Jack Lemmon (1925-2001)
- Jeffrey Hunter,The Long Gray Line,1955. His first marriage in shreds, Lemmon quit New York for Hollywood and a Columbia screentest for Judy Holliday's It Should HappenTo You.In George Cukor's absence,Richard Quine directed the test - and another for John Ford's film, requiring an actor to age from 25 to 75. "That kid makes the worst old man I ever saw," said Ford when tricked into viewing it. "But he'd be a hell of a Pulver." They met on a set and Ford told Lemmon to spit in his hand and shake: "I'm Ford and you're Pulver!" And that was Lemmon's first Oscar - for Mister Roberts, 1955.
- Dennis Hopper, Giant, 1955.
- Frank Sinatra, Pal Joey,1957. Marlene Dietrich wanted Frank Sinatra. Harry Cohn preferred his Columbia studio's surprise new star. Marlene quit, saying Lemmon was a nobody. Mae West was suggested. Rita Hayworth accepted. And no one wanted Broadway's Joey: Gene Kelly. Later that year, Lemmon and Hayworth made Fire Down Below. Not exactly hot.
- Tyrone Power, Witness For The Prosecution, 1956. Producer Edward Small was looking for a lead in two distinctly different films. Also in the Billy Wilder mix: Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Gene Kelly, even Roger Moore… but Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton had the peachier parts. Wilder liked the new kid - and called him back for Some Like It Hot, 1959, and six other movies together. (This was Ty Power’s final movie, he died on his next project, Solomon and Sheba, in 1958).
- JeffreyHunter,The Last Hurrah, 1958. In June 1956, Columbia announced James Cagney and Lemmon would repeat their Mister Roberts teaming. John Ford preferred Spencer Tracy andHunter. No complaints… about Spence.
- Ricky Nelson, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Tony Curtis, Some Like It Hot, 1958. “I haven’t got time to tell you everything now,” Billy Wilder told Lemmon. “It’s about two men on the lam from gansgters... they dress up in girls’ clothes and join an all-girl orchestra. Wanna do it?” “If I’m free,” said Lemmon. ”And if I’m not free, I’ll get free.” And Wilder immediately switched his stars. Lemmon was no longer Joe, the randy sax player,n or would Curtis be Jerry the earnest, adaptable and wacky bassist. And a 100% perfect comedy was born.
- Paul Newman,The Hustler, 1961. "Smart move! I even told the writer and director: You can't make a movie about pool!"
- Ray Walston, Kiss Me, Stupid, 1963. Jack made seven movies for Billy Wilder. This is not one of them... The comedy auteurdidn’t want (much less, care) to wait and see if Peter Sellers couldrecover from his massive heart attacks. Danny Kate had no time, likewise Lemmon (whose wife, Felicia Farr, was already cast aswhat would be his screen wife). Billy would not wait until Lemmons completed Good Neighbour Sam- andstaggered everyone by rushing ahead with Walston, who’d been in Billy’s The Apartment alongside Jack, but had none of the necessary charisma to survive opposite Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The comedy was a flop the second Waltston signed his contract. As if Wilder was sabotaging his own movie.
Carl Reiner, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, 1966. Nothing that Canadian director Norman Jewison offered would alter his refusal. Not the lead role, nor even Eva Marie Saint as his wife. His writer-actor pal,Reiner, jumped at it.
- Richard Burton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Yes, please - and then, 24 hours later, no thanks and he refused the film of the Edward Albee play. He never explained why. He was probably paid off when Jack Warner decided on the perfect gimmick for the. The Burtons! In the fourth of their eleven movies, winning Elizabeth Taylor $1.1m and her second Best Actress Oscar.
- Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke, 1967. A Jalem Productions movie. Ear-marked the boss. (Jack Lemmon). Fine, he said. Then, he read it. “Oh no, Paul would be so much better… I’ll produce for someone else for once.” And he did.
- Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1968.
- Roddy MacDowall, Planet of the Apes, 1968.
- Matthau, The Odd Couple, 1968. "I fucking wouldn't dare" - that’s Jackrefusing to play Oscar, the slob. He agreed to be fussy Felix and insisted that Matthau repeat his Broadway stage role ("oneof the best comedy performances in history").They remained friends and co-stars (in ten films) until Walter’s death in2000.
- Elliott Gould, M*A*S*H, 1969. As the script moved around directors, from George Roy Hill and Bud Yorkin to Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet, the studio chiefs, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and producer Ingo Preminger proved how much they had read it by suggesting The Odd Couple Go To War - and in Vietnam, not Korea! Writer Ring Lardner Jr had to remind them of the physicality of the tough football game climax.
- Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 1969.
- Alan Arkin, Catch 22, 1969. He pushed hard to play Joseph Heller’s anti-hero, Yossarin. The successively contacted directors - Stanley Kubrick, Richard Lester and finally, Mike Nichols - did not agree.
