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Walter Matthau (1920-2000)

  1. Burt Lancaster, From Here To Eternity, 1952.
  2. Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch, 1954.    Although Ewell won a Tony for the Broadway play, director Billy Wilder wanted Matthau as the guy bemused and bedazzled by his brownstone neighbour Marilyn Monroe. Wilder helmed Matthau’s test (opposite Gena Rowlands as The Girl) on June 15, 1954.  It’s on the DVD. (Rowlands was never in the running for the film). Matthau was considered too unknown… ! Wilder then had quite stupid thoughts about Gary Cooper, William Holden, even James Stewart… And went on  to make three films with Matthau during 1965-1981 all  with pal Jack Lemmon: The Fortune Cookie, The Front Page, Buddy Buddy.   
  3. Jim Backus, Rebel Without A Cause, 1955.   “Look, Jim. You can depend on me. Trust me. Whatever comes, we'll, we'll fix it together. I swear it.” Yeah, sure! James Dean’s emasculated father was a battle between Backus (best known as Mr Magoo’s voice), Matthau, Raymond Burr and Rod Cameron. Difficult to envisage Matthau as a wimp. Backus taught his Mr Magoo cartoon voice to Dean, who used it in his line about children: “Drown 'em like puppies, eh?”
  4. Jim Backus, Top Secret Affair, 1956.    Odd that Matthau would be dropped when Kirk Douglas took over the dying Humphrey Bogart’s lead.  Matthau made his 1954 movie debut, The Kentuckian,  for a director (and co-star) called Burt Lancaster. Then, as if  tell his old rival, Lancaster, that after starting an actor, you should nuture him, Kirk immediately made three films with Matthau. Including their 1961 classic, Lonely Are The Brave.
  5. Edward Andrews, The Thrill of It  All,  1963.    Producer Ross Hunter was aghast when Matthau (into $60,000 a year in alimony and child support) demanded $100,000. Not, he added, that it was worth $10,000 because it was a lousy role!  Andrews, a great character player,  performed magic with it while Matthau did likewise  on Broadway in The Odd Couple.  He would never be  so “cheap” again.
  6. George Sanders, A Shot in the Dark, 1964.     Pink Panther changed everything. For Peter Sellers. And his next job - Anatole Litvak helming Marcel Archard's French play, L'Idiot, about a French magistrate investigating murder. Litvak did not impress Sellers. Clouseau impressed United Artists and sent for director Blake Edwards to help Peter churn the magistrate into a second helping of Clouseau before the first was even served and digested. With Sanders succeeding Matthau...
  7. Jason Robards, The Night They Raided Minksy's, 1968.     Jason was an odd choice for a burlesque comic.
  8. John Wayne, True Grit, 1968.     Determined to restore his fame after the Green Berets debacle, John Wayne loved old Rooster Cogburn - if not his eye-patch. Producer Hal Wallis said he’d make the film with or without him… And talked to Matthau and Robert Mitchum. Excellent choices. But on On April 7, 1970, Duke won his one and only Oscar.
  9. Donald Sutherland, M*A*S*H, 1969.    Nearly became The Odd Couple Go To War... until writer Ring Lardner reminded everyone of just how tough the climactic football game had to be... “All right, Bub, your fuckin' head is coming right off!”
  10. Topol, Fiddler on the Roof,  1970.    When word got out that  that producer Walter Mirisch  and director Norman Jewison were passing on Mostel - “too big for film” - Matthau  expressed  great interest in  becoming Tevye.  So did Danny Kaye. (Brando, Sinatra (!), Anthony Quinn, Orson Welles were also rumoured to be  keen). None got to first base once Topol ended  his run of the West End production in London. - Edward Andrews, Avanti!, 1971.   Billv Widler created a cameo for Matthau - as a US diplomat in Italy.  But he had not time to play it. Or to join Billy’s third  consecutive flop?

  11. William Holden, Network, 1976.    The film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wanted Matthau (or Gene Hackman)as the UBS TV News executive Max Schumacher. “After living with you for the last six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts. Well, this is not a script, Diana. There's some real, actual life going on here.”
  12. Bob Newhart, The Rescuers, 1976.    He did the job, recorded the dialogue but the suits were right. Newhart made a far better stammering fussbudget of a janitor at the mouse-run Rescue Aid Society in New York’s UN building. First Disney toon to spawn a sequel: The Rescuers Down Under, 1989.
  13. Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978.  Hitchcock fan and auteur John Carpenter searched high and low for his shrink, Dr Sam Loomis: Peter O’Toole and the Hammer horrors, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee versus Charles Napier, Lawrence Tierney, Abe Vigoda. The $300,00 shoestring budget couldn’t afford any of them! Same for the kinda obvious Matthau, Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill… and such off-the-wall surprises as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Loomis, incidentally was named after John Gavin’s character in Pyscho; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.
  14. Jackie Cooper, Superman, 1978.
  15. Harry Dean Stanton,The Black Marble, 1980   .“Matthau turned down the part of the sleazy dog-handler, he wanted to be the romantic leading man,” Joseph Wambaugh told me in Cannes. “That’s Hollywood,” added the LAPD cop-turned-best-selling author and producer of his own filmed books.“All these guys with great character faces want to be leading men and vice-versa.”
  16. Tom Hulce, Amadeus, 1983.     Amazing! A studio offered to back Milos Forman’s version of the Broadway hit play - as long as Matthau (of all people) played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Naturally, Forman pointed out Matthau was somewhat too old .. as the Mozart-loving star would have age 63!
  17. Robin Williams, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1987.    After Sean Connery rejected theKing of the Moonfor notbeing kingly enough, Matthau and Gene Wilder were considered before Robin agreed - under the pseudonym of Ray D Tutto.
  18. Armin Mueller-Stahl, Music Box, 1989.    Passed, like Kirk Douglas, on being Jessica Lange’s Hungarian father accused of war crimes The modelwas scenarist Joe Eszterhaas’ father. Not that Joe knew it - his father wa ssimilarly accused after the movie opened.“Be careful what you write,” Joe warned writers, ”what your write can break your own heart.”
  19. Morgan Freeman, Bonfire of the Vanities, 1989.     First choice for Judge Myron Kovitsky was dropped insisting of a $1m fee. (That was Tom Hanks’ salary for the lead). Alan Arkin and Joel Grey were nextt in the frame  (for $150,000).  Then,  Kovitsky became White played by a black - another Brian De Palma joke biting the dust. Freeman was in almost everything at the time (even Robin Hood).   Indeed, he still was in 2014. 
  20. John Goodman, Born Yesterday, 1993.     Obvious choice for the old Broderick Crawford role in a Garson Kanin’s re-writeof his 1950 script - planned by Cannon in 1986 with Whoopi Goldberg re-treading Judy Holliday. Goodman’s Billie Dawn was Melanie Griffith.

  21. Albert Brooks, The Scout, 1994.    Not even Brooks could save it - and he re-wrote it.
  22. James Garner, My Fellow Americans, 1996.     The two ex-presidents (from opposite parties, of course) saving the US from slimeball Prez Dan Aykroyd were supposed to be... Grumpy Old Presidents. Walter was ill and Jack Lemmon called up Jim.  Two years later, Jack and Walter made their tenth and final film together: The Odd Couple II. (They shouldn’t have). 


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