Lemmon’s life celebrated

GOOD MORNING: Fade out: Aug. 20, 2000, Jack Lemmon was in tears as he spoke at Walter Matthau’s SRO memorial service at the DGA. Fade in: Monday, Aug. 13, 2001, an SRO “celebration of Jack Lemmon’s life” was held in the theater at Paramount Studios where Jack and Walter had been the perfect “Odd Couple” for years. It was exactly one year since Walter’s death when Jack was laid to rest in the same (Westwood) cemetery as Matthau, Marilyn Monroe and George C. Scott … The familiar Hirschfield caricature of Lemmon was on screen and Lemmon’s pianistics and voice greeted guests as the tribute program began. Michael Feinstein played tunes from Lemmon’s lifetime (and movies) as biographical stills played on screen. Clips from his films followed Charlie Rose’s welcome remarks and the start of all-male (howcum no ladies?) speaker introductions, plus a note from Robert Redford re “Bagger Vance,” Lemmon’s last (although small) role. Larry Gelbart, one of Lemmon’s poker-playing pals, said, “Jack had the agility of an Astaire and the tenaciousness of a Cagney … Whether he was performing a work by Neil or O’Neill, he would apply himself with an almost religious sense of discipline, to put himself at the service of the test … he was an actor who valued quality writing just as writers value quality acting.” Gelbart noted, “In all of the medical procedures he must have had to endure in his last days among us — no matter how many scanners or tests they subjected him to, it’s a certainty that they never found one mean bone in the man’s body.” As for the regular Sunday poker games, he added, “Draw poker is still one of our games, but we never play Jacks-or-better anymore. For us, a better Jack is simply unimaginable.”

KEVIN SPACEY WAS 14 when he met Jack Lemmon at one of the latter’s lectures on acting. Eleven years later, he was on stage with him in “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” He and Jack also worked together in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which Jack liked to call ” ‘Gene Barry, Glenn Close,’ because it was easier to remember.” Spacey said, “How the Academy missed that performance will forever be a mystery to me. That should have been his third Oscar.” Lemmon was Spacey’s governor in “The Murder of Mary Phagan,” his father-in-law in “Dad” and father in “Long Day’s Journey.” “He located the Jack Lemmon in all of us. So Jack Lemmon will always be inside of me. I’ve based so many of my decisions — taking roles, playing roles — the way I thought Jack would have. Lester in ‘American Beauty’ is pure Jack Lemmon. Sam Mendes and I talked at length, watched ‘The Apartment,’ all in an attempt to make Lester a guy people could identify with.” Spacey, who did a marvelous imitation of Lemmon, said, “I will always try to carry a little of Jack’s ‘magic time’ with me wherever I go” … A lion-maned Kirk Douglas said the office of Jack’s company, Jalem, was next to Kirk’s Bryna. Douglas loved to see Lemmon’s car with license plate “JL Loves (heart shape) FL” parked outside his window. Many paid tribute to Jack’s love for wife Felicia, who bravely attended … Tony Curtis winged in from his new home in Vegas to pay tribute. Of course clips of him, Lemmon and Joe E. Brown from “Some Like It Hot’ were shown … Hank Azaria costarred with Lemmon in his last major role, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which aired on ABC in December 1999. Lemmon help inspire the most sensitive work of Azaria’s also-varied career. He called Lemmon “The patron saint of acting without limits.” When he saw “Save the Tiger,” he said, “I’d never known anything in black and white could be that colorful.”

NEIL SIMON, WHO HAD DONE four movies for Lemmon, related moments with Jack in life and on sets, each time pointing out, “It was very hard to find an actor like that.” He ended with, “It’s very hard to find an actor like him — and finding a man like Jack Lemmon is damn near impossible.” The emotion of the evening rose with each magnificent speaker and Tom Hanks was obviously moved by each who preceded him as he misread a line of the tribute he’d written. He challenged us: “The next time you come across a performance of his, turn the sound down low if you can and see if he is not still fascinating and graceful and astonishing. See if each moment of his performance is not perfectly committed in silence, as Jack Lemmon is able to tell the emotional arc of the story and every beat of his character with only his eye and the language of his body. You might miss some of the jokes but you will see the humanity.” He noted, “With any closer inspection of his work and his choices, Jack Lemmon reveals himself to be a particular and singular film artists on a sliding par between Marlon Brando and Groucho Marx. Or, maybe he is the bastard love-child of the two, since his dramatic and comedic performances are found in a number of the best motion pictures ever made … He was one of a kind” … Courtney Lemmon, brother Chris and David Seltzer put together the evening. Chris thanked Par’s Sherry Lansing, Jonathan Dolgen and Allison Jackson, plus Warren Cowan, George Schlatter, the speakers and Feinstein (who closed the evening playing/singing a favorite of Lemmon’s: Ira and George Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay”). Everyone was someone at the celebration. Billy Wilder and Gregory Peck were not well enough to attend, they told me.

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