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Jack Lemmon Was a Virtuoso in Both Comedy and Drama – Remembering the Hollywood Legend's Life

Joe Akins
Sep 22, 2021
11:00 P.M.
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Actor and Hollywood icon Jack Lemmon was one of the most gifted actors of his generation. He was also considered a maestro in both comedy and drama, making him a fan favorite of his days.

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Few are gifted with the charm of making the crowd fall in love with them as an actor in both comedy and drama; Jack Lemmon was one of such with the unique gift.

The late Hollywood legend excelled in different parts of his career, which lasted more than four decades, and at the time of his death from cancer in 2001, Lemmon’s legacy as a movie legend was uncontested.

A picture of a performing Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon | Photo: Getty Images

A picture of a performing Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon | Photo: Getty Images

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HIS EARLY LIFE

Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, not many would have thought that the little baby who sweetly warmed the heart of his family the moment he was born on February 8, 1925, would go on to become a well-acclaimed actor in his lifetime.

Lemmon was considered one of the most versatile actors of his time for his ability to excel in both comedy and drama, and he became the first man to win Academy Awards as both Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor.

Jack Lemmon during the 40th Emmy Awards, August 1988. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jack Lemmon during the 40th Emmy Awards, August 1988. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Throughout his career, Lemmon was nominated for an Academy Award eight times; he won twice. He also starred in over sixty films, building his reputation as the master of the screen.

Lemmon was known for his passion for his work and work routine. He was reputed to have had one of the busiest schedules, and even in the '90s, when he turned 70, he was featured in more than 20 films.

Lemmon is best known for his work in “The Odd Couple,” a collaboration with his old friend Walter Matthau, as well as seven films directed by Billy Wilder, five of which he co-starred with Matthau.

Publicity photo of Jack Lemmon from 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Publicity photo of Jack Lemmon from 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Lemmon grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but that did not spare him from working hard towards his fame and success, ultimately building a legacy in a competitive industry.

HIS CAREER

His father, who ran a bakery company, is alleged to have introduced the doughnut business to the UK, which meant that the young Lemmon was privileged to have anything he wanted and become whoever he desired.

Amongst all his options, Lemmon chose to become an actor. After attending Harvard University, where he was president of the school’s Hasty Pudding Club, Lemon served in the U.S Navy during World War II.

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A photo of actor Jack Lemmon from 2002. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A photo of actor Jack Lemmon from 2002. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After requesting to be allowed to venture into his dreams, his wealthy father reluctantly allowed him to depart for New York City in pursuit of his own fame with only $300 to his name.

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Lemmon had run out of money before he found his fame, so he moved into an apartment that belonged to his family, but his skill as a piano player enabled him to fend for himself and foot his own bills.

He also picked up roles in radio drama and live television programs, and soon, the television boom of the era saw the ambitious Lemmon land his first role. He made his Broadway debut in the 1953 film “Room Service,” and although it was a failure, it helped Lemmon secure his first contract.

Actor Jack Lemmon poses backstage after winning "Best Actor" award during the 46th Academy Awards | Photo: Getty Images

Actor Jack Lemmon poses backstage after winning "Best Actor" award during the 46th Academy Awards | Photo: Getty Images

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The late 1940s and early 1950s were good years for the budding actor. In 1950, he tied the knot with Cynthia Stone, but later, he claimed that he made the decision in a hurry, and the couple divorced in 1956. Right after, Lemmon focused fully on his career.

His Academy Award-winning performance as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955) presented Lemmon as the next big thing in the world of comic acting and opened the doors for him to feature in other great movies directed by Richard Quine.

 Actor Jack Lemon poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images

Actor Jack Lemon poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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Some of his best works were directed by Quine, including “My Sister Eileen” (1955), “Operation Mad Ball” (1957), “Bell,” “Book and Candle” (1958), and “It Happened to Jane”(1959). Lemmon’s skills became hot in demand, and he barely took a break.

He produced a series of short films and directed several projects himself. However, of all his roles, Lemmon's relationship with Wilder produced some of the best collaborations the movie industry has ever witnessed.

The duo partnered in seven movies, and each work had a distinct taste to it. He worked alongside Matthau on ten films and his run of luck continued well into the '70s as more attention-grabbing works of his were released, cementing his name as the man of the era.

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American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), circa 1960 | Photo: Getty Images

American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), circa 1960 | Photo: Getty Images

Lemmon became a huge figure, popular with both actors and fans. His works were often commercial successes, but soon, his stressed-out life began to catch up on him, and he started drinking just a little bit too much.

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Alongside his drinking habits, Lemmon loved to smoke. However, in the '80s, he decided to cut down on his alcohol consumption and reduce his love for cigarettes.

Towards the end of his life, Lemmon still bagged a series of awards, including the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1988, the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award in 1990, and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1996.

American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), 1954.| Photo: Getty Images

American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), 1954.| Photo: Getty Images

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FAMILY AND DEATH

Lemmon was married twice and had kids from both marriages. After his first marriage failed, the actor married his second wife, actress Felicia Farr, in 1962. The couple shared Courtney, a daughter, who was born in 1966.

Lemmon passed away in 2001 from bladder cancer, a disease he privately battled with for two years before his death. After his demise, his family still keeps him in their memory.

American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), circa 1955| Photo: Getty Images

American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001), circa 1955| Photo: Getty Images

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His son Chris from his first marriage reportedly revealed that he had a good relationship with the late actor and considered him to be his best friend, who gave him lots of fond memories as a child. And, to remember Lemmon, Chris said he is following in his steps and keeping his legacy intact.

Speaking of his father’s last words to him, Chris revealed that Lemmon advised him to spread sunshine and never stop halfway as an actor. Through Lemmon’s life, fans witnessed the reward of dedication and hard work.

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