A retrospective look at television appearances made over the years by Jack Lemmon, capturing the milestones and highlights of his life and career.
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Jack Lemmon loved acting.
Legend has it whenever the cameras rolled on the film set
he would always announce "It's magic time!"
Lemmon's first big break came in the 1955 film Mister Roberts
for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
And he went on to become the first person to also win
a Best Actor Oscar for Save The Tiger in 1973.
A master of both comedy and drama,
his desire to be an actor went back to his childhood,
which he discusses here with Michael Aspel in an interview from 1970.
Jack Lemmon, your father was an executive
in the Doughnut Corporation of America
but you decided pretty early not to follow him in the business,
I did. For whatever reasons, probably highly neurotic,
I always wanted to be an actor as long as I can remember and then
he made the mistake of letting me go in a local show with him
called Gold In Them Thar Hills
when I was about four or five.
And I had one great line.
Like, I heard a pistol shot or something or other and that did it.
And from then on I just stayed in it.
He had a marvellous line, not to dwell on this too long,
but I will never forget and I will love him always for his advice to me
and his attitude when I decided after I was through with my schooling
and everything to try to be a professional actor.
And he said, "You're sure you don't want to come in my company and
"start at the bottom?" which he had wanted me to do,
And I said, "No, I've got to give this a good try."
And he said, "OK, well, two questions..."
Now, his company made doughnuts and doughnut machines
and bread and so forth.
The baking industry in general.
He said, "Do you love it?" I said, "Yes."
He said, "Do you need it?" And I said, "Yes."
He said, "Well, good, because when the day comes
"that I don't find love in a loaf of bread, I'm going to quit."
And I love him for saying that, you know, I knew what he meant.
-Lemmon is your name, isn't it?
-That's... I'm afraid so.
What's worse is my middle initial is U.
So as a kid I was traumatic by the age of nine from hearing
"Jack you Lemmon, Jack..." At school all the time from the kids.
Did the studio ever want you to change it?
Yes, Harry Cohn, the late head of Colombia Pictures
who was a very feared man.
I had a marvellous relationship with him but when I first met him,
I had never met him until I'd finished my first film
with Judy Holliday called It Should Happen To You.
And he called me up to his office and I thought,
"Well, good, finally I'm meeting my boss," you see.
And I walked in and this very imposing figure,
with the sun coming in, the one open shade that happened to shine
on the top of his bald head, said, "The name is out,"
and I said, "What name?" I didn't know what he was talking about.
He said, "It's going to be Lennon."
And I said, "Lennon? How do you spell it?"
He said, "L-E-N-N-O-N instead of L-E-M-M-O-N."
And I said, "And you pronounce it how?
He said, "Lennon," and as a joke I said, "Oh, you'd better not do that
"because they'll think I'm a Russian revolutionary."
And right away he said "No, I looked it up, it's Lenin."
But I didn't change it and he didn't push me on it.
You're a very honest actor you don't approve of the method for example,
I don't approve of the method.
I approve of any method that works for you if it's legitimately used.
I don't approve of any 'method'
in which the method and how your work becomes more important
than the result.
In other words, I think an awful lot of young actors get deluded
thinking that they are becoming tremendously immersed
in the material and the part and the character it's...
But they forget that it doesn't matter whether they're immersed in it
or whether they are really becoming the character
if the audience believes.
They forget about the audience.
The highest compliment, I think, that an actor can ever be paid
is not "You're great, you're terrific, you're magnificent"
or any of those overdone bromides and superlatives.
But that having once seen a particular performance
you can never imagine another actor playing that part.
Lemmon was someone audiences always believed in.
No matter who he was portraying, he always seemed to get it just right.
And how he approached this challenge
is something he spoke about
to Michael Parkinson in 1972.
I tell you a thing that fascinates me about actors is that...
Not being one myself at all, as is quite obvious
to anyone watching this programme, but if you're...
As a technique, Jack, are there certain keys to a character?
Are there things that happen quite by chance perhaps?
-Like all of a sudden - the revelation?
And it's a terribly difficult thing to explain but they can.
You can work and work for weeks and weeks,
you can search and delve and dig.
And rehearse and everything and you still haven't quite got him.
It doesn't feel right, it isn't full and it isn't there.
And sometimes it gets worse and worse, you really are lost
and then one little thing, and it can be external too.
It can be the way you tilt your head,
the way you walk or whatever can do it.
