Jack Lemmon

John Uhler Lemmon III (February 8, 1925 – June 27, 2001) was an American actor who was nominated for an Oscar eight times, winning twice. He starred in over 60 films, such as Mister Roberts (1955, for which he won the year's Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Irma la Douce (1963), The Great Race (1965), The Odd Couple (1968, and its sequel The Odd Couple II (1998), both with frequent co-star Walter Matthau), Save the Tiger (1973, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor), The China Syndrome (1979), Missing (1982), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).

Jack Lemmon
Lemmon in 1968
John Uhler Lemmon III

(1925-02-08)February 8, 1925
DiedJune 27, 2001(2001-06-27) (aged 76)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Alma materHarvard College (1947)
OccupationActor, musician
Years active1949–2001
Cynthia Stone
(m. 1950; div. 1956)

Felicia Farr (m. 1962)
Children2, including Chris Lemmon
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1945–1946
Rank Ensign[1]
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life

Lemmon was born on February 8, 1925, in an elevator at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts.[2] He was the only child of Mildred Burgess LaRue and John Uhler Lemmon, Jr., the president of the Doughnut Corporation of America.[3][4] John Uhler Lemmon II was of Irish heritage, and his son was raised Catholic.[5] His parents had a difficult marriage, and separated permanently when Lemmon was 18, but never divorced.[2][6] He attended John Ward Elementary School in Newton and the Rivers School in Weston, Massachusetts. Often unwell as a child, Lemmon had three significant operations on his ears before he turned 10.[7] He had spent two years in hospital by the time he turned 12.[8]

During his acceptance of his lifetime achievement award, he stated that he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of eight. He began to act in school productions.[9] Lemmon attended Rivers Country Day School and Phillips Andover Academy (Class of 1943), where he pursued track sports with success, and Harvard College (Class of 1947), where he lived in Eliot House[3][10] At Harvard, he was president of the Hasty Pudding Club and vice-president of Dramatic and Delphic Clubs. Except for drama and music, however, he was an unexceptional student.[2] Forbidden to act in theatres, Lemmon broke Harvard rules to appear in roles using pseudonyms like Timothy Orange.[11]

He was also a member of the V-12 Navy College Training Program and Lemmon was commissioned by the United States Navy,[5] serving briefly as an ensign on an aircraft carrier during World War II before returning to Harvard after completing his military service.[12] After graduation with a degree in War Service Sciences[13] in 1947,[14] he studied acting under coach Uta Hagen at HB Studio[15] in New York City.[5] He was a pianist, who became devoted to the instrument aged 14 and learned to play by ear.[3][8] For about a year in New York City, he worked unpaid as a waiter and master of ceremonies at the Old Knick bar on Second Avenue.[2] He also played the piano at the venue.[16]


1949–1965: Early years

Lemmon became a professional actor, working on radio and Broadway.[5] His film debut was a bit part as a plasterer in the film The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949),[17] but he was already appearing in television shows, which numbered about 400 from 1948 to 1953.[7]

Lemmon believed his stage career was about to take off when he was appearing on Broadway for the first time in a 1953 revival of the comedy Room Service, but the production closed after two weeks.[18] Despite this setback, he was spotted by talent scout Max Arnow, who was then working for Columbia, and Lemmon's focus shifted to films and Hollywood.[3] Columbia's head Harry Cohn wanted to change Lemmon's name, in case it was used to describe the quality of the actor's films, but he successfully resisted.[19]

His first role as a leading man was in the comedy It Should Happen to You (1954), which also featured the established Judy Holliday in the female lead. Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times described Lemmon as possessing "a warm and appealing personality. The screen should see more of him."[20] The two leads soon reunited in Phffft (also 1954).[21] Kim Novak had a secondary role as a brief love interest for Lemmon's character.[22] "If it wasn't for Judy, I'm not sure I would have concentrated on films", he told The Washington Post in 1986 saying early in his career he had a snobbish attitude towards films over the stage.[23] He managed to negotiate a contract with Columbia allowing him leeway to pursue other projects, some of the terms of which he said "nobody had gotten before".[24] He signed a seven-year contract, but ended staying with Columbia for ten years.[11] Lemmon's appearance as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), with James Cagney and Henry Fonda, for Warner Bros. gained Lemmon the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Director John Ford decided to cast Lemmon after seeing his Columbia screen test, which had been directed by Richard Quine. At an impromptu meeting on the studio lot, Ford persuaded the actor to appear in the film, although Lemmon did not realise he was in conversation with Ford at the time.[7]

