Ten Things To Know About Walter Matthau

Walter MatthauHere are 10 trivia facts about Walter Matthau which originally appeared on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this Hollywood legend. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. Although Walter is primarily known in movies, he is also a Tony Award winner.

Actually, Walter Matthau won two Tony Awards. He had a very well-respected career as an actor on the Broadway stage, and in 1962 won his first Antoinette Perry Award for Best Actor, Supporting or Featured (Dramatic) for his performance in “A Shot in the Dark.” Two years later, he created one of his most famous roles as Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” taking home the Tony for Best Peformance by a Leading Actor in a Play (he would, of course, go on to reprise his turn as the slovenly sportswriter in the 1968 movie version). Before winning the coveted statuette, however, Walter was nominated in 1959 for his supporting role in “Once More with Feeling.”

2. His name is well-known today, but he didn’t use it for an early acting gig.

Apparently it’s not known why, but when Matthau appeared with Wally Cox in the pilot episode for Mr. Peepers in 1952, he used the name of Leonard Elliot. He played Coach Burr, the gym teacher, in one of his earliest TV roles. This wouldn’t be the last time Walter played the name game however; in filling out his first Social Security form in 1937, he added a middle name of “Foghorn,” and there it remained forever. And while he was born Walter Matthow, in another switcheroo the prank-loving actor told everyone his real name was “Matuschanskayasky” because he thought it was more exotic. Crazy as it sounds, he was actually credited with that lengthy moniker when he played a drunk in Earthquake (1974).

3. Matthau worked with many co-stars, but he appeared numerous times with one in particular.

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon starred together in nine movies: The Fortune Cookie (1966), which earned Matthau a Best Actor Academy Award; The Odd Couple (1968); The Front Page (1974); Buddy Buddy (1981); Grumpy Old Men (1993) and its follow-up Grumpier Old Men (1995); The Grass Harp (1995); Out to Sea (1997); and The Odd Couple II (1998). Matthau’s acclaimed performance in Kotch (1971) was directed by Lemmon (who made a cameo appearance), and the longtime co-stars were also seen in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), although their characters had no screen time together.

4. In one of his films, shooting was stopped for a time because of his illness.

While Walter was filming The Fortune Cookie, he suffered a severe heart attack, keeping the cast and crew in limbo until he was able to return to work. His habitual smoking and stress from chronic gambling were the main causes cited for his condition, and Walter made a lifelong commitment to walking 2.5 miles a day, but the gambling was another problem that wasn’t as easy to shake…the addiction was something he dealt with his entire life. Although his fans probably weren’t aware of his health issues, Matthau fought heart disease throughout his career and had two bouts of cancer as well. Heart bypass surgery was necessary in 1976, and health issues continued to plague him until his death in 2000.

5. When he died, he was buried next to another Hollywood legend.

Walter was buried in Los Angeles at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, where many notable members of the film family have been laid to rest. Among them is fellow Oscar-winner George C. Scott, who just so happens to be located next to Matthau, albeit in an unmarked grave. And yes, Walter’s old screen buddy Jack Lemmon is buried not too far away as well.

6. He worked many times with the same director, who is probably more famous than him.

Matthau’s relationship with director Billy Wilder goes back to 1955 ,when Billy wanted him for The Seven Year Itch. Unfortunately, the top brass at 20th Century Fox didn’t think Walter was the right choice to handle the role opposite Marilyn Monroe, and insisted on getting Tom Ewell, who had played the part on Broadway. Eventually he and Wilder worked together three times, all with Jack Lemmon as well: The Fortune Cookie, The Front Page and Buddy Buddy.

7. Once he played three different roles in the same movie.

After the box office success of The Odd Couple, Matthau’s career really took off. Among the offers he received was from that film’s scripter, playwright Neil Simon, who wanted him for another project. Simon was filming his Broadway smash Plaza Suite, which was made up of three separate stories all taking place in New York’s famed Plaza Hotel. In the 1970 screen version, Walter plays three different roles with three different leading ladies: Lee Grant, Barbara Harris and Maureen Stapleton.

8. In World War II, Walter served in the same unit as another famous actor.

Matthau served his country during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Forces, and in England he was attached to the Eighth Air Force, serving as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner. James Stewart was also in the same 453rd Bombardment Group. Matthau worked his way up to staff sergeant, becoming interested in acting along the way.

