Oscar: Lemmon, Jack–Drama over Comedy

Jack Lemmon’s Oscars also demonstrate the Academy’s prejudices against comedy. Lemmon began his screen career in comedies, often cast opposite Judy Holliday (It Should Happen to You, Phfft). He later became the quintessential Billy Wilder actor, appearing in seven of the director’s films, including Some Like It Hot (his first lead nomination) and The Apartment (his second). In later years, the Neil Simon comedies, The Fortune Cookie and The Odd Couple, established Lemmon as the foremost comedian of his generation.

Ironically, Lemmon received his acting accolades for straight “dramatic” performances, first for playing an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), a career breakthrough for which he earned his third nomination.

Lemmon won the Best Actor (and his second) Oscar for Save the Tiger (1973), a film about the moral disintegration of a garment manufacturer who resorts to arson out of financial desperation. For some reason, the selfpity and disenchantment with the American value system of the Lemmon’s character deemed his acting more “serious” and “substantial” in the Academy’s mind.