Jack Lemmon


  1. 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.
  2. Dennis Hopper, Giant, 1955.
  3. Macdonald Carey. Odongo, 1955.    Columbia despot Harry Cohen offered  Rhonda Fleming an East African trip for the Warwick Films movie. And she could choose her co-star from contract players Carey and Jack Lemmon. She voted Carey – Mr Experience.  Years later, she said: “I think Jack owes me for not making Odongo.” (Jack made another Cubby Broccoli-Irving Allen film for Columbia r the following year: Fire Down Below, with Rita Hayworth and Robert Mitchum).
  4. 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.  As for being billed  between Rita Hayworth  and her Columbia successor, Kim, Novak, Sinatra opined: “That’s a sandwich I don’t mind being stuck in the middle of.” Later that year, Lemmon and Hayworth enjoined anew for  Fire Down Below.  Not exactly hot.
  5. 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).
  6. Jeffrey Hunter,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.
  7. Ricky Nelson, Rio Bravo, 1958.
  8. 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, nor would Curtis be Jerry the earnest, adaptable and wacky bassist.  And a 100% perfect comedy was born.
  9. Steve Forrest, Heller In Pink Tights, 1959.  The first (and last) Western for Sophia Loren and director George Cukor was no kin  to the Fox musical never made after Marilyn Monroe refused it in 1954: The Girl in Pink Tights). Paramount wanted Alan Ladd as the gunslinger hiding out in Sophia’s acting troupe touring the Old West. Ladd passed, followed by the TV Maverick cousins, James Garner and Roger Moore, plus John Gavin and Jack Lemmon – a once and only Cowboy in 1957. Sophia told me she had difficulty finding tall leading men which is why she voted for another telly-cowpoke, Clint Walker.  But he was busy towering over his Cheyenne series, 1955-1962   
  10. Paul Newman,The Hustler, 1961.      “Smart move! I even told the writer and director: You can’t make a movie about pool!”
  11. 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 or, indeed, to replace Sellers. Tom Ewell (from Wilder’s Seven Year Itch), Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Tony Randall, all agreed  that was an impossible task. The comedy was a  flop the second  Walston  signed his contract. As if Wilder was sabotaging his own movie.
  12. Richard Burton, Who’s  Afraid  of  Virginia  Woolf?, 1966. 
    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 talkathon. The Burtons!  In the fourth of their eleven movies, winning Elizabeth Taylor $1.1m and her second Best Actress Oscar. Thinking of their image, most actors were scared of being the emasculated husband of a blowsy, loudmouthed Liz. Ernest Lehman was the producer and scenarist  – well, the Burtons put all of playwright Edward  Albee’s lines back into the script, leaving just two by Lehman!.  He wanted Peter O’Toole as George. (The wife was Martha!). Liz liked Broadway’s George, Arthur Hill.  And Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, James Mason, Peter O’Toole  and, amazingly, Glenn Ford, were also in the frame before Liz simply said: “What about Burton?”   Just like she’d said about directors: “You know who’s a genius? Mike Nichols.” That’s how  Broadway’s king started his amazing  film-directing career – after  studying the George Stevens classic, A Place in the  Sun. The star was… Liz Taylor.

