Can you believe that it is only in recent years that I have gained a deep appreciation for Jack Lemmon’s skill as an actor? And yet despite my new found sense of awe, I really don’t know much about the man himself.
You would think this would lead me to discover more about him through a typical biography or documentary, but no. Instead, I picked up a book written by his son Chris Lemmon.
A Twist of Lemmon is exactly the type of book I love to read about a celebrity I respect. Just about anyone willing to diligently research can write a good biography. But it is rare to get the personal perspective from the subject’s friends or family, which is exactly what I’m interested in. And it is a quick little read at under two hundred pages.
Chris Lemmon is an excellent writer as he should be since it is his chosen profession. He is funny, self-deprecating and manages to paint a portrait of his father that makes him seem even more the “everyman” than he was labeled professionally.
His recounting of memories about Jack does not follow a linear time line, but does have a pattern. Through out the pages, Chris recounts the experience of watching his father as cancer is robbing him of life which then leads him to share personal reminisces. This back and forth ends up working well. An added bonus is the personal tributes at the end of the book from people who knew Jack.
Though Chris wasn’t raised by his father and didn’t spend as much time as he would have liked with Jack, it is clear the time he did have with his “Pop” is precious. He shares tongue-in cheek tales of their fishing trips, Pebble Beach golf experiences and even makes fun of Jack’s poor driving skills. My favorite story involves their chase of Jack’s dogs (one of which is named Walter after Uncle Waltz Matthau) which ends in James Coburn’s back yard.
It is also clear that Chris strongly identifies with the Lemmon name and family identity as it constantly pops up in his writing. And even with his deep respect and admiration of his father, he is able to view Jack’s failings as a father without judgement or bitterness.
While Chris does share some details of Jack’s personal life and career, they likely won’t satisfy readers wanting a deep dive full of details about Jack Lemmon. Because this is not that type of biography. In fact, it isn’t really a biography at all, but a love letter from son to father and a deeply personal remembrance of a man who was universally admired. It is precisely that lack of facts that makes this an emotional read and also one of the most human portrayals of a star that I’ve come across.
I think Kevin Spacey adequately sums up the whole point of Chris’ book in the foreword;
He was a credit to his profession because he was a person whose humanity was bigger than his talent. And when you think for a moment about the size and depth of that talent, then you begin to understand how seriously he took his role as a human being.
This is one of several classic film book reviews I am posting for the 2021 Summer Reading Challenge hosted by Raquel at Out of the Past.