I was in a bar a few months ago with a fellow publicist. A guest at
the table posed the oft-heard question, "Who's the nicest star you've
met?" Simultaneously, and without hesitation, we both answered, "Jack
Lemmon was a publicist's dream. And a great actor. No one else had the
range to handle drama and comedy as deftly. Some actors do comedy
better; some do drama better; but none do both better. And none are more
delightful to be around.
Even though Jack Lemmon nearly got me fired.
I was working with him in Temecula, CA, several years ago on a little
film called Weekend in the Country, in which he delivered an unnoticed
but marvelously funny performance as a small-time booking agent. "Gold,"
he would reassure his insecure acts. "You're gold, baby."
I introduced myself to him by calling him "Mr. Lemmon," to which he
replied, with an arched eyebrow, "What, are you kidding me?"
We were shooting a scene at an outdoor amphitheater in which Lemmon's
character introduces the show's headliner. Entertainment Tonight (ET)
was there to shoot b-roll and interview Jack. The director was nervous
because we were losing daylight quickly and because camera crews made
him nervous anyway. "Please keep ET away until we finish this first
sequence," he pleaded. "They're a distraction. When we finish this scene
they can shoot anything they want the rest of the night."
Fair enough. I told the crew to lay low for a while, and left to go deal
with the unit photographer, who appeared to be having some sort of
nervous breakdown over a missing lens. The director was huddled at the
back of the theater with the assistant director, preparing to shoot.
Suddenly came the most embarrassing moment of my career. "GARRISON!!!"
It was the director's unmistakable roar. Unmistakably roaring my
All activity ceased as silence fell over the back of the theater. One
hundred and one eyeballs were glued to me. (The producer had one in the
back of his head, I swear.) As I approached, embarrassed, he pointed
toward the stage. Jack was playing a piano. And the ET guys were
swarming all over him.
I raced to the stage and quickly ushered the crew off. "Did I get you in
trouble there, kid?" Lemmon asked me smiling. "Hey, if they don't yell
at you once in a while, you're probably not doing your job."
The producer wanted to fire me, but there was no time. We were,
remember, losing daylight.
The scene went so well, however, that all was forgiven. And Lemmon, to
make up for my painful moment, gave ET a wonderful extended
He even let them hang out in his trailer.
What a guy. What an actor. What a loss.