Walter Slezak

Active - 1922 - 1995  |   Born - May 3, 1902   |   Died - Apr 22, 1983   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Adventure, Musical, Children's/Family

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of legendary opera star Leo Slezak, Walter Slezak was a medical student before settling into the comfortable position of bank clerk. Slezak was coerced by his friend, actor/director Michael Curtiz, to accept an acting role in Curtiz's 1922 spectacular Sodom and Gomorrah -- and with this film, Slezak's career in the world of finance came to an end. Those familiar with Walter Slezak only as the corpulent supporting player in such films as Sinbad the Sailor (1947), People Will Talk (1951), and Emil and the Detectives (1964) will be surprised upon viewing Slezak's appearances as a slim, romantic leading man in his German silent films. Unable to keep his weight under control, Slezak decided around 1930 to become a character actor. He made his Broadway debut in the 1930 production Meet My Sister. After 12 years of stage work, Slezak was cast in his first American film, 1942's Once Upon a Honeymoon, playing the fifth-columnist husband of social-climbing Ginger Rogers. Equally adept at comedy and villainy, Slezak was able to combine these two extremes in such films as The Princess and the Pirate (1944) and The Inspector General (1949). Occasionally returning to the stage in the 1950s, Slezak won a Tony award for his portrayal of Cesar in the 1955 musical Fanny, and in 1957 followed in his father's footsteps by singing at the Metropolitan Opera. His TV assignments included the role of the Clock King on Batman (1966-1967). Slezak's 1962 autobiography What Time Is the Next Swan? derived its title from the punch line of an apocryphal story involving his father. At the age of 80, despondent over his many illnesses, Slezak committed suicide in his Beverly Hills home. Walter Slezak was the father of actress Erika Slezak, best known for her continuing role on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live.

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