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Walter Slezak
Walter Slezak by Setzer.jpg
Slezak c. 1922
Born(1902-05-03)3 May 1902
Died21 April 1983(1983-04-21) (aged 80)
Resting placeRottach-Egern, Germany
OccupationActor
Years active1922–1980
Spouse(s)Johanna Van Rijn (m. 1943)
Children3, including Erika Slezak
Parent(s)
AwardsTony Award (1955)

Walter Slezak (German pronunciation: [ˌvaltɐ ˈslɛzak]; 3 May 1902 – 21 April 1983) was an Austrian-born film and stage actor active between 1922 and 1976. He mainly appeared in German films before migrating to the United States in 1930 and performing in numerous Hollywood productions.[1]

Slezak typically portrayed wily and loquacious characters, often philosophical, and often with a taste for food, drink, and fine living. He played a crafty villain as a U-boat captain in Alfred Hitchcock's film Lifeboat (1944), a charming, two-timing major domo to a tycoon in Come September (1961), and a wandering gypsy in The Inspector General (1949). He stood out as shrewd, unscrupulous private investigators in film noir, as in Cornered (1945) and Born to Kill (1947).

Early life

Slezak was born in Vienna, the son of opera tenor Leo Slezak and Elisabeth "Elsa" Wertheim. He studied medicine for a time and later worked as a bank teller. His older sister Margarete Slezak was also an actress.[1]

Career

Slezak was talked into taking his first role, in the 1922 Austrian film Sodom und Gomorrah, by his friend and the film's director, Michael Curtiz.[1]

Slezak, c. 1928
Slezak, c. 1928

In his youth (while still slim) Slezak was cast as a leading man in silent films. He also acted on the stage for many years, debuting on Broadway in 1931.[1]

His first American film was Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), with Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant.[1] He worked steadily and appeared in over 100 films including The Princess and the Pirate (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Born to Kill (1947), Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950), People Will Talk (1951), and Call Me Madam (1953).[citation needed]

Slezak played the lead in Broadway musicals, including Fanny, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.[2]

Slezak as Geppetto in the 1957 televised production of Pinocchio
Slezak as Geppetto in the 1957 televised production of Pinocchio

Slezak acted in radio in such shows as Lux Radio Theater, Columbia Workshop, The Pepsodent Show, and The Charlie McCarthy Show. He made numerous television appearances, including in the programs The Loretta Young Show, This Is Show Business, Playhouse 90, and Studio One, and appeared as The Clock King in episodes 45 and 46 of TV series Batman (1966).[citation needed]

In 1959/60, Slezak appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in Johann Strauss's operetta Der Zigeunerbaron. In the 1970s, Slezak played the non-singing role of Frosch, the jailer, in the San Francisco Opera production of Johann Strauss's operetta Die Fledermaus.[3] Later film roles in Britain included the Cliff Richard vehicle Wonderful Life (1964) and Black Beauty (1971).[citation needed]

Personal life

Slezak married Johanna "Kaasi" Van Rijn on 10 October 1943. The couple had three children: Ingrid, Erika, and Leo. Erika went on to become an Emmy-winning actress, and starred as Victoria Lord on the long-running soap opera One Life to Live from 1971 to its cancellation in 2012. In 1974, Slezak appeared on the series as her character's godfather, Lazlo Braedecker.[1]

Gravesite of Slezak, his wife Johanna, and his parents Leo and Elisabeth in Egern, Bavaria
Gravesite of Slezak, his wife Johanna, and his parents Leo and Elisabeth in Egern, Bavaria

Slezak was close friends in Vienna in the 1930s with heiress Maria Altmann and her family.[4]

Death

On 21 April 1983, Slezak died from a self-inflicted gunshot.[1] He was reportedly despondent over the state of his health, most notably heart trouble, a recent prostate operation, and a shoulder injury requiring several treatments a week.[5][6][7] He was buried in the grave of his parents in the cemetery of St. Laurentius Church, a Catholic parish in Egern, Bavaria.[8]

Autobiography

Slezak's autobiography, What Time's the Next Swan? was published in 1962. The book's title refers to an alleged incident in the career of his father, heldentenor Leo Slezak. During a performance in the title role of Lohengrin, the elder Slezak was supposed to finish his aria by stepping into a swan boat and then being pulled offstage. When a stagehand removed the boat prematurely, Slezak supposedly reacted to the error by asking the audience "What time's the next swan?"[9]

Awards

In 1955, Slezak won a Tony Award for his role in the Broadway production of Fanny.[10]

