reprised for the 1980 film adaptation which earned him yet another Academy Award nomination.

Prior to his leading role in "Tribute," Lemmon played a quick-thinking nuclear plant engineer who investigates a meltdown with fluff TV news reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) in the gripping political thriller, "The China Syndrome" (1979). Once again, he earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Following a rather underwhelming reunion with Matthau and Wilder on "Buddy Buddy" (1981), Lemmon played a Christian Scientist father who searches for his missing son during the first days of Pinochet's Chile in Costa Gavras' well-received political drama, "Missing" (1982), which again propelled the actor to another Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Following turns in "Mass Appeal" (1984) and "Macaroni" (1985), he ventured back to Broadway to star as James Tyrone in a production of the Eugene O'Neill play "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1986), a role he reprised for Showtime's 1987 small screen adaption, which marked his first collaboration with friend Kevin Spacey. As the decade progressed, Lemmon began taking more television roles, including the lead in "The Murder of Mary Phagan" (NBC, 1988), which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor.

After a critically acclaimed turn as a father recovering from a heart attack in "Dad" (1989), Lemmon continued to display his versatility and capabilities throughout the 1990s. He delivered an excellent turn as private investigator Jack Martin, who is gripped by fear of what he knows in Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1991). Lemmon followed up with one of his more memorable performances, playing down-and-out salesman Shelley "The Machine" Levene in the excellent adaption of David Mamet's blistering, curse-laden play "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992), a role that proved he still carried a considerable degree of dramatic heft and could keep up line-for-line with his much younger co-stars. Following a supporting role in Robert Altman's ensemble drama "Short Cuts" (1993), Lemmon scored a surprise commercial success opposite Matthau in "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), which reinvigorated both their careers and spawned the more financially successful, but also more critically maligned sequel "Grumpier Old Men" (1995). Lemmon next starred opposite Matthau in the well-acted adaptation of the Truman Capote novel, "The Grass Harp" (1996), directed by Charles Matthau, before scuttling any proposal for "Grumpiest Old Men" following their failure with "Out to Sea" (1997).

