Matthau, born Walter John Matthow; born on 01-10-1920 in New York, Lower East Side His mother, Rose (born Berolsky or Beransky), was a Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant who worked in a garment sweatshop, and his father, Milton Matuschansky, was a Ukrainian-Jewish peddler and electrician, from Kyiv, Ukraine. They married in New York in 1917. He had two brothers, one older and one younger.
As part of a lifelong love of practical jokes, Matthau created the rumors that his middle name was Foghorn and his last name was originally Matuschanskayasky (under which he is credited for a cameo role in the film Earthquake).
As a young boy, Matthau attended a Jewish non-profit sleepaway camp, Tranquillity Camp, where he first began acting in the shows the camp would stage on Saturday nights. He also attended Surprise Lake Camp. His high school was Seward Park High School. He worked for a short time as a concession stand cashier in the Yiddish Theatre District.
During World War II, Walter Matthau saw active service as a radioman-gunner in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force under command of General Carl Andrew “Tooey”Spaatz,
in the United Kingdom, crewing a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber. General Carl Spaatz returned to England to command the USSTAF. Major General Jimmy Doolittle
relinquished command of the Fifteenth Air Force to Major General Nathan Farragut Twining and on 06-01-1944, took over command of the Eighth Air Force from Lieutenant General Ira Clarence Eaker at RAF Daws Hill. Doolittle was well known to American airmen as the famous “Tokyo Raider” and former air racer. His directive was simple: “Win the air war and isolate the battlefield.”
Walter Matthau was with the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Maitland “Jimmy” Stewart. While based in England at RAF Old Buckenham in Norfolk, he flew missions across to continental Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. Walter ended the war with the rank of Staff Sergeant, and returned home to America for demobilization at the war’s end intent on pursuing a career as an actor.
Back home Matthau was trained in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School with German director Erwin Piscator. He often joked that his best early review came in a play where he posed as a derelict. One reviewer said, “The others just looked like actors in make-up, Walter Matthau really looks like a skid row bum!” Matthau was a respected stage actor for years in such fare as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and A Shot in the Dark, for his performance in the latter winning the 1962 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
Matthau was married twice: first to Grace Geraldine Johnson from 1948 to 1958, and then to Carol Marcus from 1959 until his death in 2000. He had two children, Jenny and David, by his first wife, and a son, Charlie Matthau, with his second wife. Matthau also helped raise his stepchildren, Aram Saroyan and Lucy Saroyan.
A heavy smoker, Matthau had a heart attack in 1966 while filming The Fortune Cookie, the first of at least three in his lifetime. In 1976, ten years after his first heart attack, he underwent heart bypass surgery. After working in Minnesota for Grumpy Old Men (1993), he was hospitalized for double pneumonia. In December 1995, he had a colon tumor removed, apparently successfully, as there was no mention of cancer in his death certificate. He was hospitalized in May 1999 for more than two months, owing again to pneumonia.
His death certificate lists the causes of death as “cardiac arrest” and “atherosclerotic heart disease” with “end stage renal disease” and “atrial fibrillation” as significant contributing factors. There is no mention of cancer.
Death and burial ground of Matthau Walter.
Matthau had atherosclerotic heart disease during the last years of his life. On the late evening of June 30-06-2000, he had a heart attack at his home and was taken by ambulance to the St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica where he died a few hours later at 1:42 a.m. on 01-07-2000, at age 79. He was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Matthau’s wife Carol Marcus died 21-07-2003 (aged 78) in New York City, U.S. and her body was interred in the same grave as her husband.