Classic Video Showplace

Walter Matthau

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.


 While he may not be the most dynamic actor of the latter half of the 20th century, it’s hard to dismiss the acting contributions of Walter Matthau.

Walter John “Matthow” (he would later change the spelling of his last night once he got into show business) was born on October 1st, 1920 in New York City’s Lower East Side.  Matthau attended a Jewish summer camp as a boy where he first performed on stage.

After graduating from high school he briefly worked as a Montana forester, a gym instructor and a boxing coach before enlisting in the Air Force during World War II.  He served in the same squadron as James Stewart and flew bombing missions across Europe during the Battle of the Bulge.

Upon the completion of the war, Matthau returned to the States and decided to become an actor.

After playing bit parts in summer stock, Matthau’s first role on Broadway was an understudy to an 83-year-old English Bishop in Anne of the Thousand Days.  He shortly thereafter became a leading star on Broadway before making his film debut as a villain in The Kentuckian, a radio staff writer in 1957’s A Face In The Crowd (also starring a pre-Mayberry Andy Griffith) and a drunk in the 1958 Elvis-vehicle King Creole.

Matthau returned to the stage to win the first of many acting awards–a Tony for best lead actor in Broadway’s A Shot in the DarkHe then starred in Lonely Are The Brave (with Kirk Douglas) and teammed with Cary Grant, Audrey Heburn, James Colburn and others in the suspense-thriller Charade, before playing his most memorable role as the sloppy Oscar Madison in the stage play, The Odd Couple, winning his second Tony Award.

“Every actor looks all his life for a part that will combine his talents with his personality,” Matthau said in an interview with “Time” magazine in 1971. “The Odd Couple was mine. That was the plutonium I needed. It all started happening after that.”

Matthau then captured his first Academy Award in the 1966 film, The Fortune Cookie, playing shady lawyer, “Whiplash Willie.”  

He continued to excel in all different types of roles across all genres on the stage and big screen.

Matthau would receive Oscar nominations for best actor in the films, Kotch and The Sunshine Boys (he won a Golden Globe for Best Lead Male Actor for the latter film). He played the lead in the musical Hello, Dolly! and in the comedy, Cactus Flower.  He played a detective tracking down a mass murder in The Laughing Policeman, a bank robber on the run from the mafia in Charlie Varrack, a wise-cracking transit official in the action drama, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, he played three separate roles in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite and as the coach of an overachieving baseball team in  The Bad News Bears.

…and that was just between 1972 and 1976!


Matthau would continue to have success in films throughout the 1980s, including another Academy Award nominations for his roles in Hopscotch and First Monday in October.

While movie roles started to become scarce for the veteran actor in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Matthau hit his stride again with three comedy blockbusters, Grumpy Old Men, its sequel, Grumpier Old Men and Out To Sea.  He also appeared in the controversial Oliver Stone political-thriller, JFK and as Mr. Wilson in the movie version of Dennis The Menace.

Walter’s son Charlie became a filmmaker and directed his father in 1995’s The Grass Harp. 

In Walter’s last film, Hanging Up, Matthau gave a powerful performance as a dying screenwriter. Charlie appeared in his father’s last film as the younger version of his father’s character.

Matthau died of a cardiac arrest after filming wrapped.  He was 79.

Check out Matthau’s masterful performance in the classic suspense film Charade and many others on ATVN.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here.


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