When Life Gives You Lemmons


The late American actor/musician Jack Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. Born John Uhler Lemmon III in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, he was the only child of John Uhler Lemmon Jr and his wife Mildred. His father, a driven man who never said the word juxtaposition, was president of a doughnut company and his mother wasn’t.

The number eight figured highly in Lemmon’s life. His acting ambitions started at 8 years old, he was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, and used to catch the number 8 bus if he needed to vacuum Santa Barbara beach. He also took the number 8 home, unless there was a bus strike, or he’d been offered a lift home from the Tabernacle Choir.

I recall from my childhood, my mum was fond of the 1968 movie The Odd Couple in which Lemmon (Felix Ungar) starred with Walter Matthau (Oscar Madison).

She was so taken with Jack Lemmon’s character, who displayed an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for cleaning, she based my brother Ian on him.

lemmon matthau

To be honest, I’m probably being tough on our kid, who is nowhere near that neurotic. However, when Ian had his own flat a few years back, he’d be the first to admit he exhibited symptoms of a cleaning disorder.

When you visited his apartment, it was common for my younger sibling, as a pro-active dust reduction measure, banned guests from flaking skin on his furniture. To assist him with this objective he would wrap his guests in cling film.

It was a reasonably effective strategy, with the exception of the occasion he suffocated the guy who came to read the electricity meter. An accidental tragedy resultant from my brother neglecting to pierce a breathing hole in the cling film.

Amongst his pet hates, Ian would also highly disapprove of guests placing a mug without a coaster on his electric meter reader shaped coffee table. It was an incredibly authentic looking table; although it has to be said it didn’t smell too good.

To be fair to Ian, he was nowhere near as bad as Lemmon’s character Felix Ungar. Although it would have been interesting to see how he’d react if he’d have flat shared with a slob like Matthau’s character Oscar Madison.

How would Madison react to being wrapped in cling film? Not to mention, would our Ian charge rent to Madison’s moulding food, the uninvited tenants in his refrigerator?

I suspect it wouldn’t end well, with the following Neil Simon (writer) dialogue from The Odd Couple eventually taking place:-

Matthau: “In other words, you’re throwin’ me out.”

Ian: “Not in other words….. Those are the perfect ones.”

Matthau: “Ok I’ll leave if you cut me out of this cling film!”

Ian: “No problem….. You don’t want a coffee table do you?!”

As comfortable in a comedy role as he was in drama, Jack Lemmon’s versatility contributed to him being dubbed by many as one of the finest screen and stage actors of his generation, or indeed any other generation.

His appearances in Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and The Odd Couple, mean Jack Lemmon starred in some of my best loved movies. Additionally, he had a smaller part in another of my all time favourites – Oliver Stone’s star-studded conspiracy theory movie JFK.

Jack Lemmon died in Los Angeles of complications related to his ongoing fight with cancer on June 27th 2001. The legacy he left behind was a stream of both classic comedies and iconic thought-provoking dramas. Not to mention the absolutely spotless New York apartment he shared with Walter Matthau.

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