And I remember reading an article about Larry Olivier
in which he said that he was in about the third or fourth week
of a rehearsal of a play and he could not get the character.
And one day when they were breaking from rehearsal and going to lunch
it looked overcast and he brought an umbrella along.
And it wasn't yet raining so he was carrying it like a cane.
And all of a sudden the whole part came to him
as he walked across the street.
He swears the entire part came to him, after three weeks of nothing,
by the walk and the way he carried the thing.
The whole manner. Everything about him changed and he had it.
And it was there, it was irrevocable.
And I can understand it, it can happen.
-It sounds silly but it's true.
-Those little things can do it.
Years later, Lemmon gave another example
of how he found his way into a part.
Talking about his role in the 1989 film Dad
in which he was playing a character struggling with old age.
You have to be physically an old man. What did you do to be...
Well... Of course, from the time I knew I was going to play the part
I started studying people, you know,
they get the slower movements were the thing for me
cos I have a lot of excess nervous energy
and trying to, get the hands slightly arthritic,
slightly shaking and to move very, very slowly and the voice,
sort of, through whispering, etc.
And the walk, the lower...
the lower centre of gravity.
I don't know how to explain this walk to you
but the whole thing is whatever you're going to do
in the physical aspects, the outer coating of the character,
it's something that should be embedded in you
by the time you're out of rehearsals you shouldn't have to think of that
while you're playing.
You play the man and the physical stuff
takes care of itself, hopefully.
And I was worried about the walk. How the hell am I going to explain this?
All I knew is I wanted to lower my centre of gravity.
-You know, so that...
-Well, as if your Y-fronts have dropped?
Finally what I used... Sometimes we use images.
As, you know, here's an image of this or... whatever you want.
Anything that works.
But I just suddenly one day in rehearsal
got the image of someone who had...
Have you ever tried to walk when you've had an accident in your pants?
-It's... May I?
-Not since I was about six.
-What you do... First of all...
I don't mean to be crude about this. No, but it's true but it works.
-Go on, be crude.
-You don't put your legs together.
And you don't walk erect. You walk very carefully.
It slowed everything down and I just didn't move fast...
It was the greatest thing in the world for me.
from then on once I had that, man, I never moved fast.
It was perfect. Everybody said, "Isn't that a convincing thing?"
They didn't know how I got it. What the hell.
Perhaps the perfect example of Lemmon inhabiting a role
came in one of his most enduring films.
Billy Wilder's, Some Like It Hot.
Along with Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe was, of course,
one of Lemmon's co-stars and people always wanted to know
how he found working with her.
Here's Jack talking to Mark Cousins about the film's famous
train sleeper compartment scene.
I read that, you know, she's famous
-for doing like 40 takes or something.
Did she do it here?
One take. The whole thing.
And Billy said "Marilyn, do you want to do another one?"
And she said, "No." And he said, "That's it."
It was the first shot in the morning. It was the only time I think
she ever did one take in her life.
And it was not that she was not capable
or that the director would cut.
She would cut because she didn't feel right.
Whatever it was an alarm clock went off in her brain
and just said "No." And she would stop.
So you must have dreaded scenes with her, then?
In a way, except I liked her very much and we got along great
and I knew that she had problems and that she was not happy.
I didn't know why but I knew that she was basically not happy.
Um... It was none of my business, I never pushed it.
We never got close enough for me to find out
what her troubles may have been.
I mean, we all know she had troubles but...
..the biggest problem, really,
was not that, it was her lateness
cos she would just not come onto the set and shoot until she felt ready.
And it was not temperament at all.
It really was a psychological thing with her.
Till she could face that camera she wouldn't do it.
And you didn't know she was pregnant?
-And you didn't know she had a miscarriage during this film?
-We didn't know it.
-It makes the film more poignant, I think...
-When you know that in retrospect.
You said a fascinating thing which was when you were playing scenes
with her it's like there was a piece of glass, a glass wall
between you and her and yet...what?
-When you looked at the rushes... there was...
Then you'd go to the rushes and you wouldn't look at yourself,
you'd just look at her.
Cos it looked liked, it seemed like nothing was happening
but it was happening between her and the lens
if not between her and you.
Do you think she would have been good in the theatre?
You know, we talked before about the theatre or was she a...?
I personally don't think so.
I don't know, we'll never know but I don't think so.
-Right, let's look at this...
-I think she had a magic on film.