9. He rarely appeared in movies based on true stories, but once he played a real person.

In 1994′s I.Q., Matthau portayed real-life scientist Albert Einstein in a fictional love story involving co-stars Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins. He actually played an historical figure previously–but on the small screen–when he was cast as President Andrew Johnson in the 1964-65 TV series Profiles in Courage.

10. In one of his film roles, he was beaten up by Elvis Presley.

In 1958, Matthau was cast as slimy crime boss Maxie Fields in the Elvis Presley vehicle King Creole. They never see eye to eye, and by the end of the picture, Elvis decks him in a fight that was waiting to happen from the film’s beginning. Years later, when asked about “The King,” Walter surprised some cynics when he said, “He was an instinctive actor… He was quite bright… he was very intelligent… He was not a punk. He was very elegant, sedate, and refined, and sophisticated.”

And now, watch Walter Matthau hold his own against Jack Lemmon in the theatrical trailer from 1968′s The Odd Couple:

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  • wayne

    Will never forget his memorable portrayal of the bumbling, eccentric erstwhile subway detective (for lack of a better name: security chief) in “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3…”. What a great ending when he remembered how Martin Balsam’s character had a propensity for sneezing on their phonecalls, so he went back to the door after hearing him do it again after leaving seemingly resigned to failure; so, he nabbed the only crook who had gotten away and survived the robbery, having first failed to spot some loot on the floor that fell out of the bed! Its one of the all-time best movie ‘comebacks’ in history and thanks for the nice recollection, Jerry :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000534988081 Brian Jodrie

    He was only in one film with Elvis Presley.King Creole(1958)He played gangster Maxie Fields.The movie was besed on novel A Stone For Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000534988081 Brian Jodrie

    Another good film he was in was Slaughter On Tenth Avenue(1957)with Richard Egan,Jan SterlingJulie Adams,Dan Duryea,Sam Levene,Charles McGraw,etcAgain walter played a mobster.About the New York waterfront rackets.

  • goarmy

    See Mirage !

  • fred buschbaum

    Check out Charlie Varrick!

    • roy levering

      Yes, one of my favorites!

      • http://www.facebook.com/rowena.lincolnpettus Rowena Lincoln-Pettus

        Charlie Varrick – excellent movie and he is just excellent in this movie

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon Jackson

    He was one of many fine choices for “A Face in the Crowd” and also for “Fail Safe.” Personally, I still think “Kotch” is one of his best, a little reminiscent in some ways of Jackie Gleason’s “Gigot”, a film that DESPERATELY needs to be made available on DVD.

  • walter

    I saw Matthau as a panelist on a quiz show years ago. He’s a dumb shit.

    • Colfax

      You, sir, are the definition of a trolling internet asshole. Slanderous comments about one of the greats who is deceased to boot, very brave.

  • frank pienkosky

    there are a lot of set crew stories floating around about ol’ Walt…most of them good!

  • Trippy Trellis

    Walter Matthau won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “The Fortune Cookie” and he was married to Carol Marcus, Truman Capote’s inspiration for Holly Golightly.

  • aldanoli

    One of the great “bloopers” of all time is when they spliced together a scene from before Matthau had his heart attack with another one shot after they resumed filming — he walks through a doorway and has somehow magically dropped about 30 lbs. in those few steps!

  • Joe Gregorio

    Liked him alot. He also played the bad guy in “Charade”, with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

  • Colfax

    Once of the alltime greats. Let’s not forget The Laughing Policeman (released just prior to Charley Varrick (which was in turn followed up by the original Taking of Peham 123, all three phenominal). Also House Calls, The Sunshine Boys, The Bad News Bears etc… the list goes on and on. I always iked him best when he was cast as a New Yorker (which he was).

  • Felix

    As a sheriff in the Kirk Douglas film “Lonely Are The Brave” – whicg Doulas has said was among his favorites – Walter Matthau was the classicaly understated Matthau in a key role he played to perfection.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Matthau & Lemmon was as big as Abbott & Costello, Stan & Ollie, Martin & Lewis, but he was one of the GREATEST baddies too.