In the military farce Operation Mad Ball (1957) set in a U.S. Army base in France after World War II, Lemmon played a calculating private.[22] He met comedian Ernie Kovacs, who co-starred, and they became close friends, appearing together in two subsequent films, as a warlock in Bell, Book and Candle (1958, a film he apparently disliked)[24] and It Happened to Jane (1959), all three under the direction of Richard Quine. Lemmon starred in six films directed by Quine.[11] The others were My Sister Eileen (1955), The Notorious Landlady (1962) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965).

Lemmon worked with Billy Wilder on seven films. Their association began with the director's Some Like It Hot (1959), with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.[6] His role required him to perform 80% of the role in drag. People who knew his mother, Millie Lemmon, said he had mimicked her personality and even her hairstyle.[2] The critic Pauline Kael said he was "demoniacally funny" in the part.[3] The sequence of films with Wilder continued with The Apartment (1960) and Irma la Douce (1963), in which Lemmon co-starred with Shirley MacLaine. He was Oscar nominated for his roles in Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. MacLaine, observing the director's relationship with his male lead, believed it amounted to "professional infatuation".[3]

Lemmon's first role in a film directed by Blake Edwards was in Days of Wine and Roses (1962) portraying Joe Clay, a young alcoholic businessman. The role, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, was one of Lemmon's favorite roles. By this time, he had appeared in 15 comedies, a western and an adventure film. "The movie people put a label attached to your big toe — 'light comedy' — and that's the only way they think of you", he commented in an interview during 1984. "I knew damn well I could play drama. Things changed following Days of Wine and Roses. That was as important a film as I've ever done."[3] Days of Wine and Roses was the first film where Lemmon was involved with production of the film via his Jalam production company.[25] Lemmon's association with Edwards continued with The Great Race (1965), which reunited him with Tony Curtis. His salary this time was $1 million, but the film did not return its large budget at the box-office.[26]

1966–1978: Mid-career

In Wilder's The Fortune Cookie (1966), Lemmon first worked with actor Walter Matthau, which the British critic, Philip French, described as their "one truly great film".[27] Another nine films with them co-starring eventually followed.[7] Lemmon's production company Jalem produced Cool Hand Luke (1967) with Paul Newman in the lead.[8] Newman, in gratitude, offered him the role of the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Lemmon turned it down.[28]

The best known Lemmon-Matthau film is The Odd Couple (1968), based on the Neil Simon play, with the lead characters being the mismatched Felix Ungar (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau), respectively neurotical and cynical.[29] The much admired comedy Kotch (1971), the only film Lemmon directed,[8] starred Matthau who was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. The Out-of-Towners (1970) was another Neil Simon scripted film in which Lemmon appeared.

Lemmon starred with Juliet Mills in Avanti! (1972) and appeared with Matthau in The Front Page (1974). Both films were directed by Wilder. He 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." Wilder though also once said: "Happiness is working with Jack Lemmon".[19]

Lemmon in Save the Tiger (1973) plays Harry Stoner, a businessman in the garment trade who finds someone to commit arson by burning down his warehouse to avoid bankruptcy.[3][8] The project was rejected by multiple studios, but Paramount was prepared to make the film if it was budgeted for only $1 million. Lemmon was so keen to play the part that he worked for union scale, then $165 a week.[18] The role was demanding, like the character Lemmon came close to breaking point: "I started to crack as the character did," he recalled. "I just kept getting deeper and deeper into the character's despair."[7] For this film, Lemmon won the Best Actor Oscar. Having won the Best Supporting actor Academy Award for Mister Roberts, he became the first actor to achieve a double, although Helen Hayes had achieved this feat three years earlier in the equivalent female categories.[3]

1979–2001: Later career

Lemmon was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in The China Syndrome (1979), for which he was also awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.[30] In Tribute, a stage drama first performed in 1979, he played a press agent who has cancer while trying to mend his relationship with his son. The Broadway production ran for 212 performances, but it gained mixed reviews. Nevertheless, Lemmon was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.[6] For his role in the 1980 film version, Lemmon gained another Oscar nomination.[31]

