Ever since Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were pitted together in Neil Simon’s play-to-film adaptation of “The Odd Couple” (1968), a unique kind of onscreen chemistry was born during the blossoming of an intimate friendship.
Two years prior to “The Odd Couple” (1968), Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau’s professional partnership began when filming “The Fortune Cookie” (1966). But in 1997, when both actors were guests on “Larry King Live,” each had a different answer on how they really met. Jack Lemmon believed they met at Sardi’s Restaurant whereas Walter Matthau believed it was at a delicatessen. Jack Lemmon had ordered fried schrimp and a chocolate frap, Walter Matthau said, “Any schmuck who ordered fried shrimp and chocolate frap in a Jewish deli can’t be all that bad!”
When it came to casting “The Odd Couple” (1968), although Walter Matthau played the role of Oscar on Broadway, he pleaded with Neil Simon to play Felix because Oscar was so easy for him to play, he could phone in his lines. Neil Simon responded with this, “Walter, go and be an actor in somebody else’s play. Please be Oscar in mine.” And Walter Matthau did. Jack Lemmon was brought in to play Felix when Art Carney, who originated Felix on Broadway opposite Walter Matthau, was considered not to have enough star power for the film.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau would continue to work in over 11 films together, one of which was “Kotch” (1971) where Lemmon stepped behind the scenes for his only directorial film while Matthau remained in front of the camera. With both actors still working into their seventies, they teamed up again for “Grumpy Old Men” (1993) and its sequel “Grumpier Old Men” (1995). They made three more films together including “The Grass Harp” (1995), “Out To Sea” (1997) and “The Odd Couple II” (1998).
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. In 2001, Walter Matthau passed away at the age of 79. One year later on June 27, Jack Lemmon passed away at the age of 76.