I don't want her to know
we're in cahoots.
Oh, well, we won't tell anybody.
Not even Josephine.
Maybe I'd better stay here
till she goes back to sleep.
You stay here as long as you like.
I'm not crowding you, am I?
No, it's nice and cosy.
HE LAUGHS NERVOUSLY AND SNORTS
When I was a little girl on cold nights like this
I used to crawl into bed with my sister,
we'd cuddle up under the covers and pretend we were lost
in a dark cave and we were trying to find our way out.
-HE LAUGHS AND SNORTS
-No, no, no, not a thing.
-You poor thing. You're trembling all over.
-Your head's hot.
-You've got cold feet.
-Isn't that ridiculous?
-Here, let me warm them up a little.
-There. Isn't that better?
-Yes, I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm a girl.
-What did you say?
I'm a very sick girl.
-Oh, I'd better go before I catch something.
-I'm not that sick.
-I've got very low resistance.
-Well, I'll tell you, sugar.
If you feel that you're coming down with something, my dear,
-the best thing in the world is a shot of whiskey.
-You've got some?
-I know where to get it.
Don't move. Shh.
Up, up. Now.
-Are you all right?
-How's the bottle?
-You'd better get some cups.
-And this very scene also came up in Lemmon's visit
to the Parkinson show.
Oh, I tell you, my dear. This is the only way to travel.
You'd better put on the lights, I can't see what I'm doing.
No lights, we don't want them to know we're having a party.
-But I might spill something.
-So spill it.
Spills, thrills, laughs and games.
This may even turn out to be a surprise party.
Actually, I think if I'd had been playing with Marilyn Monroe
in that bed scene, the initial sequence there,
that I'd have been glad it took 30 odd takes.
-You know something...
That whole first long thing was the first take.
Just to show you how things can happen and it totally shocked me.
It was the first take straight through.
Billy said, "Print" and she said, "I loved it too."
And I thought, "What happened?"
Because I was ready for it to go all day.
And...it's lucky I got all the words right because I had learned to,
kind of, pace myself with Marilyn so you don't go by it,
you don't end up just exhausted and with your energy level way down
as she began to, you know, pull it all together.
Because the day before we had gone, like, 37 takes.
And she had exactly two lines.
She walked in and said, "Where's that bourbon? Oh, there it is."
But it didn't feel right for her, you see.
-And we went 37 takes.
-And that was...
And the next morning we came in, did the whole upper berth thing -
that whole first take before he goes down to get the booze -
And she had it in the first crack. So you never know.
Perhaps she didn't like being in bed with you.
AUDIENCE LAUGHS Oh, well.
That marvellous thing there that Wilder did in that movie
and, indeed, you and Tony Curtis did was, I mean,
wore women's clothes throughout the entire movie
and yet you trod the tightrope all along,
-it never went over into the queer thing at all.
-No, not at all.
I think that in a part like that that if...
anybody would have ever worry or think about that,
that that kind of self-consciousness would ruin it.
I think you'd just have to say, "Forget it" and just play the part
-to the hilt, absolutely to the hilt and just go to the moon with it.
Let it go, you know, because...
or at least the character I played, anyhow, is absolutely insane, anyway.
He never acted he only reacted.
And once I realised that then I was all set.
I mean, you know, no matter what you said he would then react.
He never stopped to think. MICHAEL AND AUDIENCE LAUGH
He could never... He was incapable of creating a thought
whereas Tony's character would be the motivator.
He's the one that would get the ideas.
He's the one who would do it and I'd just go and react,
-no matter what it was, you know?
And...without ever thinking, he never stopped to think.
So I just never stopped to think or worry about that.
Just said, "To hell with it, just go." And let it go all the way.
-Did you base it, actually, on any woman at all?
-You may be honest on this...
But I'll tell you something very funny
that I realised shortly afterwards.
Once we'd gotten the make-up right and everything
and they'd gotten the hair right, my mother came to the set to visit us
and I suddenly stood beside and it was one of those wardrobe mirrors
and we both were there and I looked and I'm like,
"God, I look just like her." AUDIENCE LAUGHS.
I really did.
She had her hair done like mine and she always had this, sort of,
slight bee sting, you know, the lipstick thing on there.
And we really did.
And so I had a couple of pictures taken of us together
and we looked like sisters. It's very funny.
Did you ever try out the disguise, Jack, though, in real life?
Yes, oh, yeah. When we first...
