Walter Slezak

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Walter Slezak
Walter Slezak as Gepetto 1957.JPG
Slezak as Mister Geppetto, 1957
Born (1902-05-03)3 May 1902
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died 21 April 1983(1983-04-21) (aged 80)
Flower Hill, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Self-inflicted gunshot wound
Resting place Rottach-Egern, Germany
Nationality Austrian
Other names Walt Slezak
Occupation Actor, Singer
Years active 1922–1980
Spouse(s) Johanna Van Rijn
(1943–1983; his death)
Children Ingrid Slezak,
Erika Slezak,
Leo Slezak, Jr.
Parent(s) Leo Slezak,
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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[2]

His first American film was Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), with Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant.[1] 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 played the lead in Broadway musicals, including Fanny, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.[3]

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.[4] Later popular film roles in Britain included the Cliff Richard vehicle Wonderful Life (1964) and Black Beauty (1971).


Walter Slezak as the Clock King in the 1960s' Batman TV show

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?".

Personal life[edit]

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.[1]


On April 21, 1983, Slezak died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.[1] He was reportedly despondent over his advanced physical illness.[5][6][clarification needed] As was his father, he is buried in the Bavarian village Rottach-Egern.[7]


In 1955, Slezak won a Tony Award for his role in the Broadway production of Fanny.

Partial filmography[edit]

Slezak in The Fallen Sparrow trailer, 1943

See also[edit]


External links[edit]