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"It took me years to learn that one has to own and live on a place for at least three generations to be so much as tolerated by the natives of Ottsville. To be accepted takes much longer and requires inbreeding."
-Walter Slezak, What Time's the Next Swan, 1962
Walter Slezak was popular for his light musical comedy roles as well as sinister character roles in American movies. Initially discovered in a Viennese beer garden, Slezak's first role was in the Berlin film Sodom and Gomorra, 1922. Subsequent success in a Berlin operetta led to contracts with a German film company, several stage roles, and eventually the lead role in the 1930 show Meet My Sister, an American adaptation of a German musical comedy. Slezak gained stardom in America for his roles in comedies, farces, and musicals until his audience shifted when he played a Nazi in 1942 film Once Upon a Honeymoon. His portrayal was so impressive that for the next ten years he was consistently cast as the villain in anti-Nazi movies. Slezak returned to theater in 1953, appearing in productions of My Three Angels, 1953, and Fanny, 1954. Slezak was a popular attraction at the Bucks County Playhouse and appeared in special television productions for Hallmark Hall of Fame, Playhouse 90, Ford, and Studio One, as well as starring in two-hundred radio productions. He was also an accomplished cook, chess player, airplane pilot, painter, and sculptor.
After battling multiple illnesses and ailments, Slezak took his own life.
Photo of Walter Slezak. Image courtesy of the Billy Rose Theater Collection, The New York Library for the Performing Arts, the Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundation.
Education and Training
Chemistry, Medicine, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, c. 1920-1922
Teachers and Influences
Walter had been trained on the piano by his father, Leo Slezak, who was a celebrated operatic tenor for the Vienna Opera House. At the age of seven, Walter accompanied his father in the New York production of Otello at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1909.
Connection to Bucks County
Walter Slezak spent many summers acting in productions at the Bucks County Playhouse. He rented a house in Bucks County during the summer of 1941 while performing at the Bucks County Playhouse. He purchased his 186 acre "Redhill Farm" on Geigel Hill Road, near Ottsville in 1942.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Theron Bamberger, Kenyon Nicholson, Oscar Hammerstein II, Samuel and Bella Spewack, John Wexley, Lorraine and Charles Rudy were all neighbors of Walter and his wife, Johanna van Rijn. He appeared in many Bucks County Playhouse productions including Topaze, by Marcel Pagnol, 1940; The Play's The Thing, by Ferenc Molnar, 1941; and Laburnum Grove, by J.B. Priestley, 1948.
My Stomach Goes Traveling
What Time's the Next Swan?, 1962
Music in the Air by Hammerstein and Kern, 1932
Ode To Liberty, 1934
May Wine, 1935
I Married an Angel, 1938
Little Dark Horse, 1941
My Three Angels, 1953
Arms and the Man, Omnibus, 1953
Papa is All, US Steel Hour, 1954
Hallmark Hall of Fame, NBC, 1955-1956
Borrowed Christmas, NBC, 1959-1960
Once Upon a Honeymoon, with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, 1942
This Land is Mine, 1943
The Fallen Sparrow, 1943
Lifeboat by Alfred Hitchcock, 1944
The Spanish Main, 1945
Sinbad the Sailor, 1947
The Inspector General, 1949
The Yellow Cab Man, 1950
Bedtime for Bonzo, co-starring Ronald Reagan, 1951
People Will Talk, 1951
Wonderful Life, 1964
Tony Award, Best Actor, Fanny, 1955
Critics Award, Fanny, 1955
Photo of Walter Slezak
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