It took about three or four days of tests to try to get it right
because it had to be funny, yes, but it also had to be good enough
so that even though it was a broad farce it would be believable
that they could get away with it in front of the girls.
So that, also, was another fine line about it.
And when we did get the make-up to our satisfaction,
we were going to lunch, Tony and I, at The Commissary,
and I said, "Wait a minute, I've got an idea."
And there was a bunch of girls...
that were working on another film...in the backlot of MGM
which is where we were doing the tests.
It was not a MGM film, it was a United Artists film
but that's where we were shooting at the moment.
And I said, "I think they're going to the ladies room, follow them."
So he said, "What?" I said, "Yeah, follow them." So we did.
And nobody batted an eyeball. We just went right on in.
And I figured if we could get by with them, you know, then...
So we told Billy and he said,
"Terrific, that's it, we don't change anything."
And that's how we ended up with the final make-up.
Today, Some Like It Hot is considered
one of cinema's greatest comedies.
But Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe were by no means the only co-stars
with whom Lemmon will be forever associated.
What about the extraordinary Walter Matthau I mentioned earlier,
you've done The Odd Couple and Whiplash Willie.
Now, there's the laconic Matthau, the frenetic you.
-Is it a happy combination?
Again, I'm very close to him personally.
I must say...
I always hesitate if someone says who's your favourite actor
or favourite actress because you don't wish to say someone
as averse to somebody else, you know, for the sake of their feelings.
But I've never worked with an actor
I've enjoyed working with more than Walter.
And that's just professionally,
aside from the fact that we're very close friends.
He is a marvellous, wonderful, thoroughly trained,
disciplined professional man of great good spirit to work with
and, of course, enormous talent and a very considerate actor.
He is concerned with his job within the scene,
not just what he is going to do, you know.
And it's a joy to work with him.
He doesn't care where any camera is or anything else,
he wants to work with you and not at you.
And I tell you, usually you work at an actor and not with them.
And here's an example of Lemmon and Matthau working together
even though they were 1,000 miles apart on the Wogan show in 1989.
There was another hilarious role as that fussy, the motherly...Felix.
-Oh, Felix. Oh, God.
-In The Odd Couple.
I mean, we've got a little clip from that.
That's not only a great role
but there I was playing with one of my very dearest friends and...
-Yeah, it's a joy.
-We've got a little...
That's not even like work that's just, sort of,
like just sitting down and chatting over breakfast.
-You know, he's...ah!
-He's an old pal.
You have a clip of that?
Yeah, we've got a clip of it over here.
Stop that, will you? What are you doing?
I'm trying to clear out my ears.
Pwahh. You create a pressure inside your head,
it opens up the Eustachian tube.
Mweh. Phwah! Phwah!
-Did it open up?
-I think I strained my throat.
-That wonderful clearing of the throat. I mean, I don't know...
How did Walter Matthau keep a straight face? Did you...?
How did he keep a straight face?
That was the toughest scene in the film for me
because I could not look at Walter. Just those sly little...
those looks of his just absolutely destroyed...
What he does...if he says, "Hello" I'm on the floor.
Well, let's see if he'll say hello to us now because he's
with us by satellite from Los Angeles.
-So can we call him in?
Walter Matthau, are you with us?
-There is the man himself.
-That's my Walter.
-Hello, how are you?
Oh, for God's sake.
Hey, what are you doing? Where are you?
-Well, I'm here at the St James Club.
And Bette Davis is sitting over there.
She looks about as bad as I do.
Jesus, old silver tongue. He's at it again.
I'm here, I just want to say, this fella went to Harvard University
and graduated and his finest moment on the stage is when he went,
-How are you doing, Jack?
-Oh, terrific. I miss ya.
-I miss ya, I'm having a great time.
-Are you all right?
How do we get you back? How much do they want?
-I don't know, that's up to the critics.
-How do we get you back?
We may find out very shortly.
-No, I mean, aren't you being held hostage?
-How are they treating you? Are you all right?
I am terrific. I'm having a wonderful time,
I'm working with some great guys.
You never call me. You don't call, you don't write.
You don't fax.
All right, I'll call, I'll call, I'll write.
Why don't you fax?
All right, I'll fax, I'll fax.
What's going on over there?
I'm doing a play, you dummy.
-You're in a play?
-You mean you're acting?
I'm acting with some terrific guys. You'd love it.
-They pay you money to do this?
