DOGV. Instead. things get oblique and the conversation turns to Lemmon‘s stage appearance in London last year opposite Michael Gambon in Donald Freed‘s play Veteran's Day. Mauled by the critics. it closed after only six weeks. Lemmon. however. remains philosophical about the experience (‘ln a sense. you learn tnore by doing a play that’s not really working and having to go out there and do it eight times a week‘) and recalls an incident from his youth that has been a profound influence on his later choice of material.
‘I come from Boston originally.‘ he begins. ‘and when l was younger I'd be playing a little piano in bars and I’d like to hang around the Ritz hotel. which was were the show people hung out too. Now one afternoon I‘m in the bar and there's no one else in the place. except for a group of people talking about a show which they were doing in town. It was called A way We (Jo and I’d heard the most awful things about it. Anyway. the long and the short of it was that they were arguing whether they should try and change the script. drop a few numbers. or. they said. just close the thing now and stop (leluding ourseli'es.’ Now those guys turned out to be Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. and they ended up changing the show from Away We (io into Oklahoma. But they damn near closed it down in Boston. So that told me that even if you were in trouble. you should hang in there and stick it out!‘
The problem for Lemmon these
days. however. is that he‘s getting old and the great parts don't come as often as they used to. Since 1982 and the excellent Missing. aside from a controversial Jonathan Miller production of ()‘Neill‘s Long Day '5‘ Journey Into Night on B roadway and in London. he‘s been lumbered with pap like the seminary comedy Mass Appeal. the hardly-released Blake Edwards vanity production That's Life. and a real buddy-lmddy clinker in Maeearoni with Marcello Mastroianni. Having given up both booze and the ciggies. ‘l’m (15 and I feel tcrrific‘. he says. but it must be tough halting the slide down the ladder. The parade ofonce top-notch stars who‘ve ended up in the cameo margins of American television is sad and unending. but we shouldn't look for dear old Jack as a special guest on Fantasy Island or The Love Boat just yet. 'I'rue. he‘s done his share of rent-paying work over the years (yes. it was him as the dashing pilot in Airport [977). but he‘s currently looking forward to a screen reunion with his old sparring partner Walter Matthau with a Neil Simon sequel to The Odd ('ouple in the offing.
In the meantime. he brightens up the chat show and press promotional circuit as he once did wet afternoon movies. From the journalist's point of view. it’s a pleasure to watch him go through his well-oiled anecdotal paces. like the old and much-told story about his name. He must have done this one maybe hundreds of times. bet to watch him it‘s as if you're tl - first roomful ofscribblers
to whom he‘s ever let it slip.
‘Well. this was in 1954 and I‘d come from the stage in New York to do my first film. It Should Happen To You. with Judy l lolliday. Nice movre. terrible title. I had to go and meet the head at Columbia. Harry Cohn. who was very gruff and tough. ’Liked the picture. liked you' he said. ‘but the name‘s gotta go. Chrissakes those critics‘ll use it like a ball but Cohn 's got a lemon.’ movie 's a lemon. Lemmon ‘s a lemon .’ You're asking for it.‘Now I stood up to him. and it turned out he respected that and let me keep Lemmon because ofit. but one alternative was that we change it to ‘l.ennon‘. I suggested that then I would sound too much like a Russian revolutionary. but he came back at me. 'Naw. I looked that up. that guy‘s different‘ and he went on to pronounce Lenin Leneen !‘
He even responds to the inevitable Marilyn question. He recalls his co-star in Some Like It Hot as ‘unique . . . frustrating as hell with so many crazy habits and the lateness and all ofthat. but you just stare at her and not yourself when she comes on screen.‘
He smiles. and then it‘s off for a plane to Rome where he has another press conference. Even the fearsomely efficient. seen-it-all publicity girl has to sigh winsomely ‘What a sweetie‘ as he pads towards his limo. Like I said. everybody loves
Dai/ (PO) is at the (rumor: .S'auehiehall Street from Friday I 6 March.
Although these days you really have to be a deaf autistic transvestite Vietvet from outer space to really make a splash in Hollywood, Dad is the sort of stuff that has Oscar nomination written all over it.
The List ‘)~ 23 March 199011