Walter Matthau biography

Walter Matthau

Date of Birth: Ocober 1, 1920

Born Walter Matuschanskavasky in New York City, Matthau is the son of impoverished Jewish-Russian immigrants who got his start playing bit parts in a Second Avenue Yiddish theatre when he was 11 years old. He excelled in both drama and sports during his highschool years, but it wasn't until after he served his country during World War II that he enrolled in acting classes at New School's Dramatic Workshop.

Matthau began his professional career in summer stock but soon graduated to Broadway where he gradually rose from bit parts to key supporting roles. He achieved sudden stardom on Broadway in 1965 with The Odd Couple in a role Neil Simon wrote specifically for Matthau. Hollywood immediately began capitalizing on his success by casting him in a string of comedies that proved this unattractive, awkward, slouching actor had huge box-office appeal. "Anybody with a bulbous nose and beady eyes looks like me," he says. Critical praise followed closely behind with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in The Fortune Cookie, and nominations for Best Actor in Kotch -- directed by The Odd Couple roomie Jack Lemmon -- and The Sunshine Boys.

The actor died July 1, 2000 in Santa Monica, California, of a heart attack at the age of 79.

Walter Matthau Photo