My Grandmother was not a sentimental woman. But when a famous British actor died in the 1970's, she permitted herself a sigh and said, "it's like one of the family's gone, isn't it?" Which is how many of us here in Britain feel about the death of Jack Lemmon.
He was a fixture in our lives and a bit of an old fashioned one at that. Everybody knew him here. Along with David Niven and Gregory Peck, he seemed to have a season ticket to Heathrow Airport. Taxi drivers would tell me that Jack Lemmon was back in town and they'd reminisce about the first time they'd seen Some Like It Hot, or Mr. Roberts, or The Odd Couple. But none of us knew anything about Jack Lemmon, other than Lemmon the actor. There seems to have been a healthy division between the job and his private life.
When I met him in the eighties he was on the stage in London's West End, starring in Long Days Journey Into Night. It was an immensely successful production: he was brilliant in it. And when we talked, I suppose I was expecting some kind of blinding revelation about Hollywood... you know, what he and Walter Matthau REALLY got up to when they were making The Front Page. But he had much too much class for that. I stupidly asked him which he preferred, movies or theatre, and he gently avoided committing himself. Then I asked him another dumb question, which of all of his films was his favourite... and he smiled and said that he'd rather be remembered for his body of work. And so it went on, me asking stupid questions and hoping for fireworks... Jack Lemmon being charming, witty and knowledgeable and giving away almost nothing about himself. So, in this age of scandal sheets and hot gossip I'm afraid that I can't offer you any revelations about Jack Lemmon and his private life... I can just point you in the direction of what he called "his body of work"... all those outstanding performances that he's left us as his legacy.
And quote my Grandmother...it's like we've lost one of the family, isn't it?
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CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff