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Slezak as Mister Geppetto, 1957
3 May 1902|
|Died||21 April 1983
Flower Hill, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Self-inflicted gunshot wound|
|Resting place||Rottach-Egern, Germany|
|Other names||Walt Slezak|
|Spouse(s)||Johanna Van Rijn
(1943–1983; his death)
Leo Slezak, Jr.
Elsa (née Wertheim)
|Awards||Tony Award (1955)|
Walter Slezak (German pronunciation: [ˌvaltɐ ˈslɛzak]) (3 May 1902 – 21 April 1983) was an Austrian-born character actor and singer who appeared in German films before migrating to the US in 1930 and featuring in numerous Hollywood productions. Slezak often portrayed villains or thugs, most notably the German U-boat captain in Alfred Hitchcock's film Lifeboat (1944), but occasionally he got to play lighter roles, as in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). He also played a cheerfully corrupt and philosophical private detective in the film noir Born to Kill (1947) and appeared as Squire Trelawney in Treasure Island (1972).
Born in Vienna, Austria, the son of opera tenor Leo Slezak (a Moravian) and Elsa Wertheim, he studied medicine for a time and later worked as a bank teller. He was talked into taking his first role, in the 1922 Austrian film Sodom und Gomorrah, by his friend and the film's director, Michael Curtiz. In his early movie career, before he gained a great deal of weight, Slezak was cast as a thin leading man in silent films. He also acted on the stage for many years, debuting on Broadway in 1931.
In Vienna in the 1930s, Slezak was close friends with Gustav Klimt Heiress Maria Altmann and her family - the wealthy, influential Bloch-Bauers - and he and Altmann continued their friendship when both emigrated to America in the early 1940s.
His first American film was Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), with Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant. He worked steadily and appeared in over 100 films including The Princess and the Pirate (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Born to Kill (1947), Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950), People Will Talk (1951), and Call Me Madam (1953).
Slezak acted in radio in such shows as Lux Radio Theater, Columbia Workshop, The Pepsodent Show, and The Charlie McCarthy Show. He made numerous television appearances, including in the programs This Is Show Business, Playhouse 90 and Studio One, and appeared as The Clock King in episodes 45 and 46 of TV series Batman (1966).
In the 1970s, Slezak played the non-singing role of Frosch, the jailer, in the San Francisco Opera production of Johann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus. Later popular film roles in Britain included the Cliff Richard vehicle Wonderful Life (1964) and Black Beauty (1971).
His autobiography, What Time's the Next Swan? was published in 1962. The book's title refers to an alleged incident in the career of his father, heldentenor Leo Slezak. During a performance in the title role of Lohengrin, the elder Slezak was supposed to finish his aria by stepping into a swan boat and then being pulled offstage. When a stagehand removed the boat prematurely, Slezak supposedly reacted to the error by asking the audience "What Time's the Next Swan?".
Slezak married Johanna "Kaasi" Van Rijn on October 10, 1943. The couple had three children: Ingrid, Erika, and Leo. Erika went on to become an Emmy-winning actress, and starred as Victoria Lord on the long-running soap opera One Life to Live from 1971 to its cancellation in 2012. In 1974 Slezak appeared on the series as her character's godfather, Lazlo Braedecker.
On April 21, 1983, 12 days before his 81st birthday, Slezak died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was reportedly despondent over his advanced physical illness.[clarification needed] As was his father, he is buried in the Bavarian village Rottach-Egern.
- Sodom and Gomorrah (1922)
- Michael (1924)
- My Leopold (1924)
- Young Blood (1926)
- The Long Intermission (1927)
- Goodbye Youth (1927)
- Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
- This Land Is Mine (1943)
- The Fallen Sparrow (1943)
- Lifeboat (1944)
- The Princess and the Pirate (1944)
- Step Lively (1944)
- The Spanish Main (1945)
- Cornered (1945)
- Sinbad the Sailor (1947)
- Born to Kill (1947)
- Riffraff (1947)
- The Pirate (1948)
- The Inspector General (1949)
- Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)
- The Yellow Cab Man (1950)
- Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)
- People Will Talk (1951)
- Call Me Madam (1953)
- White Witch Doctor (1953)
- The Miracle (1959)
- Come September (1961)
- The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
- Wonderful Life
(US title: Swingers' Paradise 1964)
- 24 Hours to Kill (1965)
- Dr. Coppelius (1966)
- Heidi (1968)
- Black Beauty (1971)
- Treasure Island (1972)
- "Turner Classic Movies: Biography for Walter Slezak". TCM.com. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
- "SOAP STAR STATS: Erika Slezak (Viki, OLTL)". SoapOperaDigest.com. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- ""Die Fledermaus" in S. F. – September 16, 2006". Operawarhorses.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- Portrait of the actor Walter Slezak by Thomas Staedeli
- "Star | Walter Slezak". kino.de. 1983-04-21. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- Overview for Swingers' Paradise (1965)", Turner Classic Movies page
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