His final Oscar nomination was for Missing (1982), as a conservative father whose son has vanished in Chile during the period the country was under the rule of Augusto Pinochet, he won another Cannes award for his performance.[6] A contemporary failure was his last film with Billy Wilder, Buddy Buddy (1981). Lemmon's character attempts suicide in a hotel while a hitman (Matthau) in the next suite.[32] Another flop at the box-office was his final film with Blake Edwards, another of his friends, was That's Life! (1986) in which he appeared in the director's self-autobiographical part with Edwards' wife, Julie Andrews. A seductress role was played by Lemmon's wife, Felicia Farr.[8] His later career is said to have been affected by other bad choices, such as Mass Appeal (1984), about a conservative Catholic priest, Macaroni (1985), a tale about old Army friends with Marcello Mastroianni, and That's Life.[11] Lemmon received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1988.

Lemmon was nominated for a Tony Award the second and last time for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1986;[33] Lemmon had taken the lead role of James Tyrone in a production directed by Jonathan Miller.[23] It had a London run in 1987, Lemmon's first theatre work in the city, and a television version followed. A return to London in 1989 for the anti-war play Veterans' Day, with Michael Gambon, was poorly received by critics and, following modest audiences, soon closed.[8][19] As well as the production of Long Day's Journey Into Night, Lemmon also worked with Kevin Spacey in the films The Murder of Mary Phagan (1987), Dad (1989), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).

Lemmon and Matthau had small parts in Oliver Stone's film, JFK (1991) in which both men appeared without sharing screen time.[34] The duo reunited in Grumpy Old Men (1993). The film was a surprise hit. Later in the decade, they starred together in The Grass Harp (1995), Grumpier Old Men (1995), Out to Sea (1997), and The Odd Couple II (1998). Both Grumpier Old Men and The Odd Couple II were box-office disappointments.[11]

In 1996, Lemmon was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Or Non-Musical Album for his narration on "Harry S Truman: A Journey To Independence".[35]

For his role in the William Friedkin[7] directed version of Twelve Angry Men (1997), Lemmon was nominated for "Best Actor in a Made for TV Movie" in the 1998 Golden Globe Awards. The role was as the contentious juror, played in the original 1957 film version by Henry Fonda. Lemmon appeared in the remake with George C. Scott and reunited with him in another television film, this time Inherit the Wind (1999).[6]

Lemmon was a guest voice on The Simpsons episode "The Twisted World of Marge Simpson" (1997), as the owner of the pretzel business. For his role as Morrie Schwartz in his final television role, Tuesdays with Morrie (1999), Lemmon won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. His final film role was uncredited: the narrator in Robert Redford's film The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Lifetime awards

In 1986 the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures gave Lemmon a "Career Achievement" award;[36] two years later, the American Film Institute gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in March 1988.[37] In 1995 Lemmon was awarded the inaugural Harvard Arts Medal.[38]

In 1996 Lemmon was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear award at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival.[39]

Personal life

Lemmon was married twice. His first wife was actress Cynthia Stone, with whom he had a son, Chris Lemmon (born 1954), but the couple divorced over their incompatibility. He married his second wife, actress Felicia Farr, on August 17, 1962 in Paris while shooting Irma La Douce. The couple's daughter, Courtney, was born in 1966.[2] Farr had a daughter from her marriage to Lee Farr named Denise. Lemmon was a Catholic.[40] He was close friends with actors Tony Curtis and Kevin Spacey, among others.

As the 1970s progressed, Lemmon began to increase his drinking to cope with stress. He was fined for Driving under the influence (DUI) in 1976, finally quitting alcohol in the early 1980s.[8] On a 1998 episode of the television program Inside the Actors Studio, he stated that he was a recovering alcoholic.[5][41]

Lemmon was known as the "star" of the celebrity-packed third round telecast of the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, held at Pebble Beach Golf Links each February. Lemmon's packed gallery was there not only for his humor but also to root him on in his lifelong quest to "make the cut" to round 4, something he was never able to achieve. The amateur who helps his team most in the Pro-Am portion is annually awarded the Jack Lemmon Award.

