Walter Matthau, circa 1995. Photo by Ron Phillips.
 
Walter Matthau on Wikipedia
Walter Matthau on the Internet Movie Database
 
 
 
 
 
 
Walter Matthau
Forecourt Ceremony held on Thursday, April 2, 1998
 
Born: October 1, 1920, in New York City, New York
Age at the time of the ceremony: 77
Died: July 1, 2000, in Santa Monica, California, age 79
 
Walter Matthau became one of our most beloved Hollywood characters. After a long apprenticeship on Broadway and East Coast-based television, he eventually made the transition to features, where he became everyone's favorite sourpuss.

Born and raised on the Lower East Side, young Walter tasted the theatre in summer camp shows. In high school, he earned pocket money working the concession stand at a local Yiddish theatre.

When World War II rolled around, Matthau was a radioman-gunner in B-24's. He was in the same group as James Stewart. He flew during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, and mustered out as a Staff Sergeant.

Detremined to become an actor, Matthau studied at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School. He made a smashing Broadway debut by replacing several indisposed servants in Anne of the Thousand Days with Rex Harrison in 1949. Many television shows were shooting in New York during that time. Matthau first guest starred on The Big Story aired over NBC in August 1950, and he guested on seven episodes of the Lux Video Theatre aired over CBS in 1950-1952.

By this time, Matthau starred in George S. Kaufman's Fancy Meeting You Again. It flopped.
He had a slot on Suspence aired over CBS in April 1953, and guested on The Motorola Television Hour aired over ABC in May 1954.

He played Nathan Detroit in a revival of Guys and Dolls in 1955, which flopped. Matthau then took a role in Burt Lancaster's directorial debut, The Kentuckian (released in July 1955), and was second billed to Kirk Douglas in his western, The Indian Fighter (released in December 1955). He then starred on Broadway with Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? for 444 performances, from October 1955 to November 1956.

Matthau made a strong impression in A Face in the Crowd (released in June 1957) with Andy Griffith, and got beat up by Elvis Presley in King Creole (released in July 1958). He re-teamed with Andy Griffith in Onionhead (released in October 1958). Matthau starred in and directed a low-budget crime film Gangster Story (released in December 1959).

There were always television shows to do: an episode of Route 66 aired over CBS in April 1961; he did four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents aired over CBS from 1958 to 1961 and starred on Broadway in A Shot in the Dark with Julie Harris for 389 perfs from October 1961 to September 1962. Matthau got the Tony Award for Lead Actor for this play.

Films continued to fascinate. Matthau was in the western Lonely Are the Brave (released in May 1962) with Kirk Douglas, and he played a CIA operative in Charade (which played the Chinese in December 1963) with Cary Grant. Really hot now, he took over from William Powell the role of "Doc" in Ensign Pulver (released in July 1964) with Robert Walker Jr. in the title role.

Returning to Broadway, he starred as sportwriter Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple with Art Carney as Felix Unger for 964 perfs, from March 1965 to July 1967. Somehow, during all of this, director Billy Wilder wrote a scipt for Matthau, who would play a shyster laywer in The Fortune Cookie (which played the Chinese in November 1966) with Jack Lemmon; Matthau would win a supporting actor Oscar for this film.

The team of Matthau and Lemmon was used for the film version of The Odd Couple (released in May 1968), which became a world-wide hit. His rubbery disdain was a perfect fit for the superproduction Hello, Dolly! (which played the Chinese in December 1969) with Barbra Streisand.

But the excesses of Dolly! were counter balanced with a string of small character comedies: A New Leaf (released in March 1971) with Elaine May; Jack Lemmon directed him in Kotch (released in September 1971) with Deborah Winters; and Martin Ritt's Pete 'n' Tillie (released in December 1972) with Carol Burnett.

Matthau starred in a pair of great crime films: Charlie Varrick (released in September 1973) with Joe Don Baker, and the incredible The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (released in September 1974) with Robert Shaw. Reteaming with Billy Wilder, he starred in The Front Page (released in December 1974) with Jack Lemmon, and then stepped in to take on a role Red Skelton turned down —  Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (released in November 1975) with George Burns.

The Matthau vibe was on full display in The Bad News Bears (which played the Chinese in April 1976) with Tatum O'Neal, and California Suite (released in December 1978) with Alan Alda. Little Miss Marker (released in March 1980) with Julie Andrews, didn't go anywhere, neither did Roman Polanski's Pirates (released in July, 1986).

Matthau now segued into his "old man" phase, starring as Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace (which played the Chinese in June 1993) with Joan Plowright as Mrs. Wilson, and enjoyed a large hit with Grumpy Old Men (released in December 1993) with Jack Lemmon. He played a surprisingly convincing Albert Einstein in I.Q. (released in December 1994) with Meg Ryan. His son Chris, directed him in The Grass Harp (released in October 1996) with Piper Laurie.

Grumpier Old Men (released in December, 1995) with Jack Lemmon, was another Christmastime hit, which was followed by Out to Sea (released in July 1997) once more with Jack Lemmon, who helped at Matthau's Forecourt ceremony prior to the opening of their film The Odd Couple II (which played the Chinese in April 1998). The film was only a monerate success. Matthau's final film was as co-starring with director Diane Keaton in Hanging Up (released in February, 2000) with Meg Ryan.

In failing health due to a lifetime of heavy smoking, Matthau succumed to heart attack in July, 2000 at the age of 79. He is burried alongside Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetary.
 
 
Caption TK
Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Walter Matthau Forecourt ceremony, Thursday, April 2, 1998. Walter Matthau flashes a typical face after signing his name in the cement.
 
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