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Matthau, Walter


MATTHAU, WALTER (1920–2000), U.S. actor. Born in New York to Russian immigrant parents, Matthau started out selling soft drinks and playing bit parts at a Yiddish theater at age 11. After graduating from Seward Park High School, he worked as a forester, gym instructor, and boxing coach for police officers. During World War ii he served on an Army Air Force bomber in Europe and returned home a sergeant with six battle stars. Afterwards he attended acting classes and performed on Broadway. Matthau appeared in more than a dozen Broadway plays, among them Anne of the Thousand Days (1949), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1955), Once More, with Feeling (nominated for a Best Actor Tony, 1959), A Shot in the Dark (won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor, 1962), and The Odd Couple (Best Actor Tony, 1965).

Matthau made his film debut in The Kentuckian in 1955 and from then acted in more than 40 films, including Gangster Story (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Charade (1963), Fail-Safe (1964), Goodbye, Charlie (1964), Mirage (1967), Hello Dolly! (1969), Cactus Flower (1971), A New Leaf (1972), Plaza Suite (1972), Charley Varrick (1973), Pete 'n Tillie (1974), The Laughing Policeman (1974), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Earthquake (1974), The Bad News Bears (1976), House Calls (1978), Hopscotch (1980), California Suite (1980), Little Miss Marker (1981), Pirates (1986), jfk (1991), Dennis the Menace (1993), i.q. (1994, as Albert Einstein), I'm Not Rapaport (1996), and Hanging Up (2000).

In 1966 Matthau won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich in The Fortune Cookie, co-starring with Jack Lemmon with whom he appeared in a number of films, including The Odd Couple (1968), The Front Page (1974), Buddy, Buddy (1981), Grumpy Old Men (1993), Grumpier Old Men (1995), and The Odd Couple ii (1998). Matthau was nominated twice for Best Actor Oscars, for his roles in Kotch (1971) and The Sunshine Boys (1975).

Matthau appeared in several tv movies, such as Awakeand Sing! (1972), The Incident (1990), Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love (1991), Incident in a Small Town (1994), and The Marriage Fool (1998).


R. Edelman and A. Kupferberg, Matthau: A Life (2002); C. Matthau, Among the Porcupines: A Memoir (1992); A. Hunter, Walter Matthau (1984).

[Jonathan Licht /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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