Jack Lemmon’s ‘Worst’ Career Moment Would Be Any Actor’s Nightmare

Johnny Carson handily describes the scene to his “Tonight Show” audience: Lemmon’s character has fallen off the wagon, and he goes to his greenhouse to find a bottle of whiskey he had stashed in one of the potted plants. Only Lemmon can’t quite remember which potted plant the booze was hidden in, and — in an extended sequence marked by two unbroken shots — he grows frustrated to the point of smashing things. According to Lemmon’s response, the length of the takes was utterly grueling:

“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had, professionally. And it’s the only time it ever happened to me. But, the only way you can do a scene like that, you can’t pick it up in the middle. And Blake Edwards, the director — who did a marvelous job in it — very wisely only had one cut. But even in the second half of it, we would go back and start it all over again in the very beginning, so that you could get into it. So by the end of the day — we took a whole day — I was totally exhausted but completely elated because I really felt I had done the best work that I could possibly do.”

The greenhouse scene was a challenge, but one Lemmon felt he was not only equal to, but met with aplomb. Lemmon recalls the pride he took in his work, but also the dark, horrifying moment when a bout of bad news forced Lemmon to do the entire scene all over again.

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