The time I met Jack Lemmon in his skivvies

by Dave Williams

One of the things I love about getting older is that I have a large box of memories to pick through when I’m in the mood. Sometimes they pop into mind for no apparent reason like an old photo that falls out of a drawer.

Here’s one I found this morning. I haven’t thought of it in many years. Sadly, there is no actual photograph.

In 1973 I was the Program Manager at KRTH 101.1 in Los Angeles which had a very small office and studio complex in a converted house on Venice at Fairfax, just off I-10 in West L.A.  One Friday I left my briefcase at work. When I needed it the next day I drove back to get it.

K-eaRTH was automated at the time. We had no live disc jockeys, but we did have one studio we used for newscasts and recording commercials.  On this particular weekend our company, RKO Radio, had granted permission to the American Film Institute to use the place as the setting for a short movie AFI was making about a radio talk show host who found himself trying to talk a crazed listener out of killing someone, maybe him or herself, I don’t remember. It was exciting. AFI made me a script consultant, asking me to look at the dialogue and make sure they were saying real radio-like things.

The legendary Jack Lemmon was the star of the film, donating his time and talent to the project.

“Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.” – Jack Lemmon*

When I wandered in to pick up my briefcase that Saturday evening the tiny parking lot was crammed with production trucks, plugged in and humming. Cables ran everywhere, across the porch, through the doorway, and into the cramped studio area. The place was littered with professional lighting, sound equipment and very busy people carrying scripts, notebooks, and makeup kits.

My office was at the opposite end of the old house and as exciting as it all was I didn’t want to stand around and gawk like a rube so I just went straight to my office, inserted the key into the lock and opened the door.

Jack Lemmon froze when I entered, poised on one leg in my office in his skivvies, holding a pair of pants. He wore a white shirt and tie but my attention went to his legs; they were very white and kind of scraggly. I might have chuckled if I hadn’t been so surprised. He was surprised, too.

1972 Academy Awards, Jack Lemmon with Charlie Chaplin, both presumably wearing pants.
— Photo By Associated Press photographer – Public Domain

“Who are you?” he asked.

“This is my office,” I answered.

“Oh.” That’s all he said for a moment.

Then this magnificent and celebrated actor performed an unintentional but classic impersonation of himself, beaming with charm as he stammered,  “Sorry. They… they told me I could use this as a dressing room. (A slight pause, a big grin.) Have a beer.”

There was a cold six-pack of Coors on my desk.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, “but I just came to grab my briefcase. I’m leaving.”

I grabbed my briefcase and said it was nice to meet him. He said “you, too” or something like that.

And then I left.

* I just found this quote. It haunts me.