Feb 8, 2007

Magic Time

Eternally-beloved actor Jack Lemmon, perennial favorite of legendary directors like Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards, would have celebrated his 82rd birthday today, were he still living. The venerable actor passed away in 2001 at the age of 76.

Lemmon first captivated me in 1960's The Apartment as the sweet, idealistic C.C. Baxter, the office minion who displaces his own priorities to please others, at least until he meets pretty elevator girl Shirley MacLaine. Lemmon's performance here - as it was in every subsequent film of his I've seen - is ineffably touching but inarguably effective, a rare mix of likeability, "Everyman" appeal, visible vulnerability and true talent. He was skilled at comedy, especially when bouncing wisecracks off of lifelong on- and off-screen buddy Walter Matthau, but Jack's film legacy will always be bound to the dramatic roles he portrayed with heartbreaking sincerity, in movies like 1963's Days of Wine and Roses and 1986's portrait of a midlife-crisis, That's Life.

Open to the constantly-narrowing opportunities for an older actor, Lemmon was still working throughout the 1990s, with a major motion picture and several made-for-television dramas airing in the years just before his 2001 passing. His life and career are chronicled, albeit very subjectively, in the book A Twist of Lemmon: A Tribute to my Father by his son Chris, but for a more balanced yet still respectful account of the day-to-day Jack, I recommend Peter Bogdanovich's Who The Hell's In It?, which devotes a chapter to describing time the author spent with Lemmon in California some forty years ago.

From his role as feisty, palm-throwing Ensign Pulver in the sea-bound classic Mister Roberts all the way to his crotchety, frustrated 'old man' roles in Grumpy Old Men and Out to Sea, Jack Lemmon is a timeless talent, appealing to the heart of his audience as much as their mind, a star who's discovered by each new generation that delves into the genre that is classic cinema. And with a legacy like that, it will always be Magic Time.

Discussion Junction: We know he can do the drama...but what's your favorite Jack Lemmon comedy? Post below!

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