As an undergraduate at Harvard, he was a president of the Hasty Pudding Club and beat the skins for the college band. So who would be better suited to drum up bucks for the old alma mater than Jack Lemmon, Class of ’47? Lemmon, 56, was honored by Hollywood this month at a black-tie affair at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Some 1,000 guests paid $125 to salute Lemmon’s 30-year career—and pump some $60,000 into the Harvard-Radcliffe Southern California Scholarship Fund.
Among Lemmon’s roasters and toasters were longtime sidekick Walter Matthau, superagent Swifty Lazar, Barbi Benton and Jack Haley Jr. Said Shirley MacLaine, recalling Jack’s 1960 home-ec antics in The Apartment, “I’ll never forget how you made spaghetti. Now whenever I go to an Italian restaurant I insist they strain it through a tennis racket.”
Accolades flowed as freely as the Beaujolais. Lemmon received a plaque from Mayor Tom Bradley and a letter from President Reagan citing Jack’s “grace, talent and humor.” The guests viewed clips from such Lemmon flicks as The Fortune Cookie, Save the Tiger and The China Syndrome, among others. Then Lemmon, who just completed Buddy Buddy with Matthau and Missing with Sissy Spacek in a hectic five-month burst, joined an all-male Hasty Pudding alumni kick line for a rollicking live finale.
Still, amid the evening’s levity, Lemmon couldn’t help thinking about the “very favorite” role that garnered him a seventh Oscar nomination—Scottie Templeton, the terminally ill press agent who is similarly feted in the final scene of 1980’s Tribute. “I had to keep saying to myself all week,” joshed Lemmon, “I’m not dying, I’m not dying.” And that may have been the understatement of the night.