-Oh, yeah. Sure.
-I finally got the hang of it.
Ah, no wonder you left America and went to England.
-They give you money there.
-Oh, yeah. Sure.
-Are you guys great friends?
Do you two meet on a social level or is it just pals in the movies?
-What do you do when you get together?
-Mainly we listen to our wives...
-His wife is a very extravagant woman.
His wife buys me very expensive gifts.
So I stay friendly with him.
Lemmon often said comedy drama was the hardest thing to get right.
That didn't mean the serious roles were easy.
A very different part for you, a very different film, of course,
-was Days Of Wine And Roses.
What made you particularly want to do that subject
which is about alcoholism, wasn't it, Jack?
I was afraid of it.
-You were afraid, really?
-That's one of the reasons.
I think there's been parts that,
I don't mean that they are necessarily difficult
but they might be to me.
And if I've read a script and I know damn well that it's good
and that that's a heck of a part
but I'm a little afraid of it,
then I really don't want to turn it down because I'll start rationalising
and I'll spend the rest of my time saying,
"You backed away from it, kid, you were afraid."
So I'd rather do it if I felt that strongly about it and flop
than not to do it.
And I didn't know how to play the part,
that's another thing that attracts me.
If I can finish a script
and I don't know how to play that part yet,
then there's something there, you know, you've got to dig
and there's something to find rather than say,
"Oh, that's 4-H, I did him last year."
You know, well, that's off the side of your foot because you played him,
you know, it's skin deep, it's just surface.
And those two things - if I don't know how to play them
and if I'm a little bit afraid...
I felt that about that part and so I said, "OK, let's go."
And I felt it about Save The Tiger which is a film that's not out yet
that I just finished before Avanti.
It's the same thing. And that's a heavy drama, also.
Well, let's look at...
There's one particular scene from Days Of Wine And Roses,
which I shall always remember,
which when I first saw it in the cinema,
really made me catch my breath.
It's a scene where all of a sudden it turns nasty.
Where this, sort of, comic drunk really gets it.
HE SNORTS AND LAUGHS # Doo-doo-doo-doo. #
AUDIENCE LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
That's the most extraordinary blend, isn't it, of comedy and real drama?
I mean, the flowers behind the back. That's pure Keaton that, isn't it?
That awful walk into that plate glass.
I love things like that. That's...
Blake Edwards had directed that.
Usually... It was interesting, because Blake...
I had done practically all comedies,
as far as films were concerned up to that point
and Blake had done practically all comedies.
You know, Pink Panther, this, that.
He's certainly more known as a comedy director.
But, I don't know why. I got that crazy idea of hitting...
Of picking the flowers. It was not in the script, picking the flowers...
Of almost walking through the thing
and then having the elevator doors... chop them off,
so that later, in the middle of a dramatic fight,
which comes after that,
I could suddenly notice them
and wonder what the hell happened to them,
because he never did figure it out.
I love if you can throw... Put comedy into drama.
I love it. It's because that's what life is like.
We tend to sort of label films.
If it's a comedy, it's supposed to be a comedy,
if it's a drama, it's a drama.
That's why Billy in The Apartment did such a brilliant job
of putting comedy and drama and romance together.
He's done it again in Avanti, I think. And...
It's not easy, but it's always...
..marvellous, sometimes, even if it's just for relief.
I remember being struck years ago when I saw Marlon...
Yeah, Marlon who(?) Marlon Brando, who else?
When I saw Marlon in A Streetcar Named Desire,
which was one of the great performances I've ever seen
by any actor, anywhere, any time.
This was in the theatre prior to him doing it on film.
Now, Streetcar Named Desire won the Pulitzer Prize and all of that
and was certainly was a magnificent, heavy drama.
But it had more laughs than any comedy running on Broadway that year.
It had an enormous number of laughs, hundreds of them.
And it ran very long because of that.
They had to invent business all over the stage
while people were laughing about every fourth or fifth line
and yet it had a tremendous power.
And when you can combine comedy with drama like that,
I think it's always much more telling.
Let's have a look at another sequence from...
from Days Of Wine And Roses now, which is...
Which shows a sort of heavy side that we were talking about.
It's a sequence, in fact, when you're finally taking the cure.
-You're in the straitjacket.
Argh! Ed, give us a hand.
HE BREATHES HEAVILY
Did you actually observe people going through...?
Yes. We went... It was terrible.
