Friday, November 25, 2011

Walter Matthau

 Opening Remarks

During the 1965 filming of Mirage, director Edward Dmytryk told Walter Matthau:

"you're going to become the greatest character actor in the business."

The actor rejected that assessment, insisting he would become a leading man. He was an actor who lacked leading man looks, whose own mother wanted him to have his nose fixed and who achieved stardom through sheer individuality and talent.
Walter Matthau proved that a leading man didn't have to be handsome or slick, or charismatic.  He made a career and became a leading man playing the every man. The guy you knew who played poker with you, or bowled in your league, or you saw at the racetrack. In addition to his obvious acting talent, that was his appeal. No glitz, no glamor, but so much substance. As we zoom through his long and prolific television, stage and film career, we will see how substance carried him for the whole journey.


Walter Matthau  best known for his role as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and his frequent collaborations with Odd Couple star Jack Lemmon

as well as his role as Coach Buttermaker in the 1976 comedy The Bad News Bears.

He won an Academy Award for his performance in the 1966 Billy Wilder film The Fortune Cookie.

Walter John Matthow was born in New York City's Lower East Side on October 1, 1920. The son of Jewish immigrants, his father Milton Matthow, an electrician and peddler (from Russia) and mother Rose ; from Lithuania), who worked in a sweatshop.

Matthau was married twice; first to Grace Geraldine Johnson (1948–58), and then from 1959 until his death in 2000 to Carol Marcus. He had two children, Jenny and David, by his first wife, and a second son, Charlie Matthau, with his second wife.

 Matthau grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side and recalled his childhood as "a dreadful, horrible, stinking nightmare." His father deserted the family and his mother couldn't show affection, yet young Walter discovered a love of acting that led him to Broadway.

As a young boy, Walter attended a Jewish non-profit sleep away camp, Tranquility Camp, where he first began acting in the shows the camp would stage on Saturday nights.

During World War II, Matthau served in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force in England as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner, in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart. 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 in New York with the influential 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.

In 1952, Matthau appeared in the pilot of Mr. Peepers with Wally Cox. For reasons unknown he used the name Leonard Elliot. His role was of the gym teacher Mr. Wall.

In 1955, he made his motion picture debut as a whip-wielding bad guy in The Kentuckian opposite Burt Lancaster.

Matthau appeared as a villain in subsequent movies, such as 1958's King Creole.

That same year, he made a western called Ride a Crooked Trail with Audie Murphy

 and Onionhead starring Andy Griffith and Erin O'Brien, which was a flop.

Matthau had a featured role opposite Griffith in the well received drama A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan.

Matthau also directed a low-budget 1960 movie called The Gangster Story.

In 1962, he was a sympathetic sheriff in Lonely are the Brave, which starred Kirk Douglas.

He appeared opposite Audrey Hepburn in Charade, which also starred Cary Grant.

Appearances on television were common too, including two on ABC's police drama, Naked City 

as well as the 1963 episode "A Tumble from a Tall White House" of The Eleventh Hour.

He appeared eight times between 1962 and 1964 on The DuPont Show of the Week and as Franklin Gaer in 1964 in the episode "Man Is a Rock" on Dr. Kildare.

Lastly, he starred in the syndicated crime drama Tallahassee 7000, as a Florida-based state police investigator, in the 1961-1962 season.

Comedies were rare in Matthau's work at that time. He was cast in a number of stark dramas, such as 1964's Fail-Safe, in which he portrayed a White House adviser during a catastrophic global incident.

In 1965, however, a plum comedy role came Matthau's way when Neil Simon cast him in the hit play The Odd Couple playing the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison opposite Art Carney as Felix Unger. Matthau would later join Jack Lemmon in the movie version.

Also in 1965, he played detective Ted Casselle in the thriller Mirage, with Gregory Peck.

He achieved great film success in a 1966 comedy as a shyster lawyer called "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich in The Fortune Cookie, the first of numerous collaborations with Billy Wilder, and a role that would earn him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Matthau starred in Kotch, a 1971 American comedy film which tells the story of an elderly man who runs away so as not to be put into a nursing home, and strikes up a friendship with a pregnant teenage girl.  Deborah Winters, Felicia Farr, Charles Aidman and Ellen Geer also starred in the movie.
 Matthau  was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role while his friend and frequent costar Jack Lemmon directed; it was Lemmon's only film behind the camera.

