Matthau in A New Leaf (1971)
October 1, 1920
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 1, 2000
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart disease|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park|
|Residence||Santa Monica, California, U.S.|
|Education||Seward Park High School|
|Alma mater||The New School|
|Notable work||The Odd Couple,
The Bad News Bears,
The Fortune Cookie,
Grumpy Old Men
|Home town||New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Height||6' 2" (1.89 m)|
|Spouse(s)||Grace Geraldine Johnson
(m. 1948–1958; divorced)
(m. 1959–2000; his death)
|Parent(s)||Milton and Rose (née Berolsky) Matthow|
|Awards||Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Tony Award, Golden Globe Award|
Walter Matthau (//; October 1, 1920 – July 1, 2000) was an American actor and comedian, best known for his role as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and his frequent collaborations with Odd Couple co-star Jack Lemmon. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the 1966 Billy Wilder film The Fortune Cookie. Besides the Oscar, he was the winner of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony awards.
His mother, Rose (née Berolsky), was a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who worked in a garment sweatshop, and his father, Milton Matthow, was a Russian Jewish peddler and electrician, from Kiev, Ukraine. As part of a lifelong love of practical jokes, Matthau himself created the rumors that his middle name was Foghorn and his last name was originally Matuschanskayasky (under which he is credited for a cameo role in the film Earthquake).
As a young boy, Matthow attended a Jewish non-profit sleepaway camp, Tranquillity Camp, where he first began acting in the shows the camp would stage on Saturday nights. He also attended Surprise Lake Camp. His high school was Seward Park High School. He worked for a short time as a concession stand cashier in the Yiddish Theater District.
During World War II, Matthau served in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force in Britain as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner, in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart. He was based at RAF Old Buckenham, Norfolk during this time. He reached the rank of staff sergeant and became interested in acting.
He took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School with German director Erwin Piscator. He often joked that his best early review came in a play where he posed as a derelict. One reviewer said, "The others just looked like actors in make-up, Walter Matthau really looks like a skid row bum!" Matthau was a respected stage actor for years in such fare as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and A Shot in the Dark. He won the 1962 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a play.
Matthau appeared in the pilot of Mister Peepers (1952) with Wally Cox. For reasons unknown he used the name Leonard Elliot. His role was of the gym teacher Mr. Wall. He made his motion picture debut as a whip-wielding bad guy in The Kentuckian (1955) opposite Burt Lancaster. He played a villain in King Creole (1958), in which he gets beaten up by Elvis Presley). Around the same time, he made Ride a Crooked Trail with Audie Murphy, and Onionhead (both 1958) starring Andy Griffith; the latter was a flop. Matthau had a featured role opposite Griffith in the well received drama A Face in the Crowd (1957), directed by Elia Kazan. Matthau also directed a low-budget movie called The Gangster Story (1960) and was a sympathetic sheriff in Lonely are the Brave (1962), which starred Kirk Douglas. He appeared opposite Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963).
Appearances on television were common too, including two on Naked City, as well as an episode of The Eleventh Hour ("A Tumble from a Tall White House", 1963) . He appeared eight times between 1962 and 1964 on The DuPont Show of the Week and as Franklin Gaer in an episode of Dr. Kildare ("Man Is a Rock", 1964). Additionally he featured in the syndicated crime drama Tallahassee 7000, as a Florida-based state police investigator (1961–62).
Comedies were rare in Matthau's work at that time. He was cast in a number of stark dramas, such as Fail Safe (1964), in which he portrayed Pentagon adviser Dr. Groeteschele, who urges an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in response to an accidental transmission of an attack signal to U.S. Air Force bombers. Neil Simon cast him in the play The Odd Couple in 1965, with Matthau playing slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison, opposite Art Carney as Felix Unger. Matthau later reprised the role in the film version, with Jack Lemmon as Felix Ungar. He played detective Ted Casselle in the Hitchcockian thriller Mirage (1965), directed by Edward Dmytryk.
He achieved great success in the comedy film, The Fortune Cookie (1966), as a shyster lawyer, William H. "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich, starring opposite Lemmon, and the first of many collaborations with Billy Wilder, and a role that would earn him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Filming had to be placed on a five-month hiatus after Matthau suffered a serious heart attack. He gave up his three pack a day smoking habit as a result. Matthau appeared during the Oscar telecast shortly after having been injured in a bicycle accident; nonetheless, he scolded actors who had not attended the ceremony, especially the other major award winners that night: Paul Scofield, Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis.
Oscar nominations would come Matthau's way again for Kotch (1971), directed by Lemmon, and The Sunshine Boys (1975), another adaptation of a Neil Simon stage play, this time about a pair of former vaudeville stars. For the latter role he won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
Broadway hits turned into films continued to cast Matthau in lead roles in Hello, Dolly! and Cactus Flower (both 1969); for the latter film, Goldie Hawn received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Matthau played three roles in the film version of Simon's Plaza Suite (1971) and was in the cast of its followup California Suite (1978).
Matthau starred in three crime dramas in the mid-1970s, as a detective investigating a mass murder on a bus in The Laughing Policeman (1973), as a bank robber on the run from the Mafia and the law in Charley Varrick (also 1973) and as a New York transit cop in the action-adventure The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). A change of pace about misfits on a Little League baseball team turned-out to be a solid hit when Matthau starred as coach Morris Buttermaker in the comedy The Bad News Bears (1976). Matthau portrayed Herbert Tucker in I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982), with Ann-Margret and Dinah Manoff.