During the 1980s and 1990s Lemmon served on the advisory board of the National Student Film Institute.[42][43]

Lemmon was a registered Democrat.[8]


Lemmon died of bladder cancer on June 27, 2001.[3] He had suffered from the disease privately for two years before his death. His body was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California. (The graves of Walter Matthau and film director Billy Wilder lie in the same cemetery.) Lemmon's gravestone reads like a title screen from a film: "JACK LEMMON in".[44]

Filmography and discography


Academy Awards

Year Award Nominated work Result
1955 Best Supporting Actor Mister Roberts Won
1959 Best Actor Some Like it Hot Nominated
1960 Best Actor The Apartment Nominated
1962 Best Actor Days of Wine and Roses Nominated
1973 Best Actor Save the Tiger Won
1979 Best Actor The China Syndrome Nominated
1980 Best Actor Tribute Nominated
1982 Best Actor Missing Nominated

Tony Awards

Year Award Nominated work Result
1979 Best Actor in a Play Tribute Nominated
1986 Best Actor in a Play Long Day's Journey into Night Nominated

Emmy Awards

Year Award Nominated work Result
1972 Outstanding Single Program - Variety or Musical 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin| Won
1975 Lead Actor in a Drama or Comedy Special The Entertainer Nominated
1987 Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special The Murder of Mary Phagan Nominated
1997 Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special 12 Angry Men Nominated
1998 Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Inherit the Wind Nominated
1999 Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Tuesdays with Morrie Won

Grammy Awards

Year Award Nominated work Result
1996 Best Spoken Word Album Harry S Truman: A Journey To Independence (Album) Nominated


  1. "Jack Lemmon's WWII naval service". Combat!. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  2. "Jack Lemmon: Behind the Smile". The New York Times. July 12, 1981. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  3. Harmetz, Aljean (June 29, 2001). "Jack Lemmon, Dark and Comic Actor, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2019. Jack Lemmon, the brash young American Everyman who evolved into the screen's grumpiest old Everyman during a movie career that lasted a half century, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 76 years of age and was resident in Beverly Hills. The cause was complications from cancer, said a spokesman, Warren Cowan
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  5. Stated on Inside the Actors Studio, 1998
  6. Bernstein, Adam (June 29, 2001). "Actor Jack Lemmon Dies at 76". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  7. Krikorian, Greg (June 29, 2001). "Jack Lemmon, Everyman Star, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
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  11. "Jack Lemmon". The Daily Telegraph. London. June 29, 2001. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
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  14. "Actor Jack Lemmon Honored by Glee Club, Hasty Pudding". Harvard University Gazette. Harvard University. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  15. HB Studio Alumni
  16. Wasser, Fred (June 10, 2011). "The Secret Musical Life Of Jack Lemmon". NPR. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  17. Tucker, David C. (2012). Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 110.
  18. "Jack Lemmon, Academy Award Winning Actor, Dies at 76". -The New York Times. Associated Press. June 28, 2001. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
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  20. Crowther, Bosley (January 16, 1954). "' It Should Happen to You,' Starring Judy Holliday, Is New Comedy at State". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
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  23. Richards, David (March 24, 1986). "Lemmon, With a New Twist". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  24. Shipman, David (1989). The Great Movie Stars: The International Years. London: Macdonald. p. 320.
  25. Stang, Joanne (August 29, 1965). "Jack Lemmon: They Loved Him in Moscow". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  26. Shipman, p. 320-21
  27. French, Philip (July 1, 2001). "'The nicest actor on the lot'". The Observer. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  28. A slice of Lemmon for extra character, Bob Flynn, Panorama, p. 7, Canberra Times, August 15, 1998
  29. Gatward, Hannah (February 8, 2018). "Jack Lemmon: 10 essential films". BFI Film Forever. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  30. Howard, Annie (May 9, 2016). "Cannes Winners Who Went on to the Oscars". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
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  32. Axmaker, Sean. "Buddy, Buddy". TCM. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
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  34. Natale, Richard (June 28, 2019). "Oscar winner Jack Lemmon dead at 76". Variety. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
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  39. "Berlinale: 1996 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
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  42. Editor (June 10, 1994). National Student Film Institute/L.A: The Sixteenth Annual Los Angeles Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. pp. 10–11.
  43. Editor (June 7, 1991). Los Angeles Student Film Institute: 13th Annual Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. p. 3.
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  • Lemmon, Chris (2006). A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN 978-1-56512-480-6.
  • Baltake, Joe (1977). The Films of Jack Lemmon. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0560-5.
  • Freedland, Michael (2003). Some Like It Cool: The Charmed Life of Jack Lemmon. Robson Books. ISBN 978-1-86105-510-1.
  • Widener, Don (1975). Lemmon. Macmillan Books.
  • Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724
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