TV Guide's Mark Schwed: Remembering Jack Lemmon
Mark Schwed is a national writer for "TV Guide." He also writes a column, "Hollywood Grapevine" which is published weekly. Schwed joined our chat room on Thursday, June 28, 2001 to talk about the passing of actor Jack Lemmon.
MODERATOR: What will Jack Lemmon be most remembered for?
SCHWED: He will be remembered for the magical way he appealed to everyone, whether through comedy or drama. He was always fighting the good fight, against all odds. And we always rooted for him.
MODERATOR: What are your opinions on his best performances?
SCHWED: I might be a bit biased because I work at "TV Guide," but I loved "Tuesdays, with Morrie." It was the end of his career. He was playing a dying man who was trying to teach his former student that life is beautiful. It left a smile on my face. And you may not know this but he started in TV. He came full circle. And some of his best roles during his final years were for TV. "Mr. Roberts" is a classic, and remember, he was working opposite Henry Fonda and James Cagney. Blew them away.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How many movies did he star in over his career?
SCHWED: At least 30 movies. Some were cameos, too, like in "JFK" and "The Player." He did musicals, too.
MODERATOR: What were some of his roles that stand out to you, but are probably lesser known to the general public?
SCHWED: The thing about Lemmon is almost every one of his movies made an impact in some way. While "Grumpy Old Men" was a huge surprise hit (he and Walter Matthau were a little long in the tooth by Hollywood standards) "Grumpier Old Men" was not. People may not have paid money at the theaters to see it, but they apparently can't get enough of it on cable. "Days of Wine and Roses," in which he played an alcoholic, is one many people don't know about.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: I remember Mr. Lemmon used to have an office on ground floor of the William Morris agency. He said hello to everybody when they came through that door. Was he also a producer?
SCHWED: I'm not sure if he produced, but he did direct once. He directed1971's "Kotch." Walter Matthau's role as an old-timer got him an Oscar nomination.
MODERATOR: A few have called Lemmon "the greatest over-actor of his generation." What did his fellow actors think of his talents?
SCHWED: Funny. He was admired and loved, generally. Some feel he goes a bit over the top. Most don't. But you know, this is Hollywood, where everyone is jealous of everyone else's success. Almost everyone.
MODERATOR: Jack Lemmon was in the Entertainment business for more than 50 years. What sort of qualities do you think contributed to his longevity?
SCHWED: Whatever he did, we felt for the guy. We rooted for him. We wanted something, anything, to go right. And that's whether he was trying to save us from nuclear disaster in 79's "China Syndrome," or protect Henry Fonda in 55's "Mr. Roberts."
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Were he and Walter Matthau really as close as they seemed to be?
SCHWED: Yes. They had a genuine affection for each other. Otherwise, they wouldn't have made all those movies together.
MODERATOR: Towards the end of his career, Jack Lemmon did a lot of television work gaining three Emmy nominations and an Emmy award for "Tuesdays with Morrie." Do you think this work will be overshadowed by his film work or equally remembered?
SCHWED: Depends on who's doing the remembering. Many younger people aren't aware of his earlier movies. But they saw him in "Tuesdays with Morrie," or with George C. Scott in "Inherit the Wind" or "12 Angry Men." He won Oscars and Emmys. I'm just surprised he didn't win a Tony, too.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Was Jack Lemmon the actor anything like Jack Lemmon the person, or was he just that good of an actor?
SCHWED: He was a great actor. Don Widener, who wrote the 1975 autobiography "Lemmon," says, "He was the saddest man I've ever known. You could see it in his eyes. The face would be laughing, but his eyes were sad. I never found out why that was."
MODERATOR: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
SCHWED: Just that this was a guy who lived life to the fullest on screen. One more thing: When he was a kid, people gave him lots of grief about his last name. It actually started at birth, when he had a case of jaundice, prompting a nurse to say, "My, look at that little yellow lemon." Later, studio chief Harry Cohn demanded that he change his name because critics would use it as a weapon, declaring the picture and actor were "lemons." He refused. His real name was John Uhler Lemmon III. We'll miss him. He was one of the good guys in a town filled with egomaniacs who abuse their fame and power. He'll be missed.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today
SCHWED: Thanks for having me. It's been a tough week. We lost Carroll O'Connor and now Jack Lemmon. The good news is that we'll always have their work to enjoy.
Mark Schwed joined the chat room via telephone from Hollywood, CA and typed for himself. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Thursday, June 28, 2001 at 12 p.m. EDT.
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