His dad wore a dress. But, even in women's clothing, he still came off as the Everyman. That was Jack Lemmon's great cinematic quality.
To me, actor/writer Chris Lemmon is Hollywood royalty. His late father, 2-time Oscar winner Jack Lemmon, got one of his Best Actor Oscar nominations for making us howl with laughter at a man's most desperate situation. In Billy Wilder's truly classic Some Like It Hot, he's one of two best buddies and musicians. They're running for their lives from killer gangsters in the 1920s because they witnessed a gangland slaying. To keep from being recognized and taken out by deadly phallic symbols called "machine guns", they dress like dames and join an all-girl band boarding a train from Chicago to Florida. Jack Lemmon was Jerry. Tony Curtis was Joe ("Josephine").
I told Chris that, when I watched his dad's movies on television and on the big screen, there was something specific about him that always connected to me and touched my heart. For as much as Jack Lemmon made us laugh as he battled some funny working class humiliations, there was a mist of sadness behind the eyes in that sunny face. You see it in Billy Wilder's other classic, The Apartment, as he plays C.C. "Bud" Baxter. He's the white collar man moving up in the corporation. Fran Kubelik (played beautifully by Shirley MacLaine) gives him a lift in the company. She's an elevator operator.
One of the other things we talked about was Jack Lemmon's care for the world around him. He got involved. You can see it in his choice of film roles. They're not all light-hearted comedies. He took on social issues in dramas like Days of Wine and Roses, Save the Tiger (for which he won Best Actor of 1973), Missing (Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 1982) and his cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's JFK. His Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 1979 came for the nuclear plant danger drama, The China Syndrome. In this, he was a longtime employee for whom the job at the plant was like the spouse he didn't have. He loved that job. Then, when approached by a local news reporter, he must choose between social conscience and corporate loyalty when a plant mishap could put millions of lives in danger.
Jack Lemmon could tackle a social issue even in a comedy. His 1996 White House comedy co-starring James Garner, My Fellow Americans, had a presidential embrace of gay rights. Look at the Billy Wilder comedy that teamed Lemmon with Walter Matthau for the first time. In The Fortune Cookie, Matthau plays the crooked lawyer whose brother-in-law was injured on the job. The lawyer is so shady that he's nicknamed "Whiplash Willie." For this performance, Matthau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of 1966.
This is a Wilder comedy that deserves re-appreciation. I never read or heard this mentioned in reviews of The Fortune Cookie, but it's something that my parents liked a lot when they saw it. I tell Chris in the podcast interview that my parents saw The Fortune Cookie as a clever, sophisticated statement on race relations in the Civil Rights era above the Mason-Dixon line.
Jack Lemmon played a network TV cameraman doing live NFL coverage on the field. Number 44, Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson, is in the Cleveland game. During one play, "Boom Boom" accidentally tackles the TV cameraman. In the pic below, director/writer Billy Wilder gives direction to actor Ron Rich as Jackson while Lemmon as cameraman Harry Hinkle watches on the far right in a hooded jacket.
Chris Lemmon talked to me about his Uncle Walter. Matthau and Jack Lemmon must've been brothers in a previous life. From The Fortune Cookie...
On this I make no mistake -- if a movie was being shot about moviemaking in the 1960s and a scene involved the making of The Odd Couple, the only person who could play Jack Lemmon would be Chris Lemmon. Wait till you hear his uncanny imitations of his dad ... and the guy he called "Uncle Waltz," Walter Matthau. Chris needs to be in a big screen comedy or doing TV sitcom gigs. He's definitely got the skills and the charisma.
The energetic, animated Jack Lemmon made his film debut opposite Judy Holliday in It Should Happen To You. That 1954 comedy feels fresh today. Holliday played a sweet, ambitious single woman in New York City who dreams of fame. She wants to become a celebrity. And she does, thanks to what we'd nowadays call "reality television." Lemmon plays the photographer who teaches her that it's not about being on-camera and having the masses know your name that's important. It's about making your name stand for something. That's what counts.
Chris and his father appeared in a few films together. Chris made his big screen debut in a thriller that starred his dad. It was another in the Airport franchise. Airport '77 boasted a big name cast, but the movie didn't take off at the box office or with critics. Many felt that the plot about a jumbo airliner full of passengers that just seemed to disappear in flight was ludicrous. Today, in 2014, it wouldn't be ludicrous. Look at the Malaysian airliner story making news. For his film debut, Chris had a few moments at a radar screen speaking naval terms that he really didn't understand. Here's the trailer.
Chris has funny stories about making that disaster movie.
Chris Lemmon is an actor, a gentleman, a great storyteller and an excellent pianist. Like father, like son. Here they are together.
Chris gave his memoir the same name given to one of his dad's record albums.
Chris Lemmon is utilizing his piano and acting skills in a one-man show based on his memoir, A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father. Tell the Hollywood folks that he's bringing his show to Southern California.
I got to tell that story to Chris. I treasured my time with his father. I treasured my time with him.
Oh! One last thing. For decades, I've wondered if special pumps had to be made for Jack Lemmon to wear in Some Like It Hot because of men having bigger feet. The answer is "no" and Chris told me why his dad was the perfect guy to wear women's shoes.
BobbyRiversShow.com. We'll be there all week.