Jack Lemmon

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Jack Lemmon (1988)

John Uhler Lemmon III (born February 8, 1925 in Newton, Massachusetts , † June 27, 2001 in Los Angeles ) was an American actor . Lemmon became known as a comedian in Billy Wilder's films Some Like It Hot and Das Appartement and formed one of the most popular comedian duos with Walter Matthau for decades . But he was also twice awarded an Oscar as a character actor. Today Lemmon is one of the most renowned and most award-winning film actors. In addition to his career as an actor, he also tried himself as a musician for several years.

life and work

1925 to 1959: youth, first successes and breakthrough

Jack Lemmon was born in an elevator at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, a suburb of Boston . He was the only child of his parents Mildred Burgess LaRue and John Uhler Lemmon Jr. After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover high school in 1943 , Lemmon served in the US Navy until the end of World War II . From 1945 he studied at Harvard University , where he worked as chairman of the Hasty Pudding Club and was involved in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals theater group . Against his father's wishes, Lemmon decided to become an actor in 1947 and went to New York .

There he worked as a piano player in piano bars and appeared in smaller roles in various theaters (including on Broadway ). He also moderated a local radio show. From 1949 he made a name for himself as an actor with a great sense of humor and timing in television series such as That Wonderful Guy , Heaven for Betsy and The Road of Life , before making his screen debut in 1954 in The Incredible Story of Gladys Glover .

His fourth film role in No Time for Heroism (1955) brought Lemmon - who appeared here alongside such well-known stars as Henry Fonda and James Cagney - the first Oscar for best supporting actor a year later . In this military drama set in World War II, the actor acted as a lieutenant on a naval freighter. The film started Lemmon's film career.

In 1958 he moderated the Academy Awards together with Bob Hope . In 1963, 1971 and 1985 he took on this task again. Also in 1958 he released his first album A Twist Of Lemmon: Jack Lemmon Plays And Sings . Although his musical career remained relatively unknown, Lemmon continued to pay attention to it for several years. Albums like Some Like It Hot (1959) and Plays Piano Selections From Irma La Douce (1963) followed.

In the comedy My Bride is supernatural (1958), Lemmon still acted in the second row behind the established top stars James Stewart and Kim Novak , before his final breakthrough in Hollywood in 1959. Star director Billy Wilder chose him for his comedy Some Like It Hot as the third leading actor alongside Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe . Lemmon and Curtis were seen as harmless musicians who, being hunted by the Mafia , have to dress up as women, which leads to ludicrous entanglements and misunderstandings. The gender farce, which was very daring at the time, became a box-office success and a comedy classic.

Lemmon became the preferred lead actor of Billy Wilder, who later said of the actor: "Happiness is working with Lemmon". Lemmon often embodied anti-heroes in Billy Wilder comedies who are confronted with unusual challenges and outgrow themselves in the process, such as in Das Appartement and Das Mädchen Irma la Douce .

1959 to 1969: Comedies and first collaboration with Wilder and Matthau

In 1959 Lemmon acted in the typical comedy of the time, Mit mir nicht, gentlemen next to Doris Day . During the 1960s, he appeared regularly in similar films - for example, in Still Room Free in 1962, in 1963 in A Rehearsal of a Marriage Bed , 1964 in Loan Me Your Husband , 1965 in How do you kill your wife? or in 1967 in a try with my wife .

While these films were rather conventional and remained insignificant in terms of film history, Lemmon created numerous classics in collaboration with director Billy Wilder during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1960 he shot the satire Das Appartement under Wilder's direction , which, unlike its cocky predecessor, Some like it hot, has a rather bitter tone. Lemmon acts as a small office worker who lends his apartment to his immoral superiors for their secret pastimes, which they thank him with promotions. Lemmon received a Golden Globe for best leading actor in a comedy and an Oscar nomination for best leading actor for both Wilder films .

After Lemmon had established himself as a comedian, he succeeded in 1962 to establish himself as a dramatic actor. In the ruthless, realistic drama The Days of Wine and Roses by Blake Edwards , he played a man whose life is ruined by his alcohol addiction. The film earned Lemmon another Oscar nomination.

For Das Mädchen Irma la Douce , Lemmon worked again in 1963 with director Billy Wilder and Shirley MacLaine , his partner in Das Appartement . As a Paris policeman, Lemmon falls in love with a prostitute and tries to get her back on track. With the bittersweet comedy, for which an elaborate Parisian backdrop was set up in the studio, the well-rehearsed team Wilder / Lemmon was able to record another success.

In Der Glückspilz , Lemmon's fourth film directed by Billy Wilder, the actor first appeared in front of the camera with Walter Matthau in 1965 . In this film, Matthau played an unscrupulous rogue lawyer who persuaded his reluctant brother-in-law (Lemmon) to commit insurance fraud, and received an Oscar for his portrayal. With this biting social satire, Lemmon and Matthau established themselves as the leading comedy duo in Hollywood. The two actors, who were close friends in private, appeared together eleven times by 2000.