Both Lee Remick, who played in it with me, of course,
and I went very often to...
down at the drunk tanks
and we'd go down late at night to the Lincoln Heights jail
outside of Los Angeles.
..observe them. It's frightening.
The drying out tables too and the straitjackets and everything.
It's really not the slightest bit exaggerated
and just go totally berserk.
They're gone. Totally out of it.
-What effect did it have on your drinking habits?
-Drove me to drink!
AUDIENCE LAUGHS Naturally! What else would it do?
A part like that!
Actually, I don't think it had any effect at all.
-Didn't make you frightened?
-No, I still kept to 2,3 bottles a day.
Has drink other affected your work?
God, I hope not.
I don't think so. I hope not.
You'll have observed people in your business whose work it has affected?
-Yes, not very often.
I've seen, you know, there are some and it's a pity.
If they're going to drink when they work.
I mean, that's, you know....
Usually, if drink affects an actor's work,
it's because, basically, he's petrified in the first place.
If he ever drinks before a performance...
I don't give a damn how much he drinks afterwards,
but the actor that drinks before,
to give himself a little lift or a boost
-is in trouble, I think...
Because he really doesn't want to go out there in the first place
or he wouldn't do it.
Another of Lemmon's heavier roles
came in the 1982 controversial political drama Missing.
Based on a true story,
the film was attacked by the US government
for claiming that America was involved
in the military overthrow of Chile's President Allende.
Lemmon played Ed Horman,
an American patriot whose belief in his country is shattered
as he searches for his journalist son who's gone missing in the coup.
Here we find Lemmon in the serious mode,
discussing the film and how he found portraying a real-life character.
I was terribly pleased once I had met him,
because we did not meet until towards the very end of the film,
which I think is good.
So, I didn't have any restrictions placed on me...
..in my attitude towards the character.
He, at least in the broad strokes,
the general basic characteristics that I found from the pages,
are in Ed Horman, thank God.
So, I don't feel guilty that I portrayed a man
who is quite different than the real man is.
There's an innate decency and a dignity about him.
It's absolutely unflappable.
It's quite wonderful. He has great strength.
He's got a great, big strong rod up his back, you know?
Morally and ethically.
He's a very principled man.
I don't think that that man could tell a lie
if his life depended on it.
He's not capable of doing that, you know?
Which also made me feel good,
because I feel that in if it's basically his story.
We are not saying that there was complicity of the government.
We are saying that Ed Horman says there was complicity in his mind.
There's a big difference there.
Uh, but I believe him.
I really would tend to believe this man,
because he's intelligent,
a very naive man, as he started out,
who was wised up quite rapidly to the ways of political life.
And the fact that being an American does not mean that
you are given preferential treatment all over the world, you know?
I think we Americans think that,
because we sit naively over there in that huge country
untouched and unsurrounded.
And we just somehow think that, well, you know,
Americans are known all over the world.
Anywhere we go, we'll be taken care of,
everything will be fine, you know?
But that's not true necessarily.
I don't know what happened to your kid, Ed.
But I understand he was a bit of a snoop.
He poked his nose around in a lot of dangerous places
where he really didn't belong.
I went up to your town, New York,
and I started messing around with the Mafia.
I wind up dead in East River.
And my wife, or my father, complains to the police
because they didn't protect me.
They really wouldn't have much of a case, would they?
You play with fire,
you get burned.
But did it worry you that the American government
reacted against the film as it did?
No, I was thrilled. HE LAUGHS
I loved it. I'll tell you why.
They would never have done it.
They would never have come out with
that long, what, 500-word denunciation of whatever
saying this is distortion of facts
and these things did not occur as the film says.
Well, it is not a distortion of facts, they did occur.
But, they have to protect the stand they always had.
They would never have taken that stand
unless the film were very strong and unless it was a hit...you see.
So, it was flattering in a way, that for the first time in history
the State Department comes out against a film.
The book came out, you know, four, five years before that
and it was not a bestseller.
They didn't say boo. Nobody said anything.
They didn't criticise. They didn't say anything about it.
But, when the film was a hit, boom,
then they felt they had to do something to save face.
Missing and another political thriller, The China Syndrome,
were impressive additions to Lemmon's body of work
and his reputation for versatility.
So, which of his roles was his own personal favourite?
What you think was your best work?
I don't know. I can't judge that.
I know that for about half of the parts that I've done,
and all of the good ones,
I have been afraid of them.
