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 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 well known for 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.
- Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) as Judge Kyle
- Lonely Are the Brave (1962) as Sheriff Morey Johnson
- Charade (1963) as Carson Dyle aka Hamilton Bartholomew
- Fail Safe (1964) as Prof. Groeteschele
- Cactus Flower (1969) as Dr. Julian Winston
- Hello, Dolly! (1969) as Horace Vandergelder
- A New Leaf (1971) as Henry Graham
- Charley Varrick (1973) as Charley Varrick
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) as Lt. Zachary Garber
- Earthquake (1974) as Drunk (cameo appearance for which he was billed as "Walter Matuschanskayasky"; see Overly Long Name below)
- The Front Page (1974) as Walter Burns
- The Sunshine Boys (1975) as Willy Clark
- The Bad News Bears (1976) as Coach Morris Buttermaker
- California Suite (1978) as Marvin Michaels
- Hopscotch (1980) as Miles Kendig
- Pirates (1986) as Capt. Thomas Bartholomew Red
- JFK (1991) as Senator Russell B. Long
- Dennis the Menace (1993) as George Wilson
- Grumpy Old Men (1993) as Max Goldman
- IQ (1994) as Albert Einstein
- Grumpier Old Men (1995) as Max Goldman
Tropes associated with Walter Matthau:
- 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
- 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. Its worth noting that a lot of people who spoke about Matthaus passing were almost the EXACT same people who spoke about Lennons passing one year later.