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Walter Slezak

German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3443/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.


Austrian actor Walter Slezak (1902-1983) was born into an artistic family. His father was the opera tenor and film actor Leo Slezak (1873-1946). During a production of Lohengrin, when the mechanical swan that was to carry the hero across the lake malfunctioned and ‘floated’ off too soon, Leo said, "What time is the next swan?". This quote became in 1962 the title of Walter Slezak's autobiography. Walter began his movie career as a thin leading man in silent films. His friend actor/director Michael Curtiz engaged him for the spectacular Sodom und Gomorrha (1922). In the next years he appeared as a slim, romantic leading man in German films like Michael (1924, Carl Theodor Dreyer) and Grüß mir das blonde Kind am Rhein (1926, Carl Boese) and the Italian production Addio giovinezza! (1927, Augusto Genina). Unable to keep his weight under control, Slezak decided around 1930 to become a character actor. He played in Spione im Savoy-Hotel (1932, Friedrich Zelnik) and after that went to the USA.


Walter Slezak made his Broadway debut in Meet My Sister (1930). After 12 years of stage work, he was cast in his first American film, Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942, Leo McCarey), playing the fifth-columnist husband of social-climbing Ginger Rogers. He worked steadily and appeared in films like Lifeboat (1944, Alfred Hitchcock), The Pirate (1948, Vincente Minnelli), The Inspector General (1949, Henry Koster) and Call Me Madam (1953, Walter Lang). A hulking figure at 2 m, Slezak usually portrayed a villain or thug, but also played lighter, kindlier roles, as in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962, Henry Levin) and as Squire Trelawney in Treasure Island (1972, John Hough). Slezak also played the lead in Broadway musicals, including Cesar in Fanny (1955), for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Just before his 81st birthday Walter Slezak shot himself because of his advanced physical illness.


Sources: Wikipedia,, IMDb and All Movie Guide.

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Taken on November 7, 2008