Living legends: Peter Gallagher pays tribute to Lemmon, Cagney in one-man show

Actor Peter Gallagher will performs Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, at the Naples Philharmonic.

Actor Peter Gallagher will performs Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, at the Naples Philharmonic.

If you go

Peter Gallagher

What: A cabaret performance that blends storytelling and song

When: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25

Where: Naples Philharmonic, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples

Tickets: $42

Information: 239-597-1900 or www.thephil.org

Jack Lemmon and James Cagney still come alive on stage.

Actor Peter Gallagher said he worked with the legendary actors, along with the 79-year-old Peter O'Toole, and his one-man show brings them to life. Gallagher performs at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, at the Naples Philharmonic.

Gallagher, 56, said his show reflects on his early days as an actor, "some of those experiences with those guys that I had that stay with me still."

"I talk about a time that may be gone," he said in a recent telephone interview from his Los Angeles home.

"It's basically what I've learned from all these amazing old guys I've worked with. You find out that the great ones are the greatest. They're the easiest to work with, the most generous. They get it."

Gallagher recalled working with Cagney, who died in 1986, in the 1984 TV film "Terrible Joe Moran" that also starred Art Carney and Ellen Barkin. It was Cagney's last movie, one in which he played an aging ex-boxer confined to a wheelchair.

"For an Irish Catholic kid from New York, meeting and working with James Cagney was better than an audience with a pope," Gallagher said. "He was the man."

Gallagher was especially close to Lemmon, who died in 2001 at age 76. He starred with Lemmon in the 1987 television movie of American playwright Eugene O'Neill's masterwork, "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

"He was like a father to me," Gallagher said of Lemmon.

"He gave me my first set of golf clubs and we golfed constantly. He made a big, big impact in my life."

Gallagher said Lemmon for 40 years wanted to make the cut to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California. The event was originally known as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur, and amateurs — often celebrities — are paired with professionals.

One year, Gallagher said, he was paired with golfer Dan Pohl and it looked as if they were going to make the cut.

"I thought I can't make the cut. What will that do to Lemmon? But then I thought, he'll be proud of me," Gallagher said.

As he was walking off the course, Gallagher said, he saw Lemmon behind the final green as the sun was setting behind him.

"And I wave to Jack, and he says, 'You're gonna make the cut, you (expletive),' " Gallagher said in his dead-on Lemmon impression.

Gallagher said he ended up not making the cut.

"Part of me was relieved because I didn't want to do that to Jack," he said.

He said Lemmon's tombstone reads the way the famous actor wanted it: "JACK LEMMON in."

Like Lemmon, Gallagher has performed on Broadway and the silver screen and enjoys both.

"I guess it is how I like it," he said. "It keeps it interesting and I'd hate to give up any one bit of it. It's one of the reasons I'm doing my live shows.

"There's nothing like being live and having a live audience. I like to kind of keep that part of my life."

Gallagher was in the original company of "Grease" on Broadway and a revival of "Hair." In 1992 he starred as Sky Masterson in the 1992 Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls."

"The first Broadway show my parents saw, I was in," he said.

On the big screen, his first notable role was in Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" in 1989. He also played opposite Tim Robbins in "The Player" (1992); acted as the comatose fiancé of Sandra Bullock in "While You Were Sleeping" (1995); and served as the real estate salesman who had an affair with Annette Bening in "American Beauty" (1999).

Gallagher played the successful Buddy Kane who charmed Bening's character, Carolyn.

"I was actually wearing Cary Grant's wig," he said. " I wanted to do a Donald Trump-light kind of thing."

More recent TV roles include those in "Rescue Me" and "Covert Affairs," but he's more well-known for playing Sandy Cohen in "The OC," an American teen drama series that ran from 2003 to 2007 on Fox.

Gallagher said he often reflects on his mentors, including actor Paul Newman, who died in 2008 at age 83. He recalled performing at a theater in Connecticut and how Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, would stop by often to say hello.

"He's one of the guys, just like all these guys, who thinks he was one of the luckiest guys in the world," Gallagher said of Newman.

He told the story of how Newman drove a Volkswagen Rabbit with a Porsche engine in it. That was Newman's style, Gallagher said: "He was going to drive a VW that's faster than a Ferrari."

Gallagher said there's one lesson he learned from such legends.

"They were all hungry for one more chance to get it right," he said. "They all pretty much knew there was no real science to what we do.

"It was showing up day in and day out and hoping you get lucky."

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