Lemmon continued delivering powerhouse dramatic performances with his Emmy-nominated turn as the dedicated, appraising Juror #8 in the remake of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime, 1997), directed by William Friedkin. At the 1998 Golden Globe Awards, he lost Best Actor in a Made for TV Movie" to Ving Rhames, but after accepting the award, Rhames asked Lemmon to come on stage and, in a move that stunned the audience, graciously gave his award to his acting hero. While awkward for Lemmon, who appeared touched but not sure what to do, it made for one of the ceremonies' most famous moments. Perhaps hoping to simultaneously build off the success of "Grumpy Old Men" while trying to recapture past glory, Lemmon and Matthau reprised their most iconic roles of Felix and Oscar for the critical and commercial failure "The Odd Couple II" (1998). Sadly, this dud proved to be the last time the two appeared onscreen together. Meanwhile, Lemmon's squaring off against George C. Scott's hot-tempered Juror #3 in "12 Angry Men" was so electric that Showtime tried to catch lightning in a bottle and cast the pair in a remake of "Inherit the Wind" (1999), only to produce underwhelming, but nonetheless well-acted results. With retirement out of the question for the hardworking actor, Lemmon christened the new millennium with a cameo in Robert Redford's "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (2000), before inspiring both empathy and awe as the irrepressible Morrie Schwartz, who is stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease and confined to a wheelchair in "Tuesdays with Morrie" (ABC, 1999). The role finally earned him his first Emmy Award since 1972, winning for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. Meanwhile, Lemmon suffered grave personal loss when old friend Walter Matthau died in July 2000 from colon cancer. Ironically, Lemmon followed almost a year later, also dying from colon cancer on June 27, 2001. He was 76.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Kotch (1971) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Tuesdays With Morrie (1999) Morrie Schwartz
2.
 Forever Hollywood (1999) Himself
3.
 Inherit the Wind (1999) Henry Drummond
4.
 Neil Simon's Odd Couple II (1998) Felix Ungar
5.
 Long Way Home, The (1998) Tom Gerrin
7.
 12 Angry Men (1997) Juror No 8
8.
 Puppies For Sale (1997)
9.
 Out to Sea (1997) Herb
10.
 My Fellow Americans (1996) Russell P Kramer
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1929:
Made stage debut at age four with his father in an amateur production of "Gold in Them Thar Hills" (date approximate)
:
A sickly child, he underwent three painful ear surgeries before age 10; took up cross-country running with such determination that he eventually broke the New England record for the two-mile
1945:
Served as communications officer (ensign) with the US Naval Reserve
1947:
Played piano at Old Nick Saloon in New York City
:
Performed with New England stock company on radio and in Off-Broadway productions; produced and acted in three short-lived TV series with first wife Cynthia Stone ("That Wonderful Guy" ABC, 1950; "Ad Libbers" CBS, 1951; "Heaven for Betsy" CBS, 1952)
1952:
Founded Jalem Production Company
1953:
Broadway debut as Leo Davis in "Room Service"
1954:
Film acting debut in "It Should Happen to You", directed by George Cukor
1955:
First of six films with director Richard Quine, "My Sister Eileen" (screenplay by Quine and Blake Edwards); had actually done a film with Quine ("Extra Dollars") the year before for the United States Treasury Department
1955:
Won Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Ensign Pulver in his fourth movie, "Mister Roberts"
1957:
Acted in "Fire Down Below" and received credit as a song performer for the harmonica theme
1959:
First film with director Billy Wilder, "Some Like It Hot"; received first Best Actor Academy Award nomination
1960:
Attempted to climb corporate ladder by loaning his apartment key to various executives for their trysts in Wilder's "The Apartment"; earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination
1962:
Appeared as Lee Remick's husband who pulls her into alcoholism in Blake Edwards' "Days of Wine and Roses", his first major dramatic film role; garnered another Best Actor Academy Award nomination
1964:
Last film with Quine, "How to Murder Your Wife"
1965:
Reteamed with Edwards for "The Great Race"
1966:
First film opposite Walter Matthau, "The Fortune Cookie"
1967:
Executive produced "Cool Hand Luke", starring Paul Newman
1968:
Reteamed with Matthau for their definitive vehicle, Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple"
1970:
Starred opposite Sandy Dennis in "The Out of Towners", scripted by Simon
1971:
Directed feature film "Kotch", starring Matthau and Lemmon's second wife Felicia Farr
1972:
Hosted the acclaimed NBC variety special "Jack Lemmon in 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin"; received Emmy Award
1972:
Received a Golden Globe Award for his comic performance in Wilder's underrated "Avanti!"
1973:
Won second Oscar as Best Actor for his down and out salesman in "Save the Tiger"
1975:
Played Archie Rice in NBC TV version of John Osborne's "The Entertainer" at the urging of Laurence Olivier, who had created the role on stage and film; received Emmy nomination
1978:
Created the role of Scottie Templeton in Broadway production of Bernard Slade's "Tribute"; reprised part in 1980 film version for which he earned an Oscar nomination and also co-wrote the song "It's All for the Best" with Alan Jay Lerner; reteamed with Remick in film
1979:
Starred as dedicated plant executive in "The China Syndrome", a heartpounding drama about an attempted cover-up of an accident at California nuclear plant; nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award
1981:
Wrote screenplay for "Track Two", a documentary feature
1981:
Starred with Matthau in seventh and last film with Wilder, "Buddy Buddy"; also Wilder's last film
1982:
Portrayed stiff-backed Ed Horman searching for his missing son in Costa-Gavras' "Missing"; again garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination
1986:
Returned to Broadway as James Tyrone in revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night"; reprised role for 1987 Showtime TV version; first association with actor Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher
1987:
Inducted into Television Academy Hall of Fame
1988:
Reunited with Spacey and Gallagher in the NBC miniseries "The Murder of Mary Phagan"
1989:
Appeared in title role of "Dad", co-starring Spacey
1991:
Delivered a nice turn as private investigator Jack Martin in Oliver Stone's "JFK"
1992:
Offered totally credible turn as the loser in an office full of desperate real estate salesmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross"; Spacey also in cast
1993:
Scored huge commercial success with Matthau in "Grumpy Old Men"
1995:
Sequel "Grumpier Old Men" proved an even bigger hit than its precursor
1996:
Directed by Matthau's son Charles in "The Grass Harp", adapted from the Truman Capote book
1997:
Ninth feature with Matthau, "Out to Sea"
1997:
Played Juror 8 in TV remake of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime); ensemble cast included Goerge C Scott
1998:
Reteamed with Simon and Matthau for "The Odd Couple II"; tenth feature collaboration with Matthau
1999:
Portrayed Henry Drummond to Scott's Matthew Harrison Brady in the Showtime remake of "Inherit the Wind"; Scott a few years prior had played Drummond to Charles Durning's Brady on Broadway
1999:
Played Morrie Schwartz in "Tuesdays with Morrie", an ABC movie executive produced by Oprah Winfrey; garnered Emmy Award
2000:
Appeared in cameo and served as narrator of "The Legend of Bagger Vance"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Rivers County School: Chestnut Hill , Massachusetts -
Phillips Andover Academy: Andover , Massachusetts - 1943
Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts - 1947
Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts - 1947