In 1965 Lemmon was also seen in the lavishly produced slapstick comedy The Great Race Around the World . Here he embodied in stressed caricatured exaggeration the insidious villain of the film, Professor Fate, who sabotaged in 1907 in a car race around the world its competitors (Tony Curtis).

In 1968 Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau worked together again in A Strange Couple . Abandoned by his wife, the depressed tidiness fanatic Felix Unger (Lemmon) moves in with his friend Oscar Madison (Matthau), a chaotic sports reporter who is causing his apartment to deteriorate. The Neil Simon comedy was a resounding success at the box office and even resulted in a TV series in which, however, not Lemmon and Matthau, but Tony Randall in the role of Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison .

1970 to 1979: Success as a character actor in tragic comedies

Neil Simon also wrote the original for Never Again New York (1970), in which a couple from the provinces (Lemmon and Sandy Dennis ) have hair-raising adventures in a strange New York. The film portrayed modern city life in a decidedly satirical exaggeration. In 1971 Lemmon directed his only film as a director. Grandpa can't help but show the main actor Walter Matthau as a grumpy pensioner who takes in a young babysitter. The film was not a commercial success. Since Lemmon did not feel comfortable directing, he never directed again.

In 1972 Lemmon worked on the film Avanti, Avanti! for the fifth time together with his regular director Billy Wilder. He acted here as an American industrialist whose conservative approach to life is called into question during a stay on the island of Ischia . The married republican starts an affair with a young English woman.

In 1973, Jack Lemmon starred in the vicious tragic comedy Save the Tiger as a manager in a life crisis. The role earned the actor his second Oscar, this time in the "Best Actor" category. He was the first actor to receive an Oscar for both a supporting actor ( No Time for Heroism ) and a leading actor. In 1974 Lemmon acted in Extrablatt , a satire on the newspaper environment, again directed by Billy Wilder and alongside Walter Matthau. Star reporter Hildy Johnson (Lemmon) wants to quit his job in Chicago in 1929 and get married, which his unscrupulous and cunning editor-in-chief Walter Burns (Matthau) tries to prevent with nasty tricks in order to keep the capable Hildy on his paper.

In 1974 Lemmon played in Das Nervenbündel (screenplay by Neil Simon) a New York employee who mutated into a nerve wreck after he was fired. In the disaster film, Lost in the Bermuda Triangle (1977), which is typical of the time and which is starred, he portrays a flight captain whose plane crashes into the sea.

Jack Lemmon created one of his most demanding roles to date in The China Syndrome . As the technical manager of a nuclear power plant in which there is almost a catastrophe, he has to recognize that the company management has saved on the safety precautions for cost reasons. The critical, controversial film acquired an unexpected authenticity when a reactor accident occurred shortly after the film was released at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant . Lemmon received his sixth Oscar nomination for his performance.

1980 to 2001: Late career and death

For the drama A Summer in Manhattan (1980), in which Lemmon recapitulates his life as terminally ill, the actor received another Oscar and Golden Globe nomination. In 1981 he worked for Buddy Buddy for the seventh and last time with Billy Wilder, who ended his directing career with this film. The black comedy, a remake of the French film Die Filzlaus , shows the actor as a prevented suicide candidate who robs a professional killer (Walter Matthau) the last nerve. According to the general tenor, the film could not match the quality of earlier Wilder films.

Jack Lemmon played his most politically active role in the film Missing (1982) directed by Costa-Gavras . He portrayed Ed Horman, an American who goes in search of his missing son Charlie after the overthrow of the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in Chile. In this film, the role of the USA and its secret service, the CIA, in the coup in Chile in 1973 are examined critically. The film is closely based on the authentic case of the US journalist Charles Horman , who was murdered by the Chilean military in 1973, presumably with the knowledge of local representatives of the CIA secret service . For this film, Jack Lemmon received his third Oscar nomination in just four years. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1979 and 1982 he received the award for best actor.

After these successes and after he had been one of the leading Hollywood stars for two and a half decades, things got a little quieter around him. He has been in films like Macaroni (1985, alongside Marcello Mastroianni), That's Life! Life (1986) or Dad (1989) can be seen and played supporting roles in Oliver Stone 's epic film JFK - Tatort Dallas (1991) and in Robert Altman's episodic drama Short Cuts (1992).

In 1988 Jack Lemmon received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement . In 1991 he received the Golden Globe Award for his life's work ( Cecil B. DeMille Award ).

In 1992 Lemmon played in the drama Glengarry Glen Ross, an aged real estate agent who is desperately trying to distinguish himself from his colleagues / competitors with new deals. The film, which features top-class actors (including Al Pacino , Ed Harris , Kevin Spacey ), received critical acclaim, but was not a box-office success.

The hit comedy A Crazy Couple began in 1993, the last phase in Lemmon's long career. The film reunited him with his long-term partner Walter Matthau. As usual, the two acting veterans were seen as notorious brawlers, competing for the favor of a beautiful neighbor ( Ann-Margret ), among other things . In the sequel The Third Spring - Friends, Enemies, Fish & Women , Lemmon and Matthau took up their roles again in 1995.