- Robert Stephens, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, l969. Noticing his favourite director Billy Wilder was having trouble casting his pet project, Lemmon offered to move to 221B Baker Street. Wilder passed. He loved the way Jack could turn anything he touched into comedy, but Sherlock was no parody. Stephens was far from funny. He even attempted suicide during the production, following the end of his marriage to Maggie Smith.
- Walter Matthau, Plaza Suite, 1970. On Broadway, George C Scott and Maureen Stapleton starred in all three Neil Simon mini-plays Paramount wanted six stars: Scott & Stapleton (repeating the first of their triples), Peter Sellers & Baraba Streisand, Walter Matthau & Lucille Ball. Then, Matthau insisted on playing the three guys - opposite Lee Grant, Barbara Harris and Stapleton. Simon didn’t like the cast, nor the picture. “Walter was wrong to play all three parts. That’s a trick Peter Sellers can do.” Simon cut a fourth playlet and turned it into a movie, The Out Of Towners for Lemmon, who, of course, co-starred with Matthau in Simon’s two Odd Couple films.
- Charles Bronson, Death Wish, 1973. Author Brian Garfield revealed that Sidney Lumet was the first director - with Jack Lemmon as the New York architect turned revenge killer and Fonda as the police detective hunting the lone vigilante stealing NYPD’s thunder. When Lumet switched to Serpico, his stars fled. So did Clint Eastwood, Jack Lemmon, Steve McQueen and Frank Sinatra. True Brit Michael Winner directed the thriller - and five more movies with Bronson.
- Dudley Moore, 10, 1979. Director Blake Edwards wrote it for Jack "For many years I tried to get him. I guess he didn't like it, because he wouldn't do it. So I finally signed George Segal… " And he never showed up for work!
Roy Scheider, All That Jazz, 1979. When director Bob Fosse was convinced (by his health) not to try and play his screen self, Broadway choreographer Joe Gideon was chased and/or avoided by… Lemmon (“too old,” said Fosse), Alan Alda, Alan Bates (“too British”), Warren Beatty (keen, but Gideon must not die at the end!), Robert Blake, Richard Dreyfuss (“afraid of the dancing”), Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Paul Neman (“Dumb of me… a terrible oversight”), Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, George Segal, Jon Voight. Scheider just grabbed it. “Outrageous, assaulting, melodramatic, very funny, stupid, silly, simplistic, vulgar - a wonderful movie!” Exactly.
- Rock Hudson, The Martian Chronicles, 1980. Robert Mulligan's 1969 movie plans for the Ray Bradbury sf classic finally became an Anglo-American mini-series, tame and surprisingly aged.
- John Hurt,Heaven's Gate, 1980. Not the first time Jack was asked to go West. He only wentonce -as Frank Harris turned Cowboy, 1958 .
- Freddie Jones,E la nava va/And The Ship Sails On, Italy, 1983. Fellini, the Italian maestro,had Lemmon's photo on his casting wall, alongside the French Michel Serrault and Italians Ugo Tognazzi - and Paolo Villaggio... eventually booked for Fellini’s finale, La Voce della l,una/The Voice of the Moon, 1990.
- Martin Sheen, Wall Street, 1987. "Who," writer-director Oliver Stone asked Charlie Sheen, "do you to play your dad? Jack Lemmon? Or your dad?" D’oh!
- John Cleese, Erik The Viking, 1988. Lemmon pulled out at short notice and, as a favour to his Python pal, Terry Jones (Erik’s writer-director) Cleese became Erik’s nemesis, the sadistic chieftain Halfdan the Black.
- Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning, 1989. "Now is the time to make realistic films about racial conflict and racial progress in America," said Jack whenhis JalemProductions brought William Bradford Huie's Three Lives For Mississippiin... 1969.
- John Cleese, Erik The Viking, 1989. After Lemmon quit, John (reluctantly) became Halfdan the Black to help out for his Monty Python pal, director Terry Jones. Didn’t help. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert blasted it as “an utterly worthless exercise in waste and wretched excess, uninformed by the slightest spark of humor, wit or coherence.” Erik had been due as the fifth Pythonite film, but the team split following the 1989 death of Graham Chapman.
- Kirk Douglas, Greedy, 1993. Lemmon and Anthony Quinn were suggested of rUncle Joeafter Paul Newman refused the millionaire - far removed from the other Douglas’ Gordon Gekko’s“Greed is good.”
- Burt Reynolds, Waterproof, 1998. Jack and Gene Hackman and Paul Newman were first sought for what proved the unlikeliest role everfor the doldrummed Reynolds- Eli Zeal, the elderly Jewish owner of a little grocery store in what is now an African-American neighborhood.Shot over 24 days in ’98, the filmnever found a distributor. The re-make rights we bought by Cloud Ten Pictures in 2010. But this was not The Pawnbroker.
- Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story, 1999. "This is the role you were born to play," David Lynch told Farnsworth. But The Old Grey Fox, an old John Ford stuntman (like another great old-timer, Ben Johnson), felt he was too old. No - and not even Lemmon could have been better. Farnsworth shot himself dead in 2000 aged 80.