Matthau played Albert Einstein in the film I.Q. (1994), starring Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan. His partnership with Lemmon became one of the most successful pairings in Hollywood. They became lifelong friends after making The Fortune Cookie and would make a total of 10 movies together—11 counting Kotch, in which Lemmon has a cameo as a sleeping bus passenger. Apart from their many comedies, the two appeared (although they did not share any scenes) in the Oliver Stone drama, JFK (1991). Matthau narrated the Doctor Seuss Video Classics: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1992) and played the role of Mr. Wilson in the film Dennis the Menace (1993).
Matthau and Lemmon reunited for the comedy Grumpy Old Men (1993), co-starring Ann-Margret, and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995), also co-starring Sophia Loren. This led to further pairings late in their careers, Out to Sea (1997) and a Simon-scripted sequel to their much earlier success, The Odd Couple II (1998). Hanging Up (2000), directed by Diane Keaton, was Matthau's final appearance onscreen.
Matthau was married twice; first to Grace Geraldine Johnson from 1948 to 1958, and then to Carol Marcus from 1959 until he died in 2000. He had two children, Jenny and David, by his first wife, and a son, Charlie Matthau, with his second wife. David is a radio news reporter, currently at WKXW "New Jersey 101.5" in Trenton, New Jersey. Jenny is president of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Matthau also helped raise his stepchildren, Aram Saroyan and Lucy Saroyan. His grandchildren include William Matthau, an engineer, and Emily Rose Roman, a student at Binghamton University. Charlie Matthau directed his father in The Grass Harp (1995).
A heavy smoker and drinker, Matthau suffered a heart attack in 1966, the first of at least three in his lifetime. In 1976, ten years after his first heart attack, he underwent heart bypass surgery. After working in freezing Minnesota weather for Grumpy Old Men (1993), he was hospitalized for double pneumonia. In December 1995 he had a colon tumor removed; it tested benign. He was also hospitalized in May 1999 for more than two months owing to pneumonia once more.
Matthau suffered from atherosclerotic heart disease. He died of a heart attack in Santa Monica on July 1, 2000. He was 79 years old. His remains are interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Less than a year later, the remains of Jack Lemmon (who died of colon and bladder cancer) were buried at the same cemetery. After Matthau's death, Lemmon as well as other friends and relatives had appeared on Larry King Live in an hour of tribute and remembrance; many of those same people appeared on the show one year later, reminiscing about Lemmon. Carol Marcus, also a native of New York, died of a brain aneurysm in 2003. Her remains are buried on top of those of her husband, Matthau. The remains of actor George C. Scott are buried to the left of those of Walter Matthau, in an unmarked grave.
|1948||Anne of the Thousand Days|
|1951||Twilight Walk||Sam Dundee|
|1952||Fancy Meeting You Again||Sinclair Heybore|
|1952||One Bright Day||George Lawrence|
|1952||In Any Language||Charlie Hill|
|1952||The Grey-Eyed People||John Hart|
|1953||The Ladies of the Corridor||Paul Osgood|
|1953||The Burning Glass||Tony Lack|
|1955||Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?||Michael Freeman|
|1955||Guys and Dolls||Nathan Detroit|
|1958||Once More, with Feeling!||Maxwell Archer||Nominated – Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play|
|1961||Once There Was a Russian||Potemkin|
|1961||A Shot in the Dark||Benjamin Beaurevers||Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play|
|1963||My Mother, My Father and Me||Herman Halpern|
|1965||The Odd Couple||Oscar Madison||Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play|
|1954||The Motorola Television Hour||Episode: "Atomic Attack"|
|1958||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Episode: "The Crooked Road"|
|1959||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Episode: "Dry Run"|
|1960||Juno and the Paycock|
|1961||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Episode: "Cop for a Day"|
|1961||Route 66||Episode: "Eleven, the Hard Way"|
|1961||Tallahassee 7000||Cast member|
|1961–1962||Target: The Corruptors!||Two episodes|
|1972||Awake and Sing!||Moe Axelrod|
|1978||Saturday Night Live||Host||Season 4, Episode 7 (2 December 1978)|
|1978||The Stingiest Man in Town||Ebenezer Scrooge||Voice role|
|1990||The Incident||Harmon J. Cobb|
|1991||Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love|
|1992||Against Her Will: An Incident in Baltimore||Harmon J. Cobb|
|1994||Incident in a Small Town||Harmon J. Cobb|
|1998||The Marriage Fool|
- Matthau, Walter - Oxford Dictionaries
- Edelman, Rob; Audrey E. Kupferberg (2002). Matthau: a life. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 0-87833-274-X.
- Wright, Stuart J. (2004). An emotional gauntlet: from life in peacetime America to the war in European skies. Terrace Books. p. 179. ISBN 0-299-20520-7.
- Stone, Judy (September 8, 1968). "Matthau – A Sex Symbol Or a Jewish Mother?". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2014-02-03.subscription required
- "Walter Matthau profile at". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Gussow, Mel (July 2, 2000). "Walter Matthau, 79, Rumpled Star and Comic Icon, Dies". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- "Walter Matthau". Snopes.com. October 19, 2005. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- "Famous Alumni". Seward Park High School Alumni Association. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Cofone, Annie (June 8, 2012). "Strolling Back Into the Golden Age of Yiddish Theater". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Walter Matthau at the Internet Broadway Database
- Walter Matthau at the Internet Movie Database
- Obituary, guardian.com; accessed August 20, 2015.
- The Fortune Cookie Lemmon & Matthau Behind-the-Scenes, Hollywood Legacy
- "Actor Walter Matthau dies". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Profile, accessed April 8, 2015.
- Mel Gussow (July 2, 2000). "Walter Matthau, 79, Rumpled Star and Comic Icon, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2008.