Jack Lemmon's only son, actor-pianist Chris Lemmon, says it's not enough to do a spot-on impersonation of his Oscar-winning father in his one-man-show, "A Twist of Lemmon."
"I tell the entire story in my father's voice," says Lemmon, 61, sounding uncannily like his dad, who died in 2001. "I can't do an impression. It won't work. I've gotta channel him."
The show, which comes to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson on Sunday, Oct. 25, is adapted from Lemmon's 2006 memoir and begins with his dad's birth in a Boston hospital elevator. "His mother was in a hot poker game at the time," the younger Lemmon says. And while this is no "Daddy Dearest," Jack Lemmon's alcoholism, choice of career over family and divorce from Chris' mother are also addressed, as well as a father-son reconciliation as golf and fly-fishing buddies.
Lemmon spoke about his dad by phone interview from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
What was your dad like off-screen?
He was even funnier in real life. He had nicknames for everyone. He called me Hotshot, he called Walter Matthau Uncle Waltz, he called his [second] wife [actress Felicia Farr] Farfel. When we went fishing in Alaska, he would fall into the stream, sometimes more than once. He'd get chased by bears and raccoons, and he was even chased by a chipmunk once.
Why did you decide to do the show?
In the end, against all odds, we became the very best of friends, and then he died at 76 and he was taken away again. . . . I searched for catharsis and that's the reason the book was written. Then I realized, this can be theater,
What happens in the show?
I open the show saying my father was one of the most beloved actors of all time, but what you don't know is that he was a self-taught pianist. I do a re-enactment of a dozen scenes from his famous films, including "Some Like It Hot," "The Apartment" and "Missing." I do Waltz and Pop doing "The Odd Couple."
How well did you know Matthau?
He and my father were the best of friends. Uncle Waltz loved to do spelling bees and he listened to Mozart. Anybody who listened to anything other than Mozart was an idiot as far as he concerned, and, knowing that, and being an adept classical pianist, I would say, "What about [Claude Debussy's] "La Mer," and he would say, "You can take it and shove it."
Did you visit the set of "Some Like It Hot"?
There's a picture of me looking through the lens of an old Panavision camera at the age of 3 or 4 on the "Some Like It Hot" set, and of me walking through the Goldwyn lot. We'd just come from Billy Wilder's office. I'm holding an object that Wilder gave me, which I thought was a weird golf club, but when you look close, it's an opium pipe.
Did your dad speak of working with Monroe?
She was this poor, beautiful, wonderful, tormented woman. How do you handle fame like that? You see exactly what Jack thought about Marilyn in the show.
'A Twist of Lemmon' starring Chris Lemmon
WHEN | WHERE Sunday, Oct. 25, at 3 p.m., Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
INFO $40; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com