Born: 1 October 1920
Died: 1 July 2000 (heart failure)
Birthplace: New York
Best known as: Curmudgeonly star of the film The Odd Couple
Walter Matthau was a hounddog-faced, lovable curmudgeon in dozens of Hollywood movies, though he's best known for playing the rumpled Oscar Madison in the original Broadway production and movie version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Matthau served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and made his Broadway debut in 1948. He won a Tony award for 1962's A Shot in the Dark, but the 1965 production of The Odd Couple made him a star. In his early movie roles, Matthau played a villain -- notably in 1963's Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn -- but he is mostly remembered for playing comedy. He won an Oscar for his supporting role in The Fortune Cookie (1966) and moved into leading roles after the 1968 film version of The Odd Couple (Jack Lemmon co-starred as Oscar Madison's fastidious, hypochondriacal roommate, Felix Unger). Not possessed of Hollywood good looks, Matthau became a leading man anyway, starring in films like Kotch (1971), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), The Sunshine Boys (1975) and The Bad News Bears (1976). He made 11 films in all with Lemmon, including The Front Page (1974), Grumpy Old Men (1993) and The Odd Couple 2 (1998). Despite bouts of ill health, Matthau continued working up to the end of his life; his last film was the Diane Keaton directed comedy Hanging Up (2000, starring Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow).
Matthau’s birth name is sometimes given as “Walter Matuschanskavasky,” a name his family says he made up… His son, Charlie Matthau, is a filmmaker… The television version of The Odd Couple starred Jack Klugman as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix… Matthau earned Oscar nominations twice for leading roles, in Kotch and The Sunshine Boys.
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