In 1996 Jack Lemmon received the Honorary Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his outstanding life's work.

In 1997, Lemmon played the well-known Henry Fonda role in the remake of The 12 Jurors as Juror No. 8, for which he was praised by many critics. Lemmon and Matthau stood together for the last time in front of the camera in the comedies Tango compliant (1997) and Still a Strange Couple (1998), the sequel to their hit film from 1968. Lemmon ended his cinema career with these films and could only be seen in a few television films until his death. In 2000 he starred in an uncredited mini-role as the narrator in The Legend of Bagger Vance .

Jack Lemmon died on June 27, 2001 at the age of 76 after a long period of cancer . He was buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery next to his longtime friend Walter Matthau , who had died almost exactly a year earlier to the day. Since 1962 Lemmon was married to Felicia Farr , with whom he had a daughter (Courtney). His son Chris Lemmon emerged from his first marriage with Cynthia Stone (1950-1956) .

Voice actor

For the German-speaking audience, Jack Lemmon was almost always dubbed during his entire film career by the German actor Georg Thomalla - he spoke Lemmon from 1955 to 1998 and lent him the voice in 42 films (other speakers were Klaus Havenstein , Harald Juhnke or Holger Hagen ). The two actors met for the first time when Thomalla presented Jack Lemmon with the Golden Bear in 1996 and gave the eulogy for Lemmon on the occasion. Thomalla died in 1999; the last three dubbing works for Lemmon were done by other speakers. The German dubbing index contains an overview of all German Jack Lemmon voice actors.

Filmography (selection)

Hand and footprints of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theater , Hollywood (dated 1963)


Jack Lemmon is one of the most award-winning actors in film history.


Emmy Award

  • 1972: Award for "Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special" as the presenter of 'S Wonderful,' S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin
  • 1976: Nomination as an outstanding leading actor in a drama or comedy special for The Entertainer
  • 1988: Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for The Mary Phagan Case
  • 1998: Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a TV Movie for The Twelve Jurors
  • 1999: Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a TV Movie for Wer Sturm sät
  • 2000: Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for Tuesdays with Morrie

Golden Globe

  • 1960: Award for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for some like it hot
  • 1961: Award for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for Das Appartement
  • 1963: Nomination for best leading actor in a drama for The Days of Wine and Roses
  • 1964: Nomination for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for Das Mädchen Irma la Douce
  • 1964: Nomination for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for a marriage bed as a rehearsal
  • 1966: Nomination for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for The Great Race Around the World
  • 1969: Nomination for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for A Strange Couple
  • 1971: Nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy / Musical for Never Again New York
  • 1973: Award for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for Avanti, Avanti!
  • 1974: Nomination for Best Actor in a Drama for Save the Tiger
  • 1975: Nomination for the best leading actor in a comedy / musical for Extrablatt
  • 1980: Nomination for Best Actor in a Drama for The China Syndrome
  • 1981: Nomination for Best Actor in a Drama for One Summer in Manhattan
  • 1983: Nomination for best actor in a drama for Missing
  • 1987: Nomination for best leading actor in a comedy / musical for That's Life! So life is
  • 1988: Nomination for Best Actor in a TV Movie / Mini-Series for Long Day's Journey Into Night
  • 1989: Nomination for Best Actor in a TV Movie / Mini-Series for The Mary Phagan Case
  • 1990: Nominated for Best Actor in a Drama for Dad
  • 1991: Cecil B. DeMille Award for his life's work
  • 1994: Special Award
  • 1998: Nomination for Best Actor in a TV Movie / Mini-Series for The Twelve Jurors
  • 1999: Nomination for Best Actor in a TV Movie / Mini-Series for Tuesdays at Morrie
  • 2000: Award for best leading actor in a television film / mini-series for Who Sows the Wind

BAFTA Awards

  • 1956: Nomination for Best Foreign Lead Actor for No Time for Heroism
  • 1960: Award for best foreign leading actor for some like it hot
  • 1961: Award for best foreign leading actor for Das Appartement
  • 1964: Nomination as best foreign leading actor for Days of Wine and Roses
  • 1966: Nomination for best foreign leading actor for How do you kill your wife
  • 1966: Nomination for best foreign leading actor for loan me your husband
  • 1980: Best Actor Award for China Syndrome
  • 1983: Nomination for best leading actor for Missing

Further awards and honors


  • Author collective: Jack Lemmon. Homage . [Berlin International Film Festival, retrospective 1996.] Published by the Deutsche Kinemathek Foundation in cooperation with the Berlin International Film Festival. Henschel, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-89487-246-2 .

Web links

Commons : Jack Lemmon  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. https://www.discogs.com/artist/333642-Jack-Lemmon
  2. https://www.discogs.com/Jack-Lemmon-A-Twist-Of-Lemmon-Jack-Lemmon-Plays-And-Sings/master/769440
  3. US Victims of Chile's Coup: The Uncensored File. In: The New York Times, February 13, 2000.
  4. knerger.de: The grave of Jack Lemmon
  5. ^ German dubbing card index dubbing actors of all German Jack Lemmon films