Best known to classic movie fans for his roles in Some Like It Hot, and The Odd Couple, and to current movie fans for his role in Grumpy Old Men.
The Lady Takes a Sailor
Three for the Show
My Sister Eileen
Hollywood Bronc Busters
You Can’t Run Away from It
Fire Down Below
Operation Mad Ball
Bell, Book and Candle
It Happened to Jane
Stowaway in the Sky
The Wackiest Ship in the Army
The Notorious Landlady
Under the Yum Yum Tree
Good Neighbor Sam
How to Murder Your Wife
The Great Race
The Fortune Cookie
There Comes a Day
The April Fools
The War Between Men and Women
La polizia ha le mani legate
The Front Page
The Prisoner of Second Avenue
The Gentleman Tramp
Alex & the Gypsy
Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy
Glengarry Glen Ross
Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman In Carver County
Grumpy Old Men
The Grass Harp
Grumpier Old Men
Getting Away with Murder
My Fellow Americans
Out to Sea
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s
Puppies for Sale
The Odd Couple II
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Lemmon was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1956 for Mister Roberts (1955) and the Best Actor Oscar for Save the Tiger (1973), becoming the first actor to achieve this rare double (the only other actors to achieve this are: Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey and Denzel Washington).
He was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the controversial film Missing in 1982, and for his roles in Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The China Syndrome (1979), and Tribute (1980).
The worst part about being me is when people want me to make them laugh. ~Jack Lemmon
Jack Lemmon was born on February 8, 1925. He was the only child of Mildred Burgess LaRue (née Noel; 1896–1967) and John Uhler Lemmon, Jr. (1893–1962), the president of a doughnut company.
Lemmon attended John Ward Elementary School in Newton and the Rivers School in Weston, Massachusetts. During his acceptance of his lifetime achievement award, he stated that he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of eight. Lemmon attended Phillips Academy (Class of 1943) and Harvard College (Class of 1947), and was an active member of several Drama Clubs – and president of the Hasty Pudding Club– as well as a member of the Delphic Club for Gentleman.
At Harvard, Lemmon was a member of the V-12 Navy College Training Program and was commissioned by the United States Navy, serving briefly as an ensign on an aircraft carrier during World War II before returning to Harvard after completing his military service. After graduation with a degree in War Service Sciences in 1947, Lemmon took up acting professionally, working on radio, television and Broadway. He studied acting under coach Uta Hagen.
Lemmon’s film debut was a bit part as a plasterer/painter in the 1949 film The Lady Takes a Sailor, but he went unnoticed until his debut, opposite Judy Holliday, in the 1954 comedy It Should Happen to You. Lemmon worked with actresses such as Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Lee Remick, Romy Schneider, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Judy Holliday, Rita Hayworth, June Allyson, Virna Lisi, Ann-Margret and Sophia Loren. He was close friends with actors Tony Curtis, Ernie Kovacs, Walter Matthau and Kevin Spacey. He made two films with Curtis, and eleven with Matthau.
Early in Lemmon’s career he met comedian Ernie Kovacs while co-starring with him in Operation Mad Ball. Lemmon and Kovacs became close friends and appeared together in two subsequent films, Bell, Book and Candle and It Happened to Jane.
He was a favorite of director Billy Wilder, starring in the films Some Like It Hot (for which he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival), The Apartment, Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, Avanti!, The Front Page, and Buddy Buddy. Wilder felt Lemmon had a natural tendency toward overacting that had to be tempered.
He enjoyed a long working relationship with both Blake Edwards, starring in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Great Race (1965) and That’s Life! (1986), and Richard Quine, starring in My Sister Eileen, Operation Mad Ball., Bell, Book and Candle and It Happened to Jane and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). Quine also directed Lemmon’s screen test when Columbia signed the actor.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962) was a favorite role. He portrayed Joe Clay, a young, fun-loving alcoholic businessman. In that film, Lemmon delivered the line, “My name is Joe Clay … I’m an alcoholic.” Three and a half decades later, he stated on the television program Inside the Actors Studio that he was a recovering alcoholic.
Lemmon’s production company JML produced Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Paul Newman was grateful to Lemmon for his support and offered him the role of the Sundance Kid, later played by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Lemmon turned it down. He did not like riding horses and he felt he’d already played too many aspects of the Sundance Kid’s character before.
Lemmon appeared in many films teamed with actor Walter Matthau. Among their pairings was 1968’s The Odd Couple, as Felix Ungar (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau). The first film they starred in together was The Fortune Cookie (for which Matthau won the 1966 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), The Front Page and Buddy Buddy. In 1971, Lemmon directed Matthau in the comedy Kotch. It was the only movie that Lemmon directed and Matthau was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
Lemmon and Matthau had small parts in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK (the only film in which both appeared without sharing screen time). In 1993, the duo teamed again to star in Grumpy Old Men. The film was a surprise hit, earning the two actors a new generation of young fans. During the rest of the decade, they would star together in Grumpier Old Men, Out to Sea, and the widely panned The Odd Couple II. In 1996, Lemmon was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear award at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival. In 1997, Lemmon was a guest voice on The Simpsons episode “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson,” playing the character Frank Ormand, owner of the pretzel business that Marge Simpson franchised. The recurring character Old Gil Gunderson, voiced by Dan Castellaneta, is an ongoing parody of Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Lemmon won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his role as Morrie Schwartz in his final television role, Tuesdays with Morrie. His final film role was an uncredited one: the narrator in Robert Redford’s film The Legend of Bagger Vance.
He received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1988.
Lemmon was married twice. His first wife was actress Cynthia Stone, with whom he had a son, Chris Lemmon (born 1954). His second wife was actress Felicia Farr, with whom he had a daughter, Courtney (born 1966). Farr had a daughter from a previous relationship (her marriage to Lee Farr) named Denise. He publicly announced his alcoholism during a 1998 interview on Inside the Actors Studio.
Lemmon died of metastatic cancer of the bladder on June 27, 2001. He had been fighting the disease, privately, for two years before his death. He was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California, buried near his friend and co-star, Walter Matthau, who died almost exactly one year before Lemmon.