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Jack Lemmon Biography


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Birth Name: Jack Lemmon
Born: 02/08/1925
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Death Place: Los Angeles, California, USA
Died: 06/27/2001


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.