Lemmon was born in an elevator at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He was the son of Mildred Burgess LaRue (née Noel) and John Uhler Lemmon, Jr., who was the president of a doughnut company. Lemmon attended John Ward Elementary School in Newton and The Rivers School in Weston, Massachusetts. He later revealed that he knew he wanted to be an actor from the age of eight. Lemmon attended Phillips Academy (Class of 1943) and Harvard University (Class of 1947) where he lived in Adams House and was an active member of several Drama Clubs - becoming president of the Hasty Pudding Club - as well as a member of the Delphic Club for Gentleman, a final club at Harvard. After Harvard, Lemmon joined the Navy, receiving V-12 training and serving as an ensign. On being discharged, he took up acting professionally, working on radio, television and Broadway. He studied acting under Uta Hagen. He also became enthused with the piano and learned to play it on his own. He could also play the harmonica and the bass fiddle.
Lemmon's film debut was a bit part as a plasterer/painter in the 1949 film The Lady Takes a Sailor but he was not noticed until his official debut opposite Judy Holliday in the 1954 comedy It Should Happen to You. Lemmon worked with many legendary leading ladies, among them Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Betty Grable, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Romy Schneider, Doris Day, Kim Novak, Judy Holliday, Rita Hayworth, June Allyson, Virna Lisi, Ann Margret, Sophia Loren and many, many more. He was also close friends with Tony Curtis, Ernie Kovacs, Walter Matthau and Kevin Spacey. He made two films with Curtis and eleven with Matthau.
He became a favorite actor of director Billy Wilder, starring in his films Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, Avanti!, The Front Page and Buddy Buddy. Wilder felt Lemmon had a natural tendency toward overacting that had to be tempered; the Wilder biography Nobody's Perfect quotes the director as saying, "Lemmon, I would describe him as a ham, a fine ham, and with ham you have to trim a little fat." The biography also quotes Jack Lemmon as saying, "I am particularly susceptible to the parts I play... If my character was having a nervous breakdown, I started to have one."
He also had a longtime working relationship with director Blake Edwards, starring in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Great Race (1965) and That's Life! (1986).
Lemmon recorded an album in 1958 while filming Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe. Twelve jazz tracks were created for Lemmon and another twelve were added. Lemmon played the piano and recorded his own versions of Monroe's trademark songs, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I'm Through With Love, for the album which was released in 1959 as A Twist of Lemmon/Some Like It Hot.
Lemmon was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1956 for Mister Roberts (1955) and the Best Actor Oscar for Save the Tiger (1973), becoming the first actor to achieve this double. He was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the controversial film Missing in 1982 and for his role in Some Like it Hot. In 1988, the American Film Institute gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962) was one of his favorite roles. He portrayed Joe Clay, a young, fun-loving alcoholic businessman. In that film, Lemmon delivered the line, "My name is Joe Clay ... I'm an alcoholic." Three and a half decades later, he admitted on the television program, Inside the Actors Studio, that he was not acting when he delivered that line, that he really was a recovering alcoholic at the end of his life.
Lemmon's production company JML produced Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Paul Newman was grateful to Lemmon for his support and offered him the role later made famous by Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but Lemmon turned it down. He did not like riding horses and he also felt he'd already played too many aspects of the Sundance Kid's character before.
Lemmon often appeared in films partnered with Walter Matthau. Among their pairings was 1968's The Odd Couple, as Felix Unger (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau). They also starred together in The Fortune Cookie (for which Matthau won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), The Front Page and Buddy Buddy. In 1971, Lemmon directed Matthau in the comedy Kotch. It was the only movie that Lemmon ever directed and Matthau was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
A rare death scene for Lemmon came in The China Syndrome, for which he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1982, he won another Cannes award for his performance in Missing (which received the Palme d'Or). His characters died in very few films other than that one, 1989's Dad and 1999's Tuesdays With Morrie.
At the 1998 Golden Globe Awards, he was nominated for "Best Actor in a Made for TV Movie" for his role in Twelve Angry Men losing to Ving Rhames. After accepting the award, Rhames asked Lemmon to come on stage and, in a move that stunned the audience, gave his award to him. (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, decided to have a second award made and sent to Rhames.)
He received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1988.
Kevin Spacey recalled that Lemmon is remembered as always making time for other people. When already regarded as a legend, he met the teenage Spacey backstage after a theater performance and spoke to him about pursuing an acting career. Spacey would later work with Lemmon in Dad (1989), the critically acclaimed film Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and on stage in a revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Lemmon's performance also inspired Gil Gunderson, a character on The Simpsons that is modeled on Lemmon's.
Lemmon was married twice. His son Chris Lemmon (b. 1954), was his first child by his first wife, actress Cynthia Stone (b. February 26, 1926, Peoria, Illinois). His second wife was the actress Felicia Farr, with whom he had a daughter, Courtney, born in 1966.
Jack Lemmon died of colon cancer and metastatic cancer of the bladder on June 27, 2001. He had been fighting the disease, very privately, for two years before his death.
Chris Lemmon made several TV shows and movies, including scenes together with his father in That's Life! and portraying him at a younger age in Dad. Chris wrote a book named A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father.
He is interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California where he is buried near his friend and co-star, Walter Matthau. In typical Jack Lemmon wit, his gravestone simply reads 'Jack Lemmon — in.' After Matthau's death in 2000, Lemmon appeared with friends and relatives of the actor on a Larry King Live show in tribute. A year later, many of the same people appeared on the show again to pay tribute to Lemmon.
Death ends a life, not a relationship. (Tuesdays with Morrie)
I won't quit until I get run over by a truck, a producer or a critic.
Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.
If you think it's hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.
It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is.
Nobody deserves this much money - certainly not an actor.
Stay humble. Always answer your phone - no matter who else is in the car.
[on Marilyn Monroe] Difficult? Yes. But she was a wonderful comedienne and she had a charisma like no one before or since.
[on Judy Holliday] She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn't give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene—acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met.
[on Billy Wilder] I've had directors who were marvelous at breaking scenes down and handling people. But when you would string all the pearls together, they wouldn't make a beautiful necklace. But Billy is the kind of picture-maker who can make a beautiful string of pearls. He makes the kind of movies that are classics and last forever.
[on Walter Matthau] Walter is a helluva actor. The best I've ever worked with.
Lemmon, Chris (2006). A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to My Father. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN 9781565124806.
1.^ Lemmon stated (on Inside the Actors Studio) that he had an Ulster-Scots heritage.1
2.^ Jack Lemmon Biography (1925-2001)
3.^ A slice of Lemmon for extra character, Bob Flynn, Panorama, p. 7, Canberra Times, August 15, 1998
4.^ YouTube - Charlie Rose - Kevin Spacey / Jamaica Kincaid
5.^ Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records