Jack Lemmon: “Happiness was working with him”
The recent death of Broadway legend Neil Simon recalled memories of his wonderful body of work, not the least of which was The Odd Couple, which premiered as a play in 1965, later becoming a hugely successful film and television series.
There have been many incarnations of the oafish Oscar and the fastidious Felix both on stage and on screen, but the version most people would be familiar with is the 1968 film, which coincidently was on general release exactly 50 years ago. Walter Matthau reprised his stage role as the original Oscar and Jack Lemmon took the part of Felix – the result was cinematic gold.
Matthau worked with Lemmon on eleven movies, no doubt he agreed with Billy Wilder, who directed Lemmon in seven movies, who once said “Happiness is working with Jack Lemmon”. In almost fifty years onscreen, Jack Lemmon provided many hours of happiness for audiences who identified with his everyman persona and the characters he played, enduring the slings and arrows of everyday life.
Harvard-educated Lemmon was born in Boston in 1925. He claimed that he wanted to be an actor from the age of eight and after Broadway and television experience Lemmon made his movie debut in 1954 in It Should Happen To You – a romantic comedy opposite Judy Holliday. Through the decades he became regarded as the consummate American actor.
Equally at home in drama and comedy, Lemmon excelled as the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, and during the course of his career he was nominated eight times for Academy Awards, winning twice. Lemmon’s last film The Legend of Bagger Vance was in 2000, and this most likeable of actors died the following year, leaving a memorable legacy of films and performances.
Here are the ten best Jack Lemmon films taking in many of his finest performances.
- Mister Roberts (directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, 1955)
- Grumpy Old Men (Donald Petrie, 1993)
- Save the Tiger (John G Avildsen, 1973)
- The China Syndrome (James Bridges, 1979)
- Days of Wine and Roses (Blake Edwards, 1962)
- Missing (Constantin Costa-Garvas, 1982)
- The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)
- The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
- Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)