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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Jack Lemmon's complex talent
Jack Lemmon
Lemmon: Two Oscars and six nominations
John Uhler Lemmon III - known to the world as Jack Lemmon - was one of Hollywood's best-loved actors and a man who distinguished himself in both serious and comic roles.

He won two Academy Awards and was the first man ever to win Oscars as both Best Actor (Save the Tiger, 1973) and Best Supporting Actor (Mister Roberts, 1955).

He was also the only actor to have been presented the Best Actor Award twice (for Missing and The China Syndrome) at the Cannes Film Festival.

In all he received eight Academy Award nominations - a number exceeded only by Spencer Tracy, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Jack Nicholson.

Born in 1925, he was an only child.

He was educated at the best prep schools and Harvard University - but as early as four years old, after appearing with his father in an amateur production of Gold in Them Thar Hills, he told his parents that he wanted to be an actor.

New medium

At Harvard, he was active in amateur dramatics but upon graduation in 1947, he served in the Navy as a communication officer.

Moving to New York, Lemmon started working in radio soap operas and then in the new medium, television.

Jack Lemmon
Lemmon also worked on stage throughout his film career
He gave about 500 television performances, almost all of them live, on such shows as Studio One, Robert Montgomery Presents, Suspense, and Playhouse 90 and was involved in the series Wonderful Guy, The Couple Next Door, Heaven for Betsy, and The Ad-Libbers.

In 1953 Lemmon made his Broadway debut in Room Service, in which he was spotted by Hollywood scouts and summoned by Harry Cohn, the boss of Columbia Pictures.

Cohn tried to change the young actor's surname to Lennon but Lemmon resisted.

Best actor

He became an Academy Award winner in only his fifth movie, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Ensign Pulver in John Ford's Mister Roberts.

He went on to be nominated for Best Actor three times in four years, for Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and Days of Wine and Roses.

He continued to work on stage, returning to Broadway in 1960 to star in Face of a Hero and undertaking theatre work throughout his career, including 1978's highly successful Tribute, in which he played the character of Scottie Templeton, the cancer-ridden press agent trying to resolve conflicts with his ex-wife and son.

As Templeton, Lemmon won the Broadway Drama Guild Award and was nominated for a Tony. After touring with the play, Lemmon shot the film version with Lee Remick, Colleen Dewhurst and Robby Benson and received his seventh Oscar nomination for his performance.

In 1986, Lemmon starred with Julie Andrews in Blake Edwards' film That's Life and then returned to the stage, starring in Eugene O'Neill's classic Long Day's Journey Into Night, which appeared for several months on Broadway before playing to sold-out audiences in London.

Lemmon took a cameo part in Oliver Stone's JFK in 1991, and got some of the best reviews of his career for a powerhouse performance in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross.

He also made a fleeting appearance in Robert Altman's The Player, playing the piano - which he did well.


But it is likely that audiences will remember with most affection Lemmon's work with Walter Matthau, which produced a number of classic films.

The pairing started with The Fortune Cookie in 1966, then produced The Odd Couple and The Front Page.

In later life the pair worked together on Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men and The Odd Couple II.

Jack Lemmon's gift was complex: in the words of one critic, he was "a clown for the age of anxiety".

He was able to deliver convincing serious performances, as in his role as a distraught father in Missing, as well as comedy roles which will live for ever - The Odd Couple, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment among them.

He explored the pressures of contemporary American life, frequently portraying a character that was perhaps his trademark, the decent, middle-class American struggling to retain his integrity.

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See also:

25 May 01 | Entertainment
Jack Lemmon has operation
30 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Lemmon receives Tracy award
20 Sep 00 | Entertainment
More Breakfast at Tiffany's
01 Jul 00 | Americas
The films of Walter Matthau
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