I was recently talking about the years I spent as an entertainment reporter with an acquaintance of mine who happens to run an executive search firm. He asked me who my favorite interview subject was, and when I told him who – and why – I realized the answer might be worth sharing with a wider audience.
First, a little background.
Always Be Closing
Back in the day I did the Hollywood press junket for the critically acclaimed movie Glengarry Glen Ross. The film features a stellar cast, including Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino (who was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor), Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and two-time Oscar winner Jack Lemmon in the role of Shelley “The Machine” Levene.
It depicts two days in the lives of four salesmen peddling bogus real estate, their office manager, and a trainer who is sent by corporate to “motivate” them. He does this by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired.
Lemmon had made over 50 films by that time, was 67 years old, and had amassed lots of acclaim and lots of money. So he didn’t need to be doing this certainly.
In fact, at the time, several of the journalists doing the junket wondered if this might even be Lemmon’s last film. As it turned out, he went on to make 13 more, including a couple of Grumpy Old Men movies with his best friend Walter Matthau.
I Do It Because I Love It
Anyway, I didn’t ask him in our interview if he still enjoyed making movies, since I assumed the answer was yes. Instead I asked if he was surprised he still was. He said, “Yes, and I’m damn glad about it, because I love it!”
Lemmon was totally old school. He recognized the value of good publicity and worked really hard during the interview. He even went so far as to finish telling me a story, even after our allotted time had expired and the cameras were turned off. That was just the type of person he was.
Then I followed up with, “I think of all the things you could be doing; playing golf, traveling, hanging out with friends and family, and so on. You don’t need to be on a film set, yet here you are.”
His reply, “I’m here because I am still finding romance in that loaf of bread.”
Then he proceeded to tell me a story. One I think will resonate with you.
The Baker & The Recipe
“Let me tell you about my old man,” Lemmon said to me, leaning forward in his chair. “I looked up to him, and for good reason. He was a baker by trade. Every morning he would leave the house at 4 a.m. to go to work. Now as I grew up we were quite comfortable and he could have stopped working at any time. I asked him why he still did it, why he left the house so early and still worked so hard. And he said he did it because he loved it. And he said he would keep doing it as long as he continued to find romance in that proverbial loaf of bread. He kept on happily working, right to the end of his life. And that’s why I’m here making movies. Because I love it.”
I had the chance to interview Lemmon twice more after that, before he died in June of 2001. Each time, I started off the interview with, “Hey Jack, still finding romance in that loaf of bread?”
And his eyes would light up and he would exclaim, “Don’t you know it!”
It’s a great story, certainly an illustrative one on many levels. It’s not quite accurate to say his father was a “baker” though, at least not the kind who might come to mind, busily stooped over an oven or a cutting board.
His father was John Uhler Lemmon, Jr., the general sales manager/vice president, and later president, of the Doughnut Corporation of America. Lemmon was sent to the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and though he wanted to study drama at Yale, his father prevailed on him to take business classes at Harvard University.
So yes, I guess Jack Lemmon’s dad may have been a baker of sorts, and maybe in the early days he actually was one. But certainly Jack lived a life of relative affluence. This doesn’t change the basic fact, and maybe the best part of the story, that Jack and his dad truly didn’t have to work as hard as they did, especially later in life. Yet they did so simply because they found real “romance” in their vocational endeavors.
Regrets Of The Dying
In 2009, Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse and counselor, wrote an online article called Regrets of the Dying about her time working with people in the last weeks of their lives, and specifically, what the patients wished they had done differently.
The piece generated millions of views worldwide, and requests poured in for more sharing of Bronnie’s life and how to apply the wisdom she had gained. This eventually became her best selling memoir, which sold over a million copies and was translated into 29 languages.
Of all the responses she received from her patients, this was the most common.
“When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled,” she writes. “Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
That’s what’s so cool about Jack Lemmon, and his memorable 51-year Hollywood career, as well as his dad’s illustrious “baking” career.
They both pursued their dreams, doing what they wanted, and finding success and satisfaction and romance in their own loaves of bread right to the ends of their lives.
They were two people lucky enough to love working at their jobs long after they didn’t have to.
After telling this story to my recruiter acquaintance I realized that Jack Lemmon – and his father – are just the kinds of people he (and you) should be looking to hire. They are the kinds of people we should want to work with. And to be ourselves.
“Success is always somebody else’s opinion of you,” said Lemmon, “but it doesn’t amount to a damn compared to your own opinion of yourself.”