Who is Walter Matthau?

The late American actor, comedian and director Walter Matthau was born as Walter John Matthow in New York City, USA, on 1 October 1920, meaning that Libra was his zodiac sign. He appeared in 107 movies and TV series prior to his death in 2000, and is perhaps still remembered best for playing the lead character Oscar Madison in the 1968 comedy movie “The Odd Couple”, directed by Gene Saks, and which also starred Jack Lemmon and John Fiedler. It follows a man who’s just separated from his wife, and has moved in with his best friend who’s a divorced sportswriter; the film won three of its 12 award nominations, including two Oscar nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

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Education and early life

Walter was raised in New York City alongside his two brothers, by their Ukrainian-Jewish father Milton Matuschansky who was an electrician and peddler, and Lithuanian-Jewish mother Rose (nee Berolsky) who worked in a garment sweatshop.

He became interested in acting while attending the sleepaway camp Tranquility Camp, and appeared in a number of plays which were performed at the camp on Saturday nights; Walter also honed his acting skills at Surprise Lake Camp.

He studied at Seward Park High School, from which he matriculated in 1939; Walter then spent several months working as a concession stand cashier, prior to joining the US Army.

Second World War

Walter served in the US Army Air Force as a radio operator-air gunner during the Second World War, in the crew of the heavy bomber Consolidated B-24 Liberator; he and the late American actor James Maitland ‘Jimmy’ Stewart were members of the same 453rd Bombardment Group, based in Norfolk, England at Royal Air Force Old Buckenham, and flew missions during the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war ended, he returned to the US determined to become an actor.

Roles in TV series

Walter’s debut TV series appearance was in the 1950 episode “Roy J. Battersby, New York Reporter” of the drama “The Big Story”, and the following years saw him appear in an episode of the action mystery “Shadow of the Cloak”, the comedy “Lux Video Theatre” and another comedy “Mister Peepers”. From 1952 through 1958, Walter appeared in a couple of episodes of the anthology drama “Kraft Theatre”, which starred Ed Herlihy, Vaughn Taylor and Valerie Cossart; each episode is a stand-alone drama story, the series aired from 1947 through 1958 and won three of its 11 award nominations.

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Walter appeared in an episode of a couple of series in the ‘60s, including the adventure crime comedy “The Rogues”, the drama “Dr. Kildare”, and the biographical historical drama “Profiles in Courage”.

He had only a single TV series role in the ‘70s, playing Adam in the 1977 episode “This Side of Eden” of the anthology drama “Insight”, which starred Ellwood Kieser and Pat McGeehan, and tells stories of love, freedom and meaning; the series aired from 1960 through 1984, and won nine of its 13 award nominations. This was also Walter’s final TV series role.

Roles in movies

Walter’s debut film role was playing Stan Bodline in the 1955 western “The Kentuckian”, directed by Burt Lancaster, who also starred in it alongside Diana Lynn and Diane Foster. It follows a Kentucky widower as he’s travelling to Texas with his son in the 1820s, and the film was nominated for two awards. Some of Walter’s other roles in the ‘50s were in the musical “A Face in the Crowd” and thecrime drama “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” both in 1957, and the 1958 crime musical “King Creole”.

In 1963, Walter portrayed one of the main characters Hamilton Bartholomew in the critically acclaimed romantic mystery comedy “Charade”, directed by Stanley Donen, and which also starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It follows a woman who’s being pursued by gangsters in Paris, France as they want back a fortune which her murdered husband had stolen; the film won four of its 13 award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song. The remainder of the ‘60s saw Walter appear in the 1964 romantic fantasy comedy “Goodbye Charlie”, the 1968 adventure fantasy comedy “Candy”, and the 1969 romantic comedy “Cactus Flower”.

What marked the ‘70s for Walter was perhaps playing the lead character Coach Morris Buttermaker in the family comedy “The Bad News Bears”, directed by Michael Ritchie, and which also starred Tatum O’Neal and Vic Morrow. It follows a baseball coach as he’s coaching a team of misfits, and the film won one of its three award nominations.

Some of Walter’s notable performances in the ‘80s were in the 1982 comedy “I Ought to Be in Pictures”, the 1986 action adventure comedy “Pirates” and the 1988 romantic fantasy comedy “The Little Devil”.

In 1993, he starred as Mr. Wilson in the popular family comedy “Dennis the Menace”, directed by Nick Castle, and which also starred Mason Gamble and Joan Plowright. It follows young boy Dennis who’s driving his neighbor Mr. Wilson crazy, and the film won three of its six award nominations.

Walter’s final three film roles were in the 1998 adventure comedy “The Odd Couple II”, the 1998 romantic comedy “The Marriage Fool” and the 2000 comedy “Hanging Up”.

Other credits

Walter directed the 1959 crime thriller movie “Gangster Story”, and produced the 1980 romantic comedy film “Little Miss Marker”.

He received special thanks for five movies, including the 1993 documentary “Billy Wilder, Artiste”, the 1998 biographical sports documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”, and the 1999 documentary movie “Making Life Beautiful”.

Some of Walter’s final talk-show appearances were in “Private Screenings”, “Intimate Portrait” and “Larry King Live”.

Awards and nominations

Walter won 12 of his 28 award nominations, including his 1967 Oscar win for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for his performance in “The Fortune Cookie”; he was also nominated for two Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1972 and 1976, for “Kotch” and “The Sunshine Boys”, respectively.

Some of his other wins include a 1974 BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor, a 1993 ShoWest Convention Lifetime Achievement Award and a 1997 American Lifetime Achievement in Comedy Award.

Walter was presented with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 9 March 1982.

Love life and marriages

Walter was married twice. His first wife was non-celebrity American Grace Geraldine Johnson; they married in 1948, had children David and Jenny together, but divorced in 1958.

In 1959, Walter married his second wife Carol Grace, the late American actress and author; she was four years his junior and had only four acting credits, perhaps still remembered best for playing Carol Logan – Librarian in the 1959 crime thriller movie “Gangster Story”. Carol gave birth to their son Charles Marcus Matthau on 10 December 1962, and he’s today a successful actor, screenwriter, producer and director; Walter also helped raise Carol’s two children from a former marriage Lucy Saroyan and Aram Saroyan.

At the time of his death, Walter was married to his second wife Carol Grace.

Interesting facts and hobbies

Walter was a heavy smoker, and it’s believed that this led to his first heart attack in 1966; he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1976, and suffered double pneumonia in 1993. Walter had a colon tumor removed in 1995, and then suffered from pneumonia again in 1999.

Walter and one of his close friends, the late American actor, producer and director Jack Lemmon appeared alongside in nine movies, included the 1966 “The Fortune Cookie”, the 1981 “Buddy Buddy” and the 1995 “The Grass Harp”.

He was a gambler, and once estimated that he’d lost $5 million by gambling.

Famous American actor and screenwriter Dan Castellaneta’s claimed that his voicing of Homer Simpson was an impersonation of Walter.

He was a huge fan of classical music, and often sang Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pieces while acting.

Walter was a tall man, standing at 6ft 3ins (1.9m).

Death and wealth

Walter struggled with atherosclerotic heart disease during his final years of life; he died from a heart attack early in the morning on 1 July 2000, aged 79, and his body was buried at Los Angeles’ Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Walter’s wife passed away in 2003 and was buried in the same grave.

At the time of his passing, Walter’s net worth was estimated at over $10 million.

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