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I hadn’t planned to create about actors particularly, as my intent was to focus on specific essential films and Directors. Nonetheless, as this is also a individual journal it ought to reflect its author to some extent and these who knew me in my teens surely thought I had an unhealthy obsession with this certain Hollywood star, but with hindsight I would say that it marked the apex of my calling as an Actor, which transmogrified by puberty was virtually a religious fervour with me in these days.
John Uhler Lemmon III was born in Boston in 1925 to middle class parents, his father was the president of a doughnut company and his mother, in early life, had followed aspirations as an Actress in comedy and light opera. Jack was their only kid and from the age of 8 he was convinced that he would turn into the subsequent George Gershwin and the world’s greatest actor.
Lemmon studied at Harvard majoring in War Time Sciences, he was a member of the Navy Reserve Officers Instruction Corps. and served as an Ensign soon after graduation. While at Harvard he was also active in theatrical pursuits and was the president of The Hasty Pudding Club, a lengthy-standing tradition of which was to put on a Christmas show in drag.
After his short spell in the Navy Lemmon took himself to New York and worked as a piano player in a beer hall, he began auditioning and got normal operate on radio and in off-Broadway productions at some point major to appearances on reside television shows like Television Playhouse and Kraft Theatre. In 1954 he did a screen test for Columbia Pictures and was provided a contract by legendary challenging film mogul Harry Cohen, with the proviso that he change his name from Lemmon to Lennon. Pondering on his feet, and determined to preserve his own name, he played to Cohen’s company-savvy by suggesting that individuals may possibly mistake it for Lenin and associate that with Communism, a critical difficulty for the American entertainment market in the McCarthy era.
Lemmon created his huge screen debut opposite Judy Holliday in It Ought to Take place To You, a likeable romantic comedy that lightly satirises the concept of celebrity. The film was lifted by the sure hand of veteran Gone With The Wind director George Cukor, who also had hits with screwball comedies starring Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib.
Whilst cutting his teeth on the Columbia lot Lemmon would meet two young writer/directors, whom he would perform with more than once. Richard Quine was a quite strong director with a present for comedy, he liked to shoot outdoors in real places. He produced a total of six films with Lemmon, My Sister Eileen, Operation Mad Ball, Bell, Book & Candle, It Happened To Jane, The Notorious Landlady and How To Murder Your Wife, each and every one well-crafted with a powerful narrative and strong performances from a very good ensemble cast, often which includes Ernie Kovacs, Kim Novak and Dick York.
Blake Edwards, who would famously go on to make the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers, worked as a writer on Quine’s Operation Mad Ball and The Notorious Landlady and right after producing his directorial breakthrough feature Breakfast At Tiffany’s he teamed with Lemmon and they turned their focus to a severe subject matter in Days Of Wine And Roses, a poignant and strong character study of young newly-weds whose social drinking escalates into soul-destroying alcoholism, earning each Lemmon and his co-star Lee Remick Academy Award nominations. Ironically, at the time of shooting, Lemmon, a self-confessed alcoholic, was teetotal.
Edwards and Lemmon teamed up once more shortly following to make the epic comedy The Wonderful Race, committed to Laurel & Hardy. While I get pleasure from Lemmon’s malevolent functionality, as the dastardly Victorian villain, Professor Fate (complete with twirly moustache) and the Prisoner Of Zenda detour enabling him to camp it up in the dual role of the lush Crown Prince Hapnik, the film is overlong, lacks actual charm, and is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is.
The first Lemmon film I don’t forget watching, and the 1 that convinced me, aged 12, that I was going to be an Actor, was Some Like It Hot, now regarded by the American Film Institute as the funniest comedy ever created. The straightforward notion of two down at heel musicians obtaining to flee in drag following witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, tapped into my sense of the absurd and I marvelled at Lemmon’s extremely facile overall performance both as Jerry and his feminine alter ego, Daphne.
This was the 1st of numerous films by Austrian emigre, writer/director, Billy Wilder, the other folks most notably had been The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie which very first teamed Lemmon with his life-extended buddy and co-star Walter Matthau. I shall go into each of those, along with Avanti! which I have a distinct soft spot for, in greater detail in future posts.
I was extremely fortunate that my passion for Lemmon’s operate coincided with two events both in 1986. The very first was a season of his films at the British Film Institute exactly where I was, not only, in a position to see some of his greatest films, which includes The Odd Couple, for the very first time, but also saw him interviewed live in the theatre by Jonathan Miller, who was directing Lemmon’s London stage debut Long Day’s Journey Into Evening, co-starring Bethel Leslie and newcomers Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher. I was 15 at the time and I am extremely thankful that I shared these experiences with my Father who died a couple of years later, I shall often treasure these fond memories.
Most men and women only associate Lemmon with his comic operate but he also produced some excellent dramas including The China Syndrome, Missing and Save The Tiger for which he won an Best Actor Oscar in 1973. In later life he would make tour-de-force performances in David Mamet’s screen version of his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross and Oliver Stone’s JFK. He was a lifelong Democrat and follower of liberal causes just as considerably as he was a devotee of golf.
I shall be writing in more detail about Lemmon’s films, particularly these directed by Billy Wilder, who most likely summed it up ideal when he said, “Happiness is operating with Jack Lemmon”.
Steve Exeter is a passionate Cinephile and screenwriter, he edits and routinely contributes to the Online-Inquirer blog site.