Complete filmography

Year Film Role Director Notes
1922 Sodom and Gomorrah Eduard Harber - Student am Cambridge-Lyzeum / Ein Goldschmied von Galiläa Michael Curtiz (Mihaly Kertész)
1924 Michael Michael Carl Theodor Dreyer
1924 My Leopold Leopold, sein Sohn Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers
1925 Oh Those Glorious Old Student Days Heinz Schall
1925 Sumpf und Moral
1926 Give My Regards to the Blonde Child on the Rhine Carl Boese
1926 Watch on the Rhine Walter Thiermann Helene Lackner
1926 Marccos tollste Wette
1926 Young Blood Oberprimaner Manfred Noa
1926 The Sea Cadet Carl Boese
1927 Wie bleibe ich jung und schön - Ehegeheimnisse
1927 Goodbye Youth Mario Augusto Genina
1927 The Right to Live Robert Wohlmuth
1927 The Lorelei Wolfgang Neff
1927 Liebe geht seltsame Wege Florizel, 'Flo-Flo'
1927 The Long Intermission Ottokar Carl Froelich
1927 Der Fahnenträger von Sedan
1928 Single Mother Fred Sauer
1928 Almenrausch and Edelweiss Mentel Franz Seitz
1928 Das Hannerl von Rolandsbogen
1929 Osudné noci Bellini
1929 Eros in Chains Heinz Ewer Conrad Wiene
1932 Spione im Savoy-Hotel Kurt
1942 Once Upon a Honeymoon Baron Franz von Luber James Anderson (assistant)
1943 This Land Is Mine Major Erich von Keller Jean Renoir
1943 The Fallen Sparrow Dr. Christian Skaas Richard Wallace
1944 Lifeboat Willi Alfred Hitchcock
1944 Step Lively Joe Gribble Tim Whelan
1944 Till We Meet Again Vitrey, The Mayor Frank Borzage
1944 The Princess and the Pirate La Roche David Butler
1945 Salome, Where She Danced Dimitrioff Charles Lamont
1945 The Spanish Main Don Juan Alvarado Frank Borzage
1945 Cornered Melchior Incza Edward Dmytryk
1947 Sinbad the Sailor Melik Richard Wallace
1947 Born to Kill Arnett Robert Wise
1947 Riffraff Molinar Ted Tetzlaff
1948 The Pirate Don Pedro Vargas Vincente Minnelli
1949 The Inspector General Yakov Henry Koster
1950 The Yellow Cab Man Dr. Byron Dokstedder Jack Donohue
1950 Spy Hunt Doctor Stahl George Sherman
1950 Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion Sgt. Axmann Charles Lamont
1951 Bedtime for Bonzo Prof. Hans Neumann Fred de Cordova
1951 People Will Talk Prof. Barker Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1953 Confidentially Connie Emil Spangenberg Edward Buzzell
1953 Call Me Madam August Tantinnin Walter Lang
1953 White Witch Doctor Huysman Henry Hathaway
1954 The Steel Cage Louis, the Prison Chef Walter Doniger segment "The Chef"
1956 The Good Fairy Max Sporum TV Movie
1957 Ten Thousand Bedrooms Papà Vittorio Martelli Richard Thorpe
1957 Pinocchio Geppetto TV Movie
1959 The Miracle Flaco Irving Rapper
1959 A Doll's House Presenter TV Movie
1959 A Christmas Festival Mr. Really-Big TV Movie
1961 Come September Maurice Clavell Robert Mulligan
1962 The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm Stossel George Pal (fairy tale sequences)
1963 A Cry of Angels George Frideric Handel TV Movie
1964 Wonderful Life Lloyd Davis Sidney J. Furie
1964 Emil and the Detectives Baron Peter Tewksbury
1965 The Man Who Bought Paradise Captain Meers TV Movie
1965 24 Hours to Kill The Firm: Malouf Peter Bezencenet
1965 A Very Special Favor Etienne, Restaurant Proprietor Michael Gordon
1966 Der Kongreß amüsiert sich Wax museum guide
1966 Dr. Coppelius Dr. Coppelius Ted Kneeland
1966 Batman Clock King
1967 The Caper of the Golden Bulls Antonio Gonzalez Russell Rouse
1968 Heidi Father Richter Delbert Mann TV Movie
1970 The Juggler of Notre Dame The Innkeeper
1971 Black Beauty Hackenschmidt James Hill
1972 Treasure Island Squire Trelawney Antonio Margheriti
1976 The Mysterious House of Dr. C Dr. Coppelius

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Turner Classic Movies: Biography for Walter Slezak". TCM.com. Retrieved 17 December 2009.
  2. ^ "Erika Slezak profile". SoapOperaDigest.com. Retrieved 16 December 2009.
  3. ^ ""Die Fledermaus" in S.F." Operawarhorses.com. 16 September 2006. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  4. ^ Collins, Gregor (15 August 2012). "The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann". Bloch-Bauer Books – via Amazon.
  5. ^ Jones, Jack. "Actor Walter Slezak Shoots Self to Death at New York Home". Los Angeles Times. 23 April 1983. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  6. ^ "WALTER SLEZAK, ACTOR, IS A SUICIDE AT 80 ON L.I." The New York Times. 23 April 1983.
  7. ^ Thomas Staedeli, Portrait of the actor Walter Slezak, cyranos.ch; accessed 6 November 2016.
  8. ^ "Star | Walter Slezak". kino.de. 21 April 1983. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  9. ^ Trabling, Walt. "Slezak Offers Memoir". Santa Cruz Sentinel. 21 October 1962. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  10. ^ Associated Press. "Tony Awards Given Lunt and College Trio". San Bernardino Sun. 28 March 1955. Retrieved 18 December 2018.