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Walter Matthau (1920-2000)

  1. Burt Lancaster, From Here To Eternity1952.
  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. (Talk about Beauty and the Beast !) Wilder helmed Matthau’s test (opposite Gena Rowlands as The Girl) on June 15, 1954.  It’s on the DVD. “A horrible expefience,” said Matthau.  “I was rushed by Wilder… but it looked all right. ” Rowlands was never in the running and  Matthau was too unknown. Wilder then had quite bizarre 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 milquetoast father was a battle between Backus, Matthau, Raymond Burr, Rod Cameronand John Dehner.  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?”  (Sidney Lumet had launched James Dean, Sal Mineo  and Paul Newman - a Jim Stark candidate - in his  New York TV shows).
  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. Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music, 1964.       Driven to drink by it all, Plummer hated everything. The film - he called it S&M or The Sound of Mucus. The co-star - working with Julie Andrews (or Ms Disney as he called her) - was akin to “being hit over the head with a big Valentine's Day card, every day.” So maybe Matthau (saying much the same about Barbra Streisand in their 1968 Hello Dolly collision), Richard Burton, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery, Bing Crosby, Peter Finch and Maximilian Schell were lucky to lose Captain Von Trapp. Keith Michel was first reserve if Plummer proved (as he soon wished) unavailable. Despite despite all his badmouthing, Plummer and Andrews became good friends.
  8. Murray Hamilton, The Graduate, 1967
  9. Jason Robards, The Night They Raided Minksy's, 1968.     Jason was an odd choice for a burlesque comic.
  10. 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.

  11. 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!”
  12. 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?
  13. George C Scott, The Hospital, 1971. For the first time in his (eventual) 30 screen- writing gigs, Paddy Chayefsky has total control of his work.  He was the writer and producer of a blistering take on not merely the US medical services but the divided nation of the 60s.  And he relished refusing Lancaster for his medical Howard Beale, Dr Herbert Block. (Lancaster’s company produced his Marty movie but he complained Burt never really got behind it). And he didn’t want Walter Matthau - a Lancaster protégé, circa 1954. Scott was the chosen one  - and almost lost it by demanding $300,000. Paddy ran to Rod Steiger, his tele-Marty of 1953 but he wanted more – payback time by losing the award-winning film version in ‘54.
  14. Elliott Gould, The Long Goodbye, 1972.      Iconic director Howard Hawks quit updating Philip Marlowe with Mitchum. Peter Bogdanovich preferred Lee Marvin. Producer Elliott Kastner met Matthau in a Santa Monica deli. “He was frightened, actually. He fancied himself as a leading man but didn’t want to step up and be one.” Failing to entice Steve McQueen, director Robert Altman made it with Gould - his M*A*S*H star needed a comeback, after all. Said Gould: “I love Robert Mitchum and I love Lee Marvin. I couldn’t argue with them. But you’ve seen them and you haven’t seen me.”
  15. Peter Finch, Network, 1976. “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore…"  Both director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky came from the golden age of US TV - and pulled no punches in detailing where the medium was going (down the drain. Indeed, their fictional USB fourth network became, well, Fox.  .Paddy had a wish list of nine actors  for the unhinged news anchor Howard Beale: Henry Fonda (“it’s too hysterical”), Glenn Ford,  Cary Grant, Gene Hackman, William Holden (he played news exec  Max Schumacher, instead), Walter  Matthau, Paul Newman, James Stewart (appalled by the script’s bad language!). Plus George C Scott , who refused because he had once been “offended” by Lumet! (Yet his final film was Lumet’s  Gloria, 1998).   Lumet had just the one name - and this proved to be Finchy’s farewell, winning the fjrst posthumous Best Actor Oscar. Lumet was with Peter when he died. They were in the Beverly Hills Hotel, awaiting  a joint interview,  when  Finch collapsed and died soon after in hospital, never regaining consciousness from his heart attack.
  16. 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.

  17. Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978.  
    Hitchcock fan 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 Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… even such off-the-wallers as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Pleasence said he only made the film because his daughter told him to! She’d loved Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13… He also told Carpenter he’d never read the script, nor Loomis. “Only later,” said Carpenter, “after [we] became close friends, did I realise he was finding out how much I loved the movie I was making.” Incidentally, Loomis was named after John Gavin’s Psycho character; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.

  18. Jackie Cooper, Superman, 1978.
  19. 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.”
  20. 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!

  21. Jason Robards, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1983.   Inbetween being written for Gene Kelly and bought by Kirk Douglas, various versions of the Ray Bradbury tale proposed Matthau, James Garner, Hal Holbrook, Jack Lemmon for Kirk’s favourite character, Charles Holloway.
  22. 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.
  23. Armin Mueller-Stahl, Music Box, 1989.  Impressed by the German actor in his Missing, 1981, Paris réalisateur Costa-Gavras chose Mueller-Stahl  over Brando, Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau for Jessica Lange’s father on trial in Chicago for Nazi war crimes. The model was scenarist Joe Eszterhaas’ father. Not that Joe knew it - his father was similarly accused after the movie opened.  “Be careful what you write,” Joe warned writers, ”what your write can break your own heart.”He used the same premise of a woman disbelieving that man in her life  was guilty of horrendous crimes in Jagged Edge, 1985, and Betrayed, 1987
  24. 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. 
  25. Robert Duvall, Falling Down, 1992.  “You're angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven…?”  On his last day on the job, LAPD Sergeant Lester Prendergast  finds a guy, known only by his car number-plate, D-FENS, melting down, dangerously.  He’s Michael Douglas, in buzz-cut, glasses and, finally, his very own Cuckoo’s Nest.  Duvall won the role from Matthau, Gene Hackman, Jack Lemmon, , Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and Jason Robards
  26. 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.
  27. Albert Brooks, The Scout, 1994.    Not even Brooks could save it - and he re-wrote it.
  28. 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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