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Oscar Winning Actor Jack Lemmon Dies
From Yahoo! News
Thursday June 28 4:51 AM ET
Thursday June 28 4:51 AM ET
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jack Lemmon, the two-time Oscar winner whose acting talents ranged from the adroit comedy of ``The Apartment'' and ``Some Like It Hot'' to the dramatic intensity of ``Days of Wine and Roses'' and ``Tuesdays with Morrie,'' has died at the age of 76.
Lemmon died Wednesday at about 10 p.m. from complications related to cancer, said longtime spokesman Warren Cowan. His wife, Felicia and two of his children were at his bedside at USC/Norris Cancer Clinic, Cowan said.
``He is one of the greatest actors in the history of the business,'' Cowan said. ``To say one word about him would be beautiful. It's an opinion that is shared by everybody who knew him.''
The Harvard-educated actor began in films with two stylish comedies and a musical with Betty Grable. Then in 1955, he showed his unique comedy style as the hapless Ensign Pulver in ``Mister Roberts,'' a role that won Lemmon an Oscar as supporting actor.
Throughout his career, and especially in films with Walter Matthau, Lemmon was often cast as the well-meaning fellow, a trifle square, who is taken advantage of by more forceful individuals.
In ``The Fortune Cookie,'' he is browbeaten into filing a false insurance claim by his brother-in-law. ``The Odd Couple'' portrayed Lemmon as the fastidious Felix Unger, who suffers from the slobbish habits of his roommate, Oscar Madison (Matthau). In ``The Front Page,'' city editor Matthau tricks his star reporter, Lemmon.
In 1962, Lemmon made a complete switch from his string of lighthearted comedies. In ``Days of Wine and Roses,'' he played an alcoholic who induces his new wife (Lee Remick) to join him in drinking sprees. His intense performance surprised critics and audiences and brought his first Academy nomination as lead actor.
Of his seven Oscar nominations for lead actor, two were for comedies, five for dramas.
``Save the Tiger,'' in which he played a dress manufacturer going along with shady business ethics despite the idealism of his youth, won him the Oscar for best actor of 1973. The hard-bitten project was rejected by studios until Paramount agreed to make it on a skimpy $1-million budget. Lemmon cut his salary to the guild minimum of $165 a week, plus a percentage of gross receipts.
Lemmon's comedic style was based on his portrayal of a well-meaning Everyman beset by disasters, both natural and unnatural. Such a guise seemed to come easily to him, since he was a self-proclaimed klutz.
His life, he often admitted, was a series of faux pas. He cited the night he won his first Oscar:
``Naturally I was thrilled, and I arrived at the Pantages Theater in my best tuxedo. I walked up a ramp to a platform for an interview, and I leaned against a railing. Only after I finished did I see a sign that said 'Fresh Paint.' So when I went up on the stage to accept my Oscar, I had this white streak across the back of my tuxedo.''
Lemmon's roles reflected a kind of nervous energy that came naturally.
``I seldom think that I'm up for a good role,'' he admitted in a 1975 interview. ``I nearly walked out on `Days of Wine and Roses' and `Some Like It Hot' because I didn't think I could handle the demands they made upon me as an actor. But if you think I'm insecure now, you should've seen me when I was first breaking in. I'd suffer dizzy spells. I was well on my way to becoming a basket case.''
Lemmon's career in film was marked by two inspired collaborations, with Billy Wilder and Walter Matthau.
Wilder first directed Lemmon in ``Some Like It Hot'' and ``The Apartment,'' which resulted in back-to-back Oscar nominations for the actor. They joined in five more films: ``Irma La Douce,'' ``The Fortune Cookie,'' ``Avanti!'' ``The Front Page'' and ``Buddy Buddy.''
From his first film with Matthau, ``The Fortune Cookie'' in 1966, Lemmon's fresh-faced, Ivy-League manner proved a perfect match for the slouching, gruff Matthau, who won the supporting actor Oscar for his role.
``The Odd Couple'' in 1968 cemented their relationship, and they costarred in six more films.
In his sole venture as a film director, Lemmon directed but did not appear in the 1971 ``Kotch.'' Matthau's role as a grumbling old-timer brought him an Academy nomination. Matthau died on July 1, 2000, of a heart attack.
