Matthau, Walter

Matthau, Walter
born Oct. 1, 1920, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died July 1, 2000, Santa Monica, Calif.

U.S. actor.

He began his career as a child actor in Yiddish theatre and appeared on Broadway in plays such as Once More, with Feeling (1958) and A Shot in the Dark (1962). He worked steadily as a character actor on the stage and on television in the early 1950s and made his film debut in The Kentuckian (1955). He won stardom with his stage role in The Odd Couple (1965), which he reprised in the 1968 film version with his frequent costar, Jack Lemmon. Known for his rumpled face, nasal bray, and razor-sharp timing, Matthau appeared in numerous other films, including The Fortune Cookie (1966, Academy Award), Charley Varrick (1973), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Grumpy Old Men (1993), and I'm Not Rappaport (1996).

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▪ 2001
Walter Matuschanskayasky 
      American character actor (b. Oct. 1, 1920, New York, N.Y.—d. July 1, 2000, Santa Monica, Calif.), had a versatility that allowed him to portray such characters as bums, criminals, rich snobs, and even leads in romantic comedies, but, by using his stooped, gangly frame, his growling voice, and a craggy countenance described as a “bloodhound face,” he enhanced his impeccable comic instincts and thereby became one of his generation's most successful comedians. Among his most notable roles were those in the eight films he starred in with his best friend, Jack Lemmon—from The Fortune Cookie (1966), for which he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor, and The Odd Couple (1968) to Grumpy Old Men (1993), Grumpier Old Men (1995), and The Odd Couple II (1998)—and that partnership came to be considered one of Hollywood's funniest. Matthau grew up in the poverty of New York City's Lower East Side and at age 11 began selling refreshments in Yiddish theatres, where he was careful to study the performers and eventually appeared in small parts. Following military service during World War II, he studied in New York City at the New School for Social Research's Dramatic Workshop and began performing in summer stock. Portraying an aged bishop, Matthau made his Broadway debut in 1948 in Anne of the Thousand Days, and he went on to appear in shows such as Twilight Walk (1951), a revival of Guys and Dolls (1955), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), Once More with Feeling (1958), and A Shot in the Dark (1961), for which he won his first Tony Award. In the meantime, he had appeared in such films as The Kentuckian (1955), A Face in the Crowd (1957), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), King Creole (1958), and Strangers When We Meet (1960). Matthau truly came into his own with the character of Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, a role created for him by playwright Neil Simon. First in the Broadway play (1965)—for which he won another Tony Award—and then in the movie adaptation, Matthau brought his charming irascibility to the part and made being a slob endearing. He went on to star in other films: A New Leaf (1971), Charley Varrick (1973), The Sunshine Boys (1975), The Bad News Bears (1976), The Grass Harp (1995; directed by his son Charles Matthau), and I'm Not Rappaport (1996). Matthau's final film was Hanging Up (2000).

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▪ American actor
original name  Walter Matuschanskavasky 
born October 1, 1920, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died July 1, 2000, Santa Monica, Calif.

      American actor known for his rumpled face, nasal bray, and razor-sharp timing.

      Born into a family of Jewish-Russian immigrants, he was compelled to work at a very early age. By the time he was 11, he was employed at the concession stand in a Lower East Side Yiddish theatre. To pick up extra money, he began playing bit roles, making his debut as an 80-year-old woman in a crowd scene. After high school, he held down a variety of jobs, but his heart remained in the theatre. During World War II, he served with distinction under the command of Colonel James Stewart (Stewart, James). Upon his return he attended the New School for Social Research Dramatic Workshop, where his fellow students included Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach, Tony Curtis, and Harry Belafonte. In 1946 he made his first professional appearance, and within two years he was acting on Broadway, playing two roles and understudying seven characters in Anne of the Thousand Days.

      Working steadily as a character actor on the stage and on television in the early 1950s, he achieved leading-man status in the Broadway comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955). That same year, he appeared in his first film, The Kentuckian. Though he had established himself as a light comedian onstage, he tended to play blackhearted villains or humourless “best friend–severest critic” roles on the screen. Shortly after costarring with Elvis Presley (Presley, Elvis) in King Creole (1958), he directed his only film, the B-grade melodrama Gangster Story (released in 1959). His television roles of this period included President Andrew Johnson in the historical anthology Profiles in Courage, and he also starred in the low-budget detective series Tallahassee 7000 (1961).

      Matthau's big break came in 1965, when he was cast opposite Art Carney in Neil Simon (Simon, Neil)'s hit Broadway comedy The Odd Couple. The tailor-made role of congenital slob Oscar Madison transformed Matthau into a major star, earning him a Tony Award and forever lifting him out of the supporting-player category. He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the silver-tongued shyster “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich in Billy Wilder (Wilder, Billy)'s trenchant comedy The Fortune Cookie (1966). This film represented the first of his many felicitous teamings with Jack Lemmon (Lemmon, Jack), including the 1968 movie version of The Odd Couple, a 1974 theatrical revival of Juno and the Paycock, and the riotous Grumpy Old Men films of the 1990s. Matthau also received Oscar nominations for Kotch (1971; directed by Lemmon) and The Sunshine Boys (1975), another collaboration with Neil Simon.

      Though plagued with recurring health problems from the 1970s, Matthau continued to star in such well-received films as The Bad News Bears (1976), First Monday in October (1981), and The Grass Harp (1995), the last film directed by his son, Charlie Matthau. He was prominently featured as a hedonistic octogenarian in his last film, Hanging Up (2000), directed by Diane Keaton (Keaton, Diane).

Additional Reading
Allan Hunter, Walter Matthau (1984).

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Universalium. 2010.

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