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Jack Lemmon: America’s Everyman

Airs Friday, March 28, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Actor Jack Lemmon

Narrated on-camera by Jack Lemmon, this profile includes interviews with Lemmon’s son, the actor Chris Lemmon. Clips from some of Lemmon’s major films as well as archival footage add to this portrait of one of our most illustrious and productive stars.

Courtesy of Janson Media

Actor Jack Lemmon

Courtesy of Janson Media

Actor Jack Lemmon

Courtesy of Janson Media

Jack Lemmon with Walter Matthau from the film, "Grumpy Old Men."

John Uhler “Jack” Lemmon III, was born on February 8, 1925. An only child, he was raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and was that rarity among Hollywood stars, a man with affectionate memories of his parents.

Graduating from Harvard, Jack headed for New York City to become a professional actor. A job playing piano to silent movies gave him the chance to study comics like Keaton and Chaplin up close. His first acting was on soap opera and live TV drama.

But it was his appearance in a Broadway revival of "Room Service" that led to a co-starring role with Judy Holliday in his first movie, "It Should Happen To You" (1954). However, Jack had no intention of “going Hollywood” and he adamantly refused to change his name. His unmistakable intellect and his boyish but average looks played against him becoming a romantic leading man.

But his live TV and comedy training gave him the perfect timing, the precise emotional balance and the total believability that showed in films as diverse as "Mister Roberts" (1955), "Some Like It Hot" (1959), "The Apartment" (1960), "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962), and "The Odd Couple" (1968).

In his later films, "Save the Tiger" (1973), "The China Syndrome" (1979), and "Glengarry Glenn Ross" (1992), Jack exposed some of the darker side of the American Way of Life. Jack Lemmon made over sixty films and received numerous awards, including eight Academy Award Nominations and two Oscars.

Later in life, his achievement was enriched by new challenges in which he exposed the vulnerability and emotion of the later years as few had dared. He reveled in his ongoing screen partnerships with directors like Billy Wilder and stars like Walter Matthau.

Also appearing are such legends as Jack’s life-long friend, the writer and director Billy Wilder, writer-director Garson Kanin, drama teacher Uta Hagen, and actor Gregory Peck. Actors Charles Durning, Maureen Stapleton, Betty Garrett, and Kevin Spacey, writer Neil Simon, director Delbert Mann, and other Hollywood luminaries help complete the profile.

Clips from some of Lemmon’s major films as well as archival footage add to this portrait of one of our most illustrious and productive stars.

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