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Creator / Walter Matthau

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"Every actor looks all his life for a part that will combine his talents with his personality... The Odd Couple was mine. That was the plutonium I needed. It all started happening after that."

Most often described with the words "rumpled" and "gruff", Walter Matthau (October 1, 1920 – July 1, 2000) would seem an unlikely movie star. And yet his value as a character actor made him a familiar and beloved screen presence with a career spanning five decades.

Born Walter John Matthow, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Matthau fought in the Army Air Forces during World War II. At the war's end he enrolled in acting classes at the New School. Within a few years he was appearing regularly on New York stages.

Matthau's first big screen appearance came in 1955 with The Kentuckian, and his last was 2000's Hanging Up, directed by and starring Diane Keaton. Matthau was best known for doing comedy, but could also play convincing and scary tough guys, as shown in an early appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents as a corrupt highway patrolman.


  • Pirates (1986) as Capt. Thomas Bartholomew Red

Tropes associated with Walter Matthau:

  • Deadpan Snarker: Incarnate. His characters hardly went a scene without a dry remark or cutting observation.
  • One-Book Author: His sole directorial effort was Gangster Story (1959), which he also starred in.
  • Overly Long Name: Jokingly claimed that he changed his last name to Matthau from Matuschanskayasky. Countless reputable sources repeated this as fact and things didn't finally get cleared up until after his death.note 
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: He stood at 6'3 with dark hair and was known for his legendary skill at delivering sarcastic quips.
  • Those Two Actors: With Jack Lemmon, also a friend of his in Real Life. They first costarred in The Fortune Cookie, for which Matthau won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Oddly Matthau was in Ensign Pulver, whose eponymous character had been played by Lemmon in Mister Roberts, but by the sequel Lemmon had been replaced by Robert Walker, Jr. Matthau also starred in Lemmon's sole directorial effort, Kotch. Fittingly, they died within a year of each other, Matthau first. It’s worth noting that a lot of people who spoke about Matthau’s passing were almost the EXACT same people who spoke about Lemmon’s passing one year later.