Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment

 (This post is part of the Jack Lemmon Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Wide Screen World)

I would guess every Jack Lemmon fan has their favourite role that he played, the one that comes to mind when he or she thinks of Jack Lemmon. For some it might be Jerry/"Daphne" in Some Like It Hot (1959). For others it might be Felix in The Odd Couple (1968). For yet others it might be Professor Fate in The Great Race (1965). For me it will always be C. C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960). It is not simply a case that The Apartment is my favourite movie starring Jack Lemmon. It's also that it is the sort of role that I think Jack Lemmon was best suited to play.

The Apartment was the second film Jack Lemmon made with director Billy Wilder. The initial concept for The Apartment emerged when Billy Wilder first saw Brief Encounter (1945). In the film Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) meets with Alec Harvey (played Trevor Howard) in the apartment of a friend in the course of their affair (here it must be noted that they are both married). Billy Wilder was much more fascinated by the idea of the friend who let the two lovers use his apartment (and who is never actually seen in the movie) than the two people having the affair themselves. Another possible source for The Apartment was the real life affair between agent Jennings Lang and actress Joan Bennett, who at the time was married to producer Walter Wanger. Mr. Lang and Miss Bennett's affair was largely conducted in the apartment of one of Mr. Lang's underlings. When Walter Wanger found out about the affair, he promptly shot Mr. Lang (this being a PG rated blog, I won't say where). Walter Wanger plead insanity and served only four months in prison. Jennings Lang went on to marry songbird Monica Lewis, to whom he was married for forty years and with whom he had three sons. According to Billy Wilder's writing partner I. A. L. Diamond, another source of inspiration for The Apartment was a real life incident in which a woman committed suicide in a man's apartment after their affair had gone sour.

For those who have never seen The Apartment, the film centres on C. C. Baxter, who has a rather unique problem. Working for a large, national insurance company, the rather unassuming accountant has found himself in the position of having to loan his apartment to four different managers to use for their various affairs. As the movie progresses, this already complicated situation grows even more complicated. Making matter worse is the fact that Baxter has long carried a torch for elevator girl Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine), who has her own share of personal problems.

In casting The Apartment, Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond only had one actor in mind for the role of C. C. Baxter--Jack Lemmon. After Some Like It Hot, Messrs. Wilder and Diamond both wanted to work with Mr. Lemmon again, and no other actor was even considered for the role. Character actor Paul Douglas was originally cast in the role of the oily insurance company president Mr. Sheldrake. Sadly, Paul Douglas died on September 11 1959 from a heart attack. He was only 52. Fred MacMurray was then cast as Sheldrake.

While the entire cast of The Apartment were perfect for their parts, it is easy to see why Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wanted Jack Lemmon as C. C. Baxter. In my humble opinion, Jack Lemmon was born to play the role. For me Mr. Lemmon was at his best playing the average guy, the sort of well meaning fellow who is always trying to get ahead in life. This made Jack Lemmon rather singular as an actor, as in the Thirties and Forties there weren't too many actors who could play "average guys". Clark Gable was too handsome to be believable in the role. Cary Grant was too charming to play such parts. Perhaps the actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood to come closest to Jack Lemmon would be Jimmy Stewart, who could play average guys quite well. That having been said, many of the "average guys" played by Jimmy Stewart weren't quite so "average". Very few of us would be appointed to a Senate seat the way Jefferson Smith was, and not many of us would be as self-sacrificing as George Bailey was. The average guys Jack Lemmon played truly were average.

And there was perhaps no average guy as average as C. C. Baxter. Baxter only takes home $94.70 a week from his job (that would be about $792.76 in 2017). He lives in an apartment just west of Central Park, in the West Sixties. He pays $84 for his rather small, rundown apartment. Baxter works long, hard days at the insurance company, often slightly longer than he has to because his apartment is being used by someone else. Jack Lemmon described Baxter as "...ambitious; a nice guy but gullible, easily intimidated, and fast to excuse his behaviour."