Broadway hits turned into films continued to cast Matthau in the leads with 1969's Hello, Dolly! 
In that movie, it is common knowledge that he hated Barbra Streisand.

"When Streisand became a star, she quickly became one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, but not always the most popular. Andersen told the story of her relationship with Walter Matthau during the filming of "Hello, Dolly."

"He hated Barbra Streisand," "He had just won an Oscar for 'The Fortune Cookie.' She was running the show. She was telling the director, Gene Kelly, how to direct that movie. Walter Matthau went to the head of the studio, Richard Zanuck, and Zanuck said, 'I'd love to help you but this is not 'Hello, Walter' we're making.' "

    --excerpt from the Biography of Barbra Streisand.

Cactus Flower is a 1969 comedic film directed by Gene Saks and starring  Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her performance.  The film was the seventh highest grossing film of 1970.

A New Leaf (1971) is a dark comedy film based on the short story The Green Heart by Jack Ritchie, starring Elaine May, Matthau, George Rose and James Coco.
Spoiled, pompous, self-involved Henry Graham (Matthau)  has a big problem: he has run through his entire inheritance and is completely unequipped to provide for himself. His childhood guardian, Uncle Harry, refuses to give him a dime.
Desperation sets in as Henry's attempts to meet a suitable mate all fail. With only days remaining on his deadline, Henry bumps into clumsy, painfully shy heiress Henrietta Lowell. She is the answer to his prayers.
The film was a critical success upon its initial release and is now considered a cult classic. However, despite several accolades, award nominations, and a Radio City Music Hall run, A New Leaf fared poorly at the box office and remains little known by the general public.

Plaza Suite is a 1971 American comedy film directed by Arthur Hiller. The screenplay by Neil Simon is based on his 1968 play of the same title. The film stars Matthau, Maureen Stapleton, Barbara Harris and Lee Grant.
Like the play, the film is divided into three acts, all set in Suite 719 of New York City's Plaza Hotel. The first focuses on not-so-blissfully wedded couple Sam and Karen Nash, who are revisiting their honeymoon suite in an attempt - by Karen - to bring the love back into their marriage.
The second act involves a meeting between Hollywood movie producer Jesse Kiplinger and his old flame, suburban housewife Muriel Tate.
The third act revolves around married couple Roy and Norma Hubley on the wedding day of their daughter Mimsey, who has locked herself in the suite's bathroom and stubbornly refuses to come out.

For the film adaptation, director Arthur Hiller decided to cast  Matthau in the three male roles.

Pete 'n' Tillie is a 1972 American comedy-drama film starring  Matthau and Carol Burnett in the title roles. Its advertising tagline was "Honeymoon's over. It's time to get married."

The Laughing Policeman (1973) is an American police procedural film loosely based on the novel The Laughing Policeman by Sjöwall and Wahlöö and features Matthau as Detective Jake Martin.
 A busload of passengers, including off-duty police detective Dave Evans, is gunned down and killed. Evans, on his own time, has been following a man named Gus Niles in search of information linking businessman Henry Camarero to the murder of his wife, Teresa, two years earlier.
 Evans was the partner of Detective Sergeant Jake Martin, a veteran but cynical member of the Homicide Detail working the bus massacre investigation.

Charley Varrick is a 1973 crime film directed by Don Siegel and starring  Matthau, Andrew Robinson, Joe Don Baker and John Vernon. The film was based on the novel The Looters by John H. Reese.
Charley Varrick is a crop-duster and former stunt pilot by trade.  Together with three others, including his wife Nadine and edgy Harman Sullivan, a heavily disguised Varrick robs a small bank in  New Mexico. During the robbery, two policemen and the fourth robber are killed and Nadine is mortally wounded.
Realizing they have stolen the proceeds of a mob money laundering operation, Varrick and Sullivan find themselves in trouble not only with the police but with several shady characters, in particular mob money man Maynard Boyle and an amoral hired killer called Molly.

If you want to see this whole movie I advise you to watch the link below ASAP, it is likely to be taken down shortly.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 1974 American thriller film starring Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam and Héctor Elizondo., from the novel of the same name by Morton Freedgood (under the pen name John Godey).

In New York City, four heavily armed men with code names (Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown), wearing similar trenchcoat and mustache disguises, board at different station stops on the Pelham 123 subway train run  The men take the train, securing a group of seventeen passengers who they hold hostage, whom they isolate in one car of the train, then disconnect this car from the rest of the train.

The Front Page is a 1974 American comedy-drama film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond is based on the 1928 play of the same title by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which was previously adapted for the screen under its original title in 1931 and as His Girl Friday in 1940.

The Sunshine Boys is a 1975 comedy film  based on the play of the same name by Neil Simon. The cast included real-life experienced vaudevillian actor George Burns, Walter Matthau and Richard Benjamin.
Initially, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were proposed for the leads, but Simon was opposed to the idea, as he felt the roles required Jewish comedians.Several actors, including Phil Silvers auditioned, and the roles eventually were given to real-life vaudevillian veterans Red Skelton and Jack Benny. 
Benny was forced to withdraw after being diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that would soon kill him and recommended his friend and fellow real-life vaudevillian veteran Burns, who had not been in a film since 1939, for the role. Burns' Academy Award-winning role revived his career and redefined his popular image as a remarkably active old comedy star. When Skelton eventually dropped out as well, possibly because he considered the material too "blue", he was replaced by the younger Matthau. 

The Bad News Bears is a 1976 comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie. It stars Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal. The film was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978, a short-lived 1979-80 CBS television series, and a remake titled Bad News Bears.

Morris Buttermaker ( Matthau), an alcoholic and former minor-league baseball player, is recruited by a city councilman and attorney who filed a lawsuit against an ultra-competitive Southern California Little League which excluded the least skilled athletes (including his son) from playing. In order to settle the lawsuit, the league agrees to add an additional team - the Bears - which is composed of the worst players. Buttermaker becomes the coach of the unlikely team, which includes (among others) a near-sighted pitcher, an overweight catcher, a foulmouthed shortstop with a Napoleon complex, an outfielder who dreams of emulating his idol Hank Aaron, and a motley collection of other "talent". Shunned by the more competitive teams (and competitive parents), the Bears are the outsiders. They play their opening game, and do not even record an out, giving up 26 runs before Buttermaker forfeits the game.
Realizing the team is nearly hopeless, he recruits a couple of unlikely prospects: sharp-tongued Amanda Whurlizer (Tatum O'Neal), a skilled pitcher (trained by Buttermaker when she was younger) who is the 12-year-old daughter of one of Buttermaker's ex-girlfriends.  Rounding out the team, Buttermaker recruits the "best athlete in the area," who also happens to be the local cigarette-smoking, loan-sharking, Harley-Davidson-riding troublemaker, Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley). With Whurlizer and Leak on board, the team starts gaining more confidence, and the Bears start winning games.

Casey's Shadow is a 1978 drama film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Matthau who is a down on his luck horse trainer who risks it all on a two-year-old colt at the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.

House Calls is a 1978 film comedy starring Matthau and Glenda Jackson,
Charles Nichols (Matthau)  is a respected doctor. He is also a new widower, and as soon as he returns from a tropical vacation and period of mourning, he finds himself propositioned by a number of women.

In 1979, CBS debuted a television sitcom version of House Calls, starring Wayne Rogers  now named Dr. Charley Michaels. The television series ran through 1982.

California Suite is a 1978 American comedy film directed by Herbert Ross. The screenplay by Neil Simon is based on his play of the same title. Similar to his earlier Plaza Suite, the film focuses on the dilemmas of guests staying in a suite in a luxury hotel.

Little Miss Marker is a 1980 American comedy-drama written and directed by Walter Bernstein, based on a short story by Damon Runyon. The film stars Matthau, Tony Curtis, Julie Andrews, Bob Newhart and Sara Stimson. It is a remake of the 1934 film of the same name starring Shirley Temple and Adolphe Menjou.
Sorrowful Jones (Matthau) is a gloomy, cantankerous bookie circa 1934, who is confronted by a gambler who cannot pay a $10 debt. He ultimately gives his 6-year-old daughter (Stimson) to Sorrowful's gangster-run gambling operation as a "marker" (collateral) for a bet. When the desperate gambler loses his bet and commits suicide, the gangsters are left with the "Kid" on their hands. Sorrowful's nervous assistant, Regret (Newhart), is concerned about the legalities of this, particularly the kidnapping statutes.

Hopscotch is a 1980 American film comedy starring Matthau as Miles Kendig, a renegade CIA agent intent on publishing a memoir exposing the inner workings of the CIA and the KGB. Sam Waterston and Ned Beatty play Cutter and Myerson, Kendig's protege and his bumbling former boss, respectively, and are repeatedly foiled in their attempts to capture him and stop the publication of the damaging memoir.

First Monday in October is a 1981 American film based on the play of the same name by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and directed by Ronald Neame.  Matthau and Jill Clayburgh (for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical) performed the principal roles.
At the start of the story, the death of Associate Justice Stanley Moorehead has created a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. The new appointee turns out to be Ruth Loomis (Clayburgh) , a staunch conservative, who is confirmed as the first female US Supreme Court Justice. She and Associate Justice Daniel Snow (Matthau) , a committed liberal and many years older than Loomis, clash intellectually on just about every judicial issue before them. One case involves a pornographic film and arguments about freedom of speech. With time, the two characters develop a liking and respect for each other.

 Buddy Buddy is a 1981 American comedy film directed by Billy Wilder that stars Jack Lemmon, Matthau, Paula Prentiss and Klaus Kinski. The screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond is based on the 1973 French language film L'Emmerdeur, which screenwriter Francis Veber had adapted from his play Le contrat. The film proved to be the last directed by Wilder.
 Hitman Trabucco (Matthau)  has been hired to eliminate Rudy "Disco" Gambola before he testifies against fellow members of the Mob, but completing the contract becomes problematic once he encounters suicidal Victor Clooney (Lemmon) , an emotionally disturbed television censor staying in the room adjacent to his in the Ramona Hotel in Riverside, California. When Victor climbs onto the ledge outside his window, Trabucco convinces him not to jump by agreeing to drive him to the Institute for Sexual Fulfillment, the nearby clinic where Victor's wife Celia (Prentiss) , a researcher for 60 Minutes, is gathering information for a segment on the program.

In 1982, Matthau portrayed Herbert Tucker in I Ought to Be in Pictures. There he worked with Ann-Margret and Dinah Manoff, the daughter of the actress whom Matthau starred with in Plaza Suite, Lee Grant.

The Survivors is a 1983 comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie. It stars Matthau and Robin Williams.
The trailer,  which I posted, is awful and probably killed any chance of the film being a success,  which it wasn't.

Movers & Shakers is a 1985 comedy which stars Walter Matthau. The cast includes Tyne Daly, Gilda Radner, and Vincent Gardenia. Steve Martin makes a cameo appearance as Fabio Longio.

Hollywood studio mogul Joe Mulholland vows to produce the pet project of a dying acquaintance, who has been trying to find a way to make a film out of a best-selling sex manual. He and screenwriter Herb try to make it happen, but fail in every possible way.

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. 

Aside from their many comedies, each appeared (though not on screen together) in the 1991 Oliver StoneJFK. drama about the presidential assassination,

Grumpy Old Men is a 1993 American romantic comedy film starring Jack Lemmon, Matthau, and Ann-Margret.

 Retired school teacher and divorcee John Gustafson (Lemmon) and former TV repairman and widower Max Goldman (Matthau) have lived next door to each other in Wabasha, Minnesota for decades, but have not gotten along since childhood. With not much else to do with their boring and lonely single lives except watch television and fishing, Max and John compete and argue with each other on just about everything.
 The two had once been friends, but their rivalry began many years earlier when John had stolen Max's high school sweetheart

Matthau played Albert Einstein in the film "IQ", also starring Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan.

Grumpier Old Men is a 1995 romantic comedy film, and a sequel to the 1993 film Grumpy Old Men. The film stars Lemmon, Matthau, Ann-Margret, and Sophia Loren

Out to Sea is a 1997 romantic comedy film starring  Matthau, Lemmon, Rue McClanahan and Dyan Cannon.


 Hanging Up, a 2000 film directed by Diane Keaton, was Matthau's final appearance on screen.

 Matthau was an obsessive gambler, which he describes as "worse than alcoholism... worse than cancer." Matthau never overcame his addiction, frequently working just to pay off debts.

Matthau died from complications of colon cancer in Santa Monica on July 1, 2000.
Less than a year later, remains of Jack Lemmon (who died of colon and bladder cancer) were buried at the same cemetery.

As reported by the authors of Matthau: A Life by Rob Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg (along with Charlie Matthau), Walter Matthau often told tall tales. In his youth, he found that the joy of embellishment lifted a story (and the listener) to such enjoyable heights that he could not resist trying to pass off the most bogus of information, just to see who was gullible enough to believe it.

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