Walter Slezak

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You have to work five or six years in the theatre—in hit shows—to make people sick and tired of you, but this you can accomplish in only a few weeks on television. It's a remarkable medium.

Walter Slezak (3 May 190221 April 1983) was an Austrian-born character actor who appeared in numerous Hollywood films. His father was the celebrated opera tenor Leo Slezak, and the American actress Erika Slezak is his daughter.

Quotes[edit]

I never lie unless it is absolutely necessary. Or convenient.
  • You have to work five or six years in the theatre—in hit shows—to make people sick and tired of you, but this you can accomplish in only a few weeks on television. It's a remarkable medium.
    • As quoted in "Back on Camera: Slezak Returns to TV, After Stage Success" by J. P. Shanley, in The New York Times (June 3, 1956), Sec. 2, pg. 9
  • Spending money you don't have for things you don't need to impress people you don't like.
  • Quoted as "Actor Walter Slezak's version of "keeping up with the Joneses"": in LOOK magazine, Vol. 21 number 14 (July 9, 1957) p. 10, in LOOK's permanent category of quotes "WHAT THEY ARE SAYING".
  • Already in 1905 W.T. O'Connor had stated that advertising was "The gentle art of persuading the public to believe that they want something they don't need" in "Advertising Definitions", in Ad Sense, Vol. 19, No. 2 (August 1905), p. 121, and in 1931 one finds Will Rogers being quoted with advertising "as something that makes you spend money you haven't got for things you don't want." But this complete statement with the finale "to impress people you don't like" seems to have originated with Slezak. However, Quote Investigator instead traces the quotation back to American humorist Robert Quillen, who wrote in 1928: "Americanism: Using money you haven't earned to buy things you don't need to impress people you don't like."
  • Walter Slezak says he's tired of arguing with his kids about borrowing the car. "The next time I want it," he says, "I'm just going to take it."
    • As paraphrased and quoted in "Gag Bag" by Larry Wolters, in The Chicago Tribune (September 1, 1963), Sec. 6, pg. 9

What Time's the Next Swan? (1962)[edit]

The swan left without Papa. He quietly turned around and said: "What time's the next swan