Jack Lemmon's description of C. C. Baxter is entirely accurate, particularly about him being "a nice guy". For the most part Baxter is a gentleman. Miss Kubelik notes that he is the only one who consistently takes off his hat in the elevator. He is polite to his neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss (who think he is a bit of a rake), as well as his superiors at the insurance company (who run roughshod over him with regards to the apartment). While Jack Lemmon is basically a nice guy, he is not perfect. As Jack Lemmon said of Baxter, he is "easily intimidated." In letting them use his apartment, Baxter is essentially enabling his superiors to commit adultery, perhaps not the most morally upstanding thing to do. That this helps Baxter get ahead at the insurance company perhaps only encourages Baxter to continue doing so.

Of course, the average guy can identify with C. C. Baxter in one other respect. Quite simply, he is carrying a torch for Fran Kubelik. I am guessing every average guy has had a crush on a much better looking girl before, one who seems to be out of one's league. While on the surface Baxter would seem to have no chance with the lovely and lovable Miss Kubelik, I have to suspect that she has some feeling for him at the start of the movie. Miss Kubelik not only treats Baxter with respect (as opposed to the various managers at the insurance company), but when he goes to meet with Sheldrake she pins a flower to his lapel. When Baxter lets her know that he actually looked up her file, Miss Kubelik is not alarmed as most women would be, but does not seem to mind in the least. I suspect Miss Kubelik had a bit of a crush on Baxter from the beginning, but never acted on it for various reasons.

Jack Lemmon played other sorts of roles than everymen. He even played villains from time to time (Professor Fate in The Great Race being a notable example). That having been said, I don't think any actor played everymen as well as Jack Lemmon did. Whether as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), Harry Hinkle in The Fortune Cooke (1966), or Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple, no one played average guys as well as Jack Lemmon. And of all the average guy Jack Lemmon ever played, it was perhaps C. C. Baxter that he played the best. If The Apartment continues to be one of the most popular of Billy Wilder's movies, it is perhaps because many of its male fans can identify with Baxter all too well. I seriously doubt any other actor could have done as well in the part. Jack Lemmon may have been great at playing ordinary guys, but he was an extraordinary actor.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Late Great Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter, the mystery writer best known for creating Inspector Morse, died on March 21 2017 at the age of 86.

Colin Dexter was born on September 29 1930 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. His father, Alfred Dexter, ran a garage in Scotgate, Stamford, while his mother, Dorothy, worked in a butcher shop. Colin Dexter attended St. John's Infants School and Bluecoat Junior School. He won a scholarship to the prestigious Stamford School. Mr. Dexter fulfilled his national service by serving in the Royal Corps of Signals. He received a bachelor's degree in classics from  Christ's College, Cambridge in 1953.

He taught classics at Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester and earned a master's degree from Cambridge in 1958. Afterwards he taught classics at Corby Grammar School in Northamptonshire until retiring in 1966 because of deafness. He then took a position as senior assistant secretary at the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations. He held this job until he retired in 1988.

It while on vacation with his family in Wales in the early Seventies that Colin Dexter, out of boredom more than anything else, began work on the very first Inspector Morse novel. Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and was followed by twelve more Inspector Morse novels. Mr. Dexter also wrote two novellas and several short stories as well as the book Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide to Solving Cryptic Crossword.

Inspector Morse proved very successful, inspiring the ITV television show Inspector Morse, that ran from 1987 to 2000, as well as the sequel Lewis and the prequel Endeavour.

There can be little doubt that Colin Dexter was one of the great mystery writers of the late 20th Century. His Inspector Morse novels are mysteries in the Holmesian mould, with complex cases that often included plenty of false leads and false clues. Colin Dexter had a gift for colourful characters, none more so than Morse himself. Inspector Morse loved classical music and poetry, and a weakness for pretty women.  Between his talent for creating complex mysteries and a gift for well-developed characters, there should be little wonder that Colin Dexter was often counted alongside the likes of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Godspeed Lola Albright

Lola Albright, who played Edie Hart on Peter Gunn and appeared in such films as Kid Galahad (1962) and Lord Love a Duck (1966), died on March 23 2017 at the age of 92.

