Los Angeles at Night: The Lemmon Incident

Jack Lemmon

I saw something in the news the other day about Jack Lemmon, the actor, who died 15 years ago at age 76. Although I enjoyed his work, I never met him, but I came close.

Early in the 1960’s, I was a young researcher on the UCLA faculty. I was involved in a study of the sleep patterns of asthma patients. We asked some of our patients to sleep at the Westwood Neuropsychiatric Unit with electrodes strapped to their heads to record brainwaves. During these studies, I spent a number of nights in the sleep lab to ensure that the subjects were safe and comfortable.

On one of those nights, I left about 3 in the morning to drive home to our place on Bentley Avenue, just north of Venice Boulevard. As I drove down a deserted Sepulveda, I came across an auto stopped in the center of the street somewhere between Santa Monica and Pico. I saw a woman in the car, so I stopped to see if she needed assistance.

The excited lady told me she was out of gas, but that help was on its way. “He’s coming back—you know, the guy in the movies. I can’t remember his name, the one who was in The Apartment.

“Jack Lemmon?”

“That’s him! Jack Lemmon was here and went to get help for me, so you don’t need to stay.”

So I left and wouldn’t know the end of the story, except that a year or two later, an LA Times human interest columnist, Matt Weinstock, published the same story. The motorist told Weinstock that I had supplied the missing celebrity name, that she had sent me off, and that Lemmon had returned a little later with the gasoline. All of which goes to show that Jack Lemmon was a real human being, something that I think we felt from his works, which were more character portrayals than performances.

Yes, we published a paper or two about the UCLA studies. Jack Lemmon was not mentioned. The results: Patients with asthma didn’t sleep very well. Their attacks were not correlated with REM sleep; they had been deprived of deep, stage 4 sleep. As a researcher, I was also deprived of sleep, but did not write a paper about that.


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