But I learned early on that that's OK.
It started way back with Days Of Wine And Roses.
I found that I was scared to death once I said I want to play it.
Then I was worried, "Can I play it?" And...
I realised that's good, because you're not going to relax.
You're going to do better work,
whether you're good, bad or indifferent.
You'll do better work if you're a little bit afraid.
"Hey, maybe I can't do this."
Are you any judge of when you see the finished work?
Are you any judge of whether it's any good or not,
or do you think it's all good?
Oh, God, last time I was on.
-Crazy Walter, my friend Matthau came on, you know and so forth.
One time, I thought I had done a brilliant job
in a film called Alex And The Gypsy.
I think it hit the 50-cent houses in about one minute,
but anyway, comes the first sneak preview.
I couldn't wait to bring my friend Walter, huh?
Now, unlike the theatre, where were faced with that terrible thing
where you go back to see a friend who's just opened in a play
and you don't know what you're going to say
if the performance is not good
or the play is a turkey or this and that.
You always worry, "What am I going to say to him," you know?
"Ah, you've done it again!" Uh, what are you going to do?
In a film, the one difference is that's it.
It's there forever, you know?
Unlike a play. At least that can close.
Well, I brought Walter to the screening of Alex And The Gypsy.
We sat in the back.
I think by the time the lights came up, there was 10 people left.
They had all gone up and just disappeared during the screening.
It was just God-awful. It was awful.
And I then realised it.
So, the last of the people had gone out.
Walter was sitting beside me just...
And I said, "All right, Walts. What do you think?"
He said, "Get out of it!"
It was my favourite.
It was almost worth doing the film for that line.
How the hell do you get out of a film?
THEY BOTH LAUGH
-That's a lot of help.
-But you can't.
Sometimes you think... When you feel, in a film, I think,
or in a play, very often,
you feel, "Hey, this is not going very well."
Usually, you're right, it's not too good.
But sometimes, you can think, "Oh, boy, this is terrific" and it's not.
Failures like that were few and far between,
but there might have been more
had Lemmon been forced into one particular genre of film
that he definitely didn't feel suited to.
Has anybody ever tried, Jack,
to persuade you to do something other than play a 20th-century man?
I mean, have you ever had an offer of a biblical role
or anything like that?
Oh, I did a test...
Thank God that Harry Cohen and I hit it off as well as we did,
because they were doing Joseph And His Brethren.
It never was finally made.
And as a matter of fact, I think Tony, at one point,
was going to play it.
He would have been infinitely superior to me in it.
But can you see me as Joseph?
Well, they just...
Harry kept saying, "Now, come on. Please do this test."
And I kept saying, "Listen, I don't... It's just...
"It's wrong. Please."
And, er... Jerry Wald, who was then alive, was producing it and...
..Clifford Odets was writing it
and they all kept asking me
and I said, "Well, I can't refuse."
I didn't have the right to refuse, as a matter of fact.
So, I did.
Well, they brought me up and put on this thing.
This kind of a skirt with a belt down to here and one strap over
and then the sandals with the laces up to here.
I walked onto that set to do a serious scene
and the grips started falling out of the rafters.
I never, ever, ever, in any comedy got as big a laugh...
AUDIENCE LAUGHS ..as I got in there.
We could not shoot all morning long.
Every time I'd opened my mouth, they'd start going.
And the cameras were jiggling, guys were turning away
and it was just awful, just God-awful.
I did the test with Rita Hayworth.
Hmph! And she had a great deal of trouble, I'll tell you,
because she'd start cracking up in the middle of the scenes.
And I tried, I tried my best.
but, then Harry said, "OK, you don't have to play the part," he said.
"But, if you ever give me any trouble
"and you try to back out of a picture that I'm going put you in,"
he says, "I'm going to show everybody in town that test."
LAUGHTER So he held it over me.
The Hollywood epic aside,
Jack Lemmon showed time and again
that he was one of cinema's finest actors
and with the greatest range.
When Jack died in 2001
at the age of 76,
one line quoted repeatedly summed up the reaction.
It came from the great director Billy Wilder, who simply said,
"Happiness is working with Jack Lemmon."
A retrospective look at television appearances made over the years by Some Like It Hot and Days of Wine and Roses star Jack Lemmon, with interviews from the archive and classic clips capturing the milestones and highlights of his life and career. Narrated by Sylvia Syms.