Lola Albright was born on July 20 1924 in Akron, Ohio. Her parents, John Paul and Marion Albright were gospel singers, so that she was exposed to music throughout her childhood. She studied piano from an early age, for a total of about 20 years. Miss Albright attended King Grammar School and West High School in Akron. When she was 15 she started work as a  receptionist at radio station WAKR in Akron. She moved to Cleveland when she was 18 and worked as a stenographer at  radio station WTAM. It was in Cleveland that she first performed as a singer on the radio, making her debut on radio station WJW. She married an announcer at the station and moved to Chicago where she became a model. It was a photographer who suggested that she should try working as a movie actress.

Lola Albright made her film debut in a small, uncredited role in The Unfinished Dance in 1947. She appeared in similarly small, uncredited roles in The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948), and Julia Misbehaves (1948). She had somewhat substantial roles in Champion (1949) and Tulsa (1949).  With Bodyhold (1949) she played her first, female lead role. She finished out the Forties appearing in The Good Humor Man (1950), Beauty on Parade (1950), When You're Smiling (1950), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), and Sierra Passage (1950).

In the Fifties Lola Albright's career shifted towards television. She made her television debut in 1941 in an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. She guest starred on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Revue, Tales of Tomorrow, Racket Squad, Duffy's Tavern, It's a Great Life, Gunsmoke, The Red Skelton Show, The Thin Man, and Michael Shayne.  From 1955 to 1957 she had a recurring role on The Bob Cummings Show. It was in 1958 that she began playing the role of Edie Hart on the detective show Peter Gunn. Edie was a singer at the nightclub Mother's, as well as Peter Gunn's girlfriend. She was nominated in 1959 for the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series. She continued to appear in movies, including such films as Arctic Flight (1952), The Silver Whip (1953), Treasure of Ruby Hills (1955), The Tender Trap (1955), Pawnee (1957), The Monolith Monsters (1957), and Seven Guns to Mesa (1958).

In the Sixties, Lola Albright continued to appear in both films and television. She played the lead role in the film A Cold Wind in August (1961). She also appeared in the films Kid Galahad (1962), Les félins (1964), Lord Love a Duck (1966), The Way West (1967), The Money Jungle (1967), Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968), and The Impossible Years (1968). On television she had a recurring role on Peyton Place during the 1965-1966 season. She guest starred on such shows as The Detectives, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, Burke's Law, Rawhide, Laredo, Bonanza, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

From the Seventies into the Eighties, Miss Albright guest starred on such shows as Kojak, Medical Centre, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, The Incredible Hulk, Quincy M.E., and Airwolf.

In the wake of her success on Peter Gunn,  Lola Albright recorded two albums, Lola Wants You in 1957 and Dreamsville in 1959.

Chances are very good Lola Albright will always be remembered best as Edie on Peter Gunn. Beautiful, sultry and gifted with a mellifluous voice, she was certainly perfect for the role. While she may be best remembered as Edie, however, Lola Albright could play a variety of roles. In A Cold Wind in August she played an unbalanced stripper who seduced a teenager. In the classic boxing drama Champion she played a married woman who pursued boxer Midge Kelly (played by Kirk Douglas). In The Monolith Monsters she played teacher Cathy Barrett, the girlfriend of geologist and the film's hero Dave Miller (played by Grant Williams). In Les Félins she played a widow and a femme fatale with murderous intentions. Lola Albright was not just a pretty face with a sultry voice. She was a versatile actress who play roles from relatively ordinary women (although still extraordinarily beautiful by virtue of being played by Lola Albright) to washed-up strippers to femmes fatales.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

The 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon wrapped up yesterday. I wanted to thank everyone who participated in this year's blogathon! We had a rather wide array of television shows covered this year, from situation comedies to Sixties spy shows. Not only were the United States and United Kingdom represented, but so too was Canada for the first time. If there was a dominant theme this year, it seemed to be Westerns. A plurality of the posts this year dealt with episodes from Western TV shows. As a fan of Westerns I won't complain about that at all! Regardless, there will be a 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon next March. For those of you who would like to read this year's posts, you can find the list here.

Again, thank you to all who participated!