  13. Jim Hutton, Walk Don’t Run, 1965.  All good things must come to an end…  even the impeccable career of  what he called “the facade of a man known as Cary Grant.” He chose to go out on, a new version of The More The Merrier, 1942, directed by George Stevens (who made three films with Cary, including Gunga Din). First time around, it was Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea (who said at the time  that Carty would have been  better) and old Charles  Coburn. Columbia now fancied Julie Andrews, Jack Lemmon and Spencer Tracy, but got luckier with Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton and Cary Grant –  in what Variety critic, Murf,  hailed as  “a completely entertaining, often hilarious romantic comedy spotlighting,  as a matchmaker,  a deliberately mature Cary Grant at the peak of his comedy prowess.” Indeed!  “His presence,” Murf continued, “dominates every scene, including one long-shot – with only part of his face visible and but a few words to speak – in which his magnetism draws the eye away from the predominant foliage.”  In  other scenes Cary whistled his favourite themes  from Charade and An Affair to Remember – a lovely touch. And that was it. The End – 77 films since 1931.  All over. All done and dusted. ’Bye now!  Didn’t stop one  producer trying to give him $2m and 75% of the profits  if he made it 78 withOne Thousand Cups of German  Coffee. Cary just laughed, Politely. Never letting on that he had once owned  rights, himself, and decided against it. 
  14. 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. 
  15. Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke, 1967.    “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Donn Pearce’s novel  was snapped up by Lemmon’s company, Jalem, for  the boss to play Lucas Jackson. Except no one, Lemmon included, could see him asas an avatar for Jesus Christ, working on  a tough chain-gang much less swallowing 50 hard-boiled eggs (swiftly vomitted by Newman into a handy rubbish bin after “Cut!”).Newman loved it all. “It‘s one of the few roles I committed myself to on the basis of the original book without seeing a script. It would have worked no matter how many mistakes were made.” 
  16. Rex Harrison,Doctor Dolittle, 1967.  Musicals were back in, almost ruling again… Camelot, My Fair Lady, Oliver!, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music…  And so Fox made the great mistake of of signing the racially abusive Rex Harrison for the lead of the expected family treat about  the top-hatted doctor  who wished he could walk, talk, grunt,  squeak and squawk with the animals.  Harrison was so abusive to cast and crew (and anti-Semitic, said co-star Anthony Newley) that he was known as Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Producer Arthur P Jacobs – or Darryl Zanuck pulling strings behind the scenes had turned down for the far more agreeable (and popular) Jack Lemmon., Alec Guinness…  and, up for the same role for the fourth time, Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov.
  17. William Daniels, The Graduate,1967.

  18. Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes, 1968.
  19. Roddy MacDowall, Planet of the Apes, 1968.

  20. Walter Matthau, The Odd Couple, 1968.     “I fucking wouldn’t dare” – that’s Jack refusing 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.
  21. 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.

  22. Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid1969.
  23. 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.   
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. John Hurt, Heaven’s Gate, 1978.      Not the first time Jack was asked to go West. He only wentonce -as Frank Harris turned Cowboy, 1958 .
  28. 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!
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.

  32. Jason Robards, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983.   Inbetween being written for Gene Kelly and bought by Kirk Douglas, various versions of the Ray Bradbury tale proposed Lemmon, James Garner, Hal Holbrook, Walter Matthau for Kirk’s favourite character, Charles Holloway.
  33. 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! “Interesting having my Dad play my Dad,” recalled the film’s young trader hero.   “Jack Lemmon is a genius, no question. But my Dad’s my Dad and he’s kind of a genius, too.”
  34. 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.
  35. 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 Mississippi in… 1969.
  36. 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.
  37. Robert Duvall, Falling Down, 1992.  “You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven…?”  On his last day on the job, LAPD Sergeant Lester Prendergast finds a guy, known only by his car number-plate, D-FENS, melting down, dangerously.  He’s Michael Douglas, in a Spartacus  buzz-cut, glasses and, finally, his very own Cuckoo’s Nest.  Duvall won theca from Gene Hackman, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and Jason Robards.
  38. Kirk Douglas, Greedy, 1993.    Lemmon and Anthony Quinn were suggested for Uncle Joe after Paul Newman refused the millionaire – far removed from the other Douglas’ Gordon Gekko’s“Greed is good.”
  39. 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.
  40. Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story, 1999.    Pretentious American auteurDavid Lynch is not so clever. He mused on Lemmon, John Hurt and Gregory Peck. It was Mary Sweeney, his writer-editor-producer-lover (and mother of their then seven-year-old son, Riley)  – who thought The Old Grey Fox was best… to drive a motor-mower from Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion, Wisconsin to see his dying brother  Farnsworth, an old John Ford stuntman (like another great old-timer, Ben Johnson), was  terminally ill with metastatic prostate cancer, spreading to his bones and paralyzing his legs. He astonished the unit with his tenacity during the shoot… and, indeed, at the 1999 Cannes festival. Due to the pain of his illness, he committed suicide in 2000 at age 80.


















 Birth year: 1925Death year: 2001Other name: Casting Calls:  39