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The 6 Roles That Defined Jack Lemmon's Career

By    |   Tuesday, 31 Mar 2015 08:54 PM

With a career that spanned five decades, the best Jack Lemmon roles are hard to narrow down, especially considering the actor was nominated for 101 awards, winning 56 of them.

Yet, here are five Jack Lemmon roles that helped define the career of one of America’s most prolific performers as both a comedy and dramatic actor:

1. “It Should Happen to You” (1954)

This film marked Lemmon’s feature film debut, and he had his father, a bakery executive, to thank for the opportunity. When looking back over his career in one of his last interviews for Ability Magazine, Lemmon explained he borrowed some money from his father to head to New York and try his hand at acting.

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“‘You’ve done similar stuff, and you’ve done enough to know that you love it?’ And I said, ‘I love it,’ and he said, ‘Great. Because the day I don’t find romance in a loaf of bread, I’m going to quit,’" Lemmon said, quoting his father. "It’s a marvelous line.”

2. “Mister Rogers” (1956)

Just two years after his first big-screen film, Lemmon won an Oscar for his supporting role in “Mister Roberts” as Ensign Frank Pulver. During his acceptance speech, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, Lemmon said of the role, “I would wake up in the morning and say, ‘Kiddo, today you’re going to be working with Bill Powell, Hank Fonda, Jimmy Cagney, and John Ford.’”

3. “The Odd Couple” (1968)

This film signified an important landmark in Lemmon’s career as fans turned out a second time for his pairing with actor Walter Matthau, and the two would go on to work together many times in the next 30-plus years. They were friends until Matthau’s death in 2000.

According to an L.A. Times article titled “He Was No Grumpy Old Man,” Lemmon was interviewed about his friend “a fortnight after his death [and] the mere speaking of Matthau’s name makes Lemmon’s eyes moist … Of course he will never truly get over it, because Lemmon and Matthau practically came with an ampersand between their names, coupled like a duet, buddy-buddy till the end.”

4. “Save the Tiger” (1973)

Not only did this role earn Lemmon his second Academy Award, but it also made him the first actor to win an Oscar for both supporting and lead roles. Also notably, this film indicated Lemmon was also a savvy actor as he “liked this part so much he waived his usual fee in order to act in the modestly budgeted tale,” according to Legacy.com.

5. “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992)

This film helped prove Lemmon still had it and could hang with the best of them — including the likes of Al Pacino, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey. The Guardian shared that Lemmon claimed this cast “was the best team he had ever worked with,” and Kevin Spacey later dedicated his Oscar win for “American Beauty” to Lemmon.

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With a career that spanned five decades, the best Jack Lemmon roles are hard to narrow down, especially considering the actor was nominated for 101 awards, winning 56 of them. Yet, here are five Jack Lemmon roles that helped define the career of one of America’s most prolific performers.
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