We thought we might stump you with some of our questions about one of the most admired character actors of the 40s through the 60s.
There’s our man, Walter Slezak, assisting Tallulah Bankhead in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 thriller Lifeboat. The role of a ex-U-Boat captain who methodically takes charge of a desperate group of American and British survivors hanging on to dear life in a creaky old-fashioned lifeboat was easily the most noted of his career.
The picture, much to the displeasure of some critics, played Slezak’s character as a very bad guy with a benign good streak. The latter is shown above. The meaner (after all, the guy was a Nazi) is shown below.
It’s interesting to note that Slezak followed his performance in Lifeboat with a far lighter turn as a feisty pirate in the 1944 Bob Hope comedy, The Princess and the Pirate. The actor was nothing if not versatile.
Ok, on the answers to our Walter Slezak Quiz.
1) Question: Slezak began his movie career in silent films in Europe at the urging of a Hungarian who, after changing his name, became one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors. Who is he? a) Otto Preminger; b) Edward Dmytryk; c) Alexander Korda; or d) Michael Curtiz.
Answer: The story goes that Slezak encountered (d) Michael Curtiz (ne Mihaly Kertesz) in beer garden in 1920, and was convinced to try acting in silent movies. Curtiz went on, of course, to a distinguished Hollywood career (Casablanca, anyone?).
2) Question: Slezak was a slender matinee idol in German films of the 1920’s. (See above.) Yet, he was always pretty chubby in his Hollywood movies. What happened? a) He made a conscious decision to give up romantic leads for more inspiring character roles; b) He never particularly cared about his waist line; c) He was a gourmet cook who relished the tasty dishes he prepared; d) He battled a long term illness which put on the pounds.
Answer: Slezak was a very good cook and (c) he very much enjoyed what he prepared. His silent movie career in Germany in the 1920’s took a turn when the actor became too corpulent to convincingly play a romantic roles. A character actor was born.
3) Question: Undoubtedly Slezak’s most memorable screen appearance came in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Lifeboat. What role did he play? a) That of Tallulah Bankhead’s lover; (b) That of William Bendix’s tormentor; c) That of a German U-boat survivor; or d) That of Hume Cronyn’s intellectual foil.
Answer: As noted above, the answer is (c).
4) Question: Slezak won a major entertainment industry award in mid-career. What was it? a) A Grammy for his recording of a role sung at the Metropolitan Opera; b) An Oscar for his role in Lifeboat; c) A Tony Award for his Broadway stage interpretation of Panisse in the 1954 musical, Fanny; or d) A supporting actor Golden Globe.
Answer: (c) Slezak won a best actor Tony Award for his role in the 1954 Broadway musical Fanny. His very good singing talents were largely overlooked in Hollywood. There he is warbling above with Fanny costar Ezio Pinza.
5) Question: Slezak died at the age of 80 in 1983, taking his own life. How? a) He jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge; b) He overdosed on sleeping pills; c) Shot himself in the back yard of his upstate New York home; d) Ran into heavy traffic in New York’s Times Square.
Answer: (c) Slezak had been suffering from several illnesses, and had been despondent for some time.
BONUS QUESTION: What did Slezak and Hedy Lamarr have in common?
ANSWER: Both were born in Vienna, Austria; Slezak in 1902 and Hedy in 1914.