Lemmon returned to Broadway in 1985 for a well-received revival of Eugene O'Neil's ``Long Day's Journey into Night.'' He remained active in films and television through the 1990s.
In 1993, he and Matthau rejoined for ``Grumpy Old Men'' with Sophia Loren and Ann-Margret. The comedy became a surprise hit and resulted in a sequel. The pair tried another sequel in 1998, ``The Odd Couple II,'' but it failed.
Lemmon also played cameo roles in such films as ``JFK,'' ``The Player,'' ``The Grass Harp'' and ``Hamlet.''
Television provided Lemmon's best roles in his mature years. He and George C. Scott appeared in acclaimed versions of ``Inherit the Wind'' and ``12 Angry Men.'' As the dying professor in the 2000 TV adaptation of the long-running best seller ``Tuesdays with Morrie,'' Lemmon gave one of his finest performances, earning an Emmy.
Summing up his career in 1989, he commented: ``Ever since I got into live TV in my late 20s, there has never been a serious drop when I'd have to make a comeback. We all make bad films. (The producers) misjudge, and you misjudge. That happens more often than the hits.
``But I have been able to get films that have worked, not only at the box office, but critically and with the public, often enough so that I'm still around. I can still get wonderful parts, thank God.''
Lemmon's mishaps began at birth. He was born Feb. 8, 1925, in an elevator at a Newton, Mass., hospital. He had a case of jaundice, prompting a nurse to comment, ``My, look at the little yellow Lemmon.'' His name: John Uhler Lemmon III.
His father owned a bakery business, and young Jack was brought up in comfortable circumstances. He made his acting debut at 4 in an amateur play, but his real passion was music, and he taught himself to play piano. Even though he wrote more than 400 songs in his lifetime, he never learned to read music.
Jack was a sickly boy who required 13 operations before he was 13 (some credit that experience for the quirky posture that was part of his comedic style). To build himself up, he trained in the gym at Andover prep school and became a fleet runner. At Harvard, his grades were modest except in drama. He became president of the famed Hasty Pudding Club and staged shows that reinforced his growing ambition to become an actor.
When he returned from Navy service as an ensign in World War II, Lemmon announced to his father his resolve to become an actor.
``I'll have to try it or all my life I'll wonder,'' he said. ``Do you really love it?'' his father asked. When Jack replied yes, his father said, ``That's good, because the day I don't find romance in a loaf of bread, I'm going to quit.''
With $300 from his father, Lemmon moved to New York, where he and friends ended up sleeping in an abandoned building. One morning, they awoke to a wrecking ball and barely escaped without their belongings.
Between acting jobs, Lemmon earned a few dollars playing piano in a saloon. His first break came with a role on a radio soap opera, ``The Brighter Day.''
By 1947, television drama was burgeoning, and he began working on shows such as ``Studio One.'' His first Broadway play, a revival of ``Room Service,'' lasted only two weeks but it provided a ticket to Hollywood. A Columbia Pictures scout saw him and recommended a test for the lead opposite Judy Holliday in ``It Should Happen to You.'' Studio boss Harry Cohn agreed to the casting.
Cohn, epitome of the bombastic studio chief, insisted on changing his new actor's name. He argued critics would use the name as a weapon, declaring the picture and the actor were lemons. He spelled out the new name L-E-N-N-O-N and pronounced it.
``Great!'' countered Lemmon. ``Just like Lenin the Russian. They'll say I'm a commie.''
Lemmon stood his ground. He had gone through school being taunted with cries of ``Jack, you lemon,'' and wasn't going to change it. Strangely, his intransigence led to a warm relationship with Cohn, who respected only those employees who challenged him.
After another comedy with Judy Holliday, ``Phffft,'' and a musical, Lemmon was loaned to Warner Bros. for the film that established his movie career, ``Mister Roberts.''
During his early Hollywood years, he often took to drink to calm his nervousness. He claimed never to have been an alcoholic, and on his 50th birthday in 1975, he quit alcohol entirely, believing it was hampering his energy.
Lemmon was married from 1950 to 1956 to actress Cynthia Stone; their son, Chris, was born in 1954. In 1962, he married actress Felicia Farr; their daughter, Courtney, was born in 1966.
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