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Walter Slezak

photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934
Born Walter Slezak
3 May 1902(1902-05-03)
Vienna, Austria
Died 21 April 1983 (aged 80)
Flower Hill, New York, U.S.
Years active 1922-1980
Spouse(s) Johanna Van Rijn (1943-1983)

Walter Slezak (3 May 1902 – 21 April 1983) was an Austrian actor who appeared in numerous Hollywood films.[1] Slezak often portrayed villains or thugs, notably the German U-boat engineer in Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 Lifeboat, but occasionally he played lighter roles, as in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, a philosophical detective in Born to Kill, and as Squire Trelawney in Treasure Island.



Born in Vienna, Austria, the son of famed opera star Leo Slezak, he was a medical student and later a bank teller.[1] He was talked into taking his first role, in the 1922 Austrian film Sodom und Gomorrha, by his friend and the film's director, Michael Curtiz.[1] In his early movie career, before he gained weight, Slezak was cast as a thin leading man in silent films. He also acted on the stage for many years, debuting on Broadway in 1931.[1]

His first American film was 1942's Once Upon a Honeymoon, opposite Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant.[1] He worked steadily and appeared in over 100 films including The Princess and the Pirate, The Spanish Main, Sinbad the Sailor, Born to Kill, Call Me Madam, and Treasure Island.

Slezak played the lead in Broadway musicals, including Fanny, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.[2]

Walter Slezak as the Clock King in the 1960s Batman show

Slezak acted in radio in such shows as Lux Radio Theater, Columbia Workshop, The Pepsodent Show, and The Charlie McCarthy Show. He made numerous television appearances, including Playhouse 90 and Studio One, and he appeared as "The Clock King" on Batman in 1966.

His autobiography, What Time's the Next Swan? was published in 1962. The book's title refers to an alleged incident in the career of his father, heldentenor Leo Slezak. During a performance in the title role of Lohengrin, the elder Slezak was supposed to finish his aria by stepping into a swan boat and then being pulled offstage. When a stagehand removed the boat prematurely, Slezak supposedly covered for the error by asking the audience "What Time's the Next Swan?".

Personal life

Slezak married Johanna "Kaasi" Van Rijn on October 10, 1943. The couple had three children: Ingrid, Erika, and Leo. Erika went on to become an Emmy-winning actress, and has starred as Victoria Lord on the long-running soap opera One Life to Live since 1971. In 1974 Slezak appeared on the series as her character's godfather, Lazlo Braedecker.[1]

On April 21, 1983, shortly before his 81st birthday, Slezak died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.[1] He was reportedly despondent over his advanced physical illness.[3] He is buried at Egern Friedof in Munich, Germany.[4]


In 1955, Slezak won a Tony Award for his role in the Broadway production of Fanny.

Partial filmography


External links



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