Walter Slezak (German pronunciation: [ˌvaltɐ ˈslɛzak]) (3 May 1902 – 21 April 1983) was an Austrian-born character actor who appeared in numerousHollywood films. Slezak often portrayed villains or thugs, most notably the German U-boat captain in Alfred Hitchcock's film Lifeboat (1944), but occasionally he got to play lighter roles, as in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). He also played a cheerfully corrupt and philosophical private detective in the film noir Born to Kill (1947) and appeared as Squire Trelawney in Treasure Island (1972).
Born in Vienna, Austria, the son of opera tenor Leo Slezak and Elsa Wertheim, he studied medicine for a time and later worked as a bank teller. He was talked into taking his first role, in the 1922 Austrian film Sodom und Gomorrah, by his friend and the film's director, Michael Curtiz. In his early movie career, before he gained a great deal of 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.
His first American film was Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), with Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant. He worked steadily and appeared in over 100 films including The Princess and the Pirate (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Born to Kill (1947), People Will Talk (1951), andCall Me Madam (1953).
Slezak played the lead in Broadway musicals, including Fanny, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
Walter Slezak as the Clock King in the 1960s' Batman
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 in the programs This Is Show Business, Playhouse 90 and Studio One, and appeared as The Clock King in Batman (1966).
In the 1970s, Slezak played the non-singing role of Frosch, the jailer, in the San Francisco Opera production ofJohann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus.
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?".
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 starred as Victoria Lord on the long-running soap opera One Life to Live from 1971 to its cancelation 2012. In 1974 Slezak appeared on the series as her character's godfather, Lazlo Braedecker.
On April 21, 1983, shortly before his 81st birthday, Slezak died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was reportedly despondent over his advanced physical illness. As was his father, he is buried in the Bavarian village Rottach-Egern.