Some of the many adjectives used to describe the beautiful Lee Remick throughout her career were patrician, sensitive, womanly, perky, mischievous and intelligent. She was all that and much more. She was an extremely versatile actress of great depth. Lee had that rare ability to actually become her character in any given film so that you would forget you were watching Lee Remick and you would find yourself totally engrossed in the character she had become.
Lee Remick started out as a stage actress and burst into films in the role of Betty Lou Fleckum in 1957’s A Face in the Crowd with Andy Griffith. This film is considered an extremely underrated gem that should have been nominated for an Academy Award, and many also consider it to be prophetic of the power of the media in current times. Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, an Arkansas hobo who becomes a famous TV star.
This was also Andy Griffith’s film debut and while he never again accepted a role where he played a menace, his work in this film has often been hailed as a tour de force performance. Lee Remick plays the baton-twirling cheerleader that he seduces into marrying him. To prepare for her role, 22-year old Lee stayed with a local family in Arkansas and practiced twirling so that she would be believable in her role as a teenager.
The following year, in 1958, Miss Remick played the role of sexpot Eula Varner in The Long Hot Summer starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Lee is married to Tony Franciosa in the film, who plays Orson Welles’ son. While Miss Remick is not one of the major actors in either this film or A Face In the Crowd, she displayed her amazing versatility and talent to great advantage in both films.
In 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, Lee co-starred alongside the great Jimmy Stewart. She played the role of alleged rape victim, Laura Manion, in one of the most controversial films of that decade. Laura’s husband, played by Ben Gazzarra, murders the purported rapist and Jimmy Stewart defends him. Laura’s nonchalant attitude about both the rape and her failure or inability to behave with even a modicum of propriety doesn’t make it easy.
1960 found Lee Remick co-starring in Wild River with the sensitive and skilled actor, Montgomery Clift, and with Jo Van Fleet, the actress who also played James Dean’s mother in East of Eden. Jo Van Fleet plays a grandmother who refuses to sell her land to the Tennessee Valley Authority, while Lee plays her widowed granddaughter. Clift is the man who comes between them. Lee Remick said later in her life that this was her favorite role.
Jack Lemmon was Lee Remick’s co-star in the 1962 heartbreaking drama, The Days of Wine and Roses. Jack plays alcoholic public relations man , Joe Clay, who introduces his soon-to-be wife, Kristin, to the pleasures of alcohol with a brandy Alexander, because she likes chocolate. Their escalating alcoholism spells disaster for Joe’s career, their marriage and both of their lives, bringing them to the brink of total ruin. Only one returns.
Both Jack and Lee were nominated for best actor and best actress, but lost to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird and Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. Jack Lemmon’s scene where he cannot remember where he hid a bottle of liquor in his father-in-law’s greenhouse is one of the most harrowing portrayals of desperation brought on by addiction ever filmed. Lee Remick’s poignant performance spares nothing of the degradation and moral degeneration experienced by her character. The Days of Wine and Roses is a film that you will never forget.
These four films would be a great start to any Lee Remick collection. Other films she has starred in are Baby, The Rain Must Fall, No Way to Treat a Lady, Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, Ike: The War Years and The Omen. Her list of co-stars in these and other films included Steve McQueen, Rod Steiger, James Garner, Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Paul Scofield, Richard Burton and Gregory Peck.
While filming in France in 1989, Lee Remick was diagnosed with kidney cancer and she bravely fought the disease into remission. She made one of her last public appearances on April 29, 1991 to received her star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame.” She was quite weak and her face was bloated as a result of chemotherapy. Her friend and co-star, Jack Lemmon, was at the ceremony to lend his love and support. Lee Remick died two months later on July 2nd, 1991, a day after Michael Landon had succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
Lee Remick was cremated at Westwood Memorial Park. Services were attended by Elizabeth Taylor and both Jack Lemmon and Gregory Peck delivered eulogies. Her children from her first marriage, Kate and Matt Colleran, sang the title song from one of her Broadway musical shows “Anyone Can Whistle.” Lee Remick was also survived by her second husband, British producer Kip Gowans, who worked with Lee on a number of TV movies including 1980’s The Women’s Room and 1984’s Rearview Mirror.