Notes

He was an honoree for the annual tribute from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1993.

Lemmon received the Spencer Tracy Award from UCLA in 2000.

"When I read a script, if I don't know how to play the part, I'll get excited and want to do it. Good writing is harder to play because there are depths, and it's delicious hell to decide which depths you're going to bring out. Eighty percent of acting is that delicious hell of finding out who the guy is. The rest is execution--letting somebody else know what you already know ... Usually it's two, three, four weeks into a movie before you find the guy. All of a sudden you come out of a scene and you say, 'I've got him.' You know him. Then you paint on the rest of the face and say, 'There he is.' But if I know how to play it, then it's very surface stuff, very simple. It's 3B, 4H; I've done it a dozen times." --Jack Lemmon quoted in "The Films of Jack Lemmon" by Joe Baltake (Citadel Press, 1977).

On his relationship with Walter Matthau: "Well, we're very, very close. We always have been from the first film we did together. Our wives immediately hit it off just as we did. The working relationship was heaven because we were always on the same wavelength and we never got off it. So, it's just sort of like sitting down and chatting with each other when we rehearse--there's nothing to it. We just run the lines a couple of times and say, 'Let's go.'" --Lemmon in Daily News, October 6, 1996.

During the 1998 telecast of the Golden Globe Awards, winner Ving Rhames (for HBO's "Don King: Only in America") called fellow nominee Lemmon (for Showtime's "12 Angry Men") onstage and in an expression of admiration for the actor presented him with the award. A flustered Lemmon didn't quite know what to make of the matter but accepted. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) later announced that Lemmon could retain the trophy although he would not be sent a plaque to attach, indicating he had won. The HFPA intended to send a trophy with plaque to Ving Rhames, the rightful recipient.

About those 1998 Golden Globes Awards: "The only thing I remember is, when I passed Jack Nicholson, he said, 'Give it to me! Give it to me!' I didn't know what in hell he was talking about." --Lemmon quoted in People, May 18, 1998.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Cynthia Boyd Stone. Actor. Married on May 7, 1950; divorced in 1956; mother of Lemmon's son Chris; later married Cliff Robertson.
wife:
Felicia Farr. Actor. Married on August 17, 1962; Lemmon directed her in "Kotch" (1971), and she played a small role in "That's Life" (1986); they also made cameo appearances as themselves in "The Player" (1992); mother of Lemmon's daughter Courtney.

Family close complete family listing

father:
John Uhler Lemmon Jr. Executive. President of Doughnut Corporation of America.
mother:
Mildred LaRue Lemmon. Described by son as "Tallulah Bankhead on a road show"; used to hang out with her girlfriends at Boston's Ritz Bar and tried to have her creamtion ashes placed on the bar, but management refused.
son:
Chris Lemmon. Actor, writer, producer. Born on January 22, 1954; mother, Cynthia Stone; has acted in films featuring his father including "That's Life!" (1986) and "Dad" (1989); has also acted on the TV series "Knots Landing" (CBS), "Duet" and "Open House" (both Fox).
daughter:
Courtney Lemmon. Born c. 1966; mother, Felicia Farr; runs a charitable foundation endowed by her father; married to Joel McCrea's son Peter.
grandson:
Christopher Boyd Lemmon. Born on April 3, 1994; father, Chris Lemmon.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute