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Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau

D.O.B.: October 1, 1920 (New York, NY)

D.O.D.: July 1, 2000 (Santa Monica, CA)

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Location: Westwood Memorial; New Section by the road, Next to Irwin Winkler

Bench Inscription:
We Only Part to Meet Again
We Will With Thee Go Forever

Biographical Notes:

One of the few actors in Hollywood to successfully move from supporting roles as heavies and ethnic types to leading man, Matthau excelled at both comedy and drama in his career of more than 50 years.

An inveterate gambler known for his private penchant for raunchy humor, Matthau is indelibly linked in the public's mind with Lemmon, with whom he bickered and sparred in 10 movies, starting with The Fortune Cookie in 1966. Among their other pairings were the 1993 and 1995 movies Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men, 1997's Out to Sea and a 1998 sequel to The Odd Couple in which Madison and Unger reunite after 30 years to make a road trip to the wedding of their children. In addition, Lemmon directed Matthau in the 1971 film Kotch, the only movie on which Lemmon was behind the camera.

"I have lost someone I loved as a brother, as a closest friend and a remarkable human being," Lemmon said in a statement Saturday. "We have also lost one of the best damn actors we'll ever see."

Because of Matthau's trademark rumpled look and droopy posture and the way his delivery modulated crankily between a growl and a bark, he often came across as a grumpy old man even when he was relatively young. In those days, Matthau was self-conscious about his looks and relative lack of education, but he discovered that he had a way of getting audiences on his side.

In 1966, he gave a best supporting Oscar-winning performance as an unethical lawyer in Billy Wilder's caustic comedy The Fortune Cookie. This was the first of three films he made with Wilder and the first film he made with Lemmon. Matthau also received best actor Oscar nominations for Kotch and The Sunshine Boys.

Matthau was born Walter Matuschanskayasky, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and grew up on New York's Lower East Side.

During World War II he served three years in the Air Force as a radio operator and cryptographer in the European theater.

After the war, Matthau enrolled at the renowned Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research and also began appearing in summer stock productions. His first professional job was in 1946 in Three Men on a Horse at the Erie County Playhouse.

He got bit roles on Broadway, such as the candelabrum carrier in the 1948 production of Anne of a Thousand Days starring Rex Harrison.

Starting in the 1950s, Matthau was shuttling back and forth among Broadway, Hollywood and the world of live TV, where he attracted attention in such productions as the famous adaptation of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.

Matthau was married twice. With Grace Johnson he had two children, David and Jenny. Matthau and Johnson were divorced in 1958 after 10 years of marriage. A year later he married the actress Carol Marcus, who was the inspiration for Truman Capote's character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. They had one son, Charles, who directed his father in a few TV movies and the 1995 feature The Glass Harp, which also starred Lemmon.

Appeared In:

"The Kentuckian" (1955)

"The Indian Fighter" (1955)

"Bigger Than Life" (1956)

"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" (1957)

"A Face in the Crowd" (1957)

"King Creole" (1958)

"Voice in the Mirror (1958)

"Ride a Crooked Trail" (1958)

"Onionhead" (1958)

"Strangers When We Meet" (1960)

"Gangster Story" (1960)

"Lonely Are the Brave" (1962)

"Who's Got the Action?" (1962)

"Island of Love" (1963)

"Charade" (1963)

"Ensign Pulver" (1964)

"Fail-Safe" (1964)

"Goodbye Charlie" (1964)

"Mirage" (1965)

"The Fortune Cookie" (1966)

"A Guide for the Married Man" (1967)

"The Secret Life of an American Wife" (1968)

"Candy" (1968)

"The Odd Couple" (1968)

"Hello Dolly!" (1969)

"Cactus Flower" (1969)

"A New Leaf" (1971)

"Kotch" (1971)

"Plaza Suite" (1971)

"Pete 'n Tillie" (1972)

"Charley Varrick" (1973)

"The Laughing Policeman" (1973)

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974)

"Earthquake" (1974)

"The Front Page" (1974)

"The Sunshine Boys" (1975)

"The Bad News Bears" (1976)

"House Calls" (1978)

"California Suite" (1978)

"Casey's Shadow" (1978)

"Little Miss Marker" (1980)

"Hopscotch" (1980)

"Buddy, Buddy" (1981)

"First Monday in October" (1981)

"I Ought to Be in Pictures" (1982)

"The Survivors" (1983)

"Movers and Shakers" (1985)

"Pirates" (1986)

"The Couch Trip" (1988)

"Il Piccolo Diavolo" (The Little Devil) (1988)

"JFK" (1991)

"Grumpy Old Men" (1993)

"Dennis the Menace" (1993)

"I.Q." (1994)

"Grumpier Old Men" (1995)

"I'm Not Rappaport" (1996)

"The Grass Harp" (1996)

"Out to Sea" (1997)

"The Odd Couple II" (1998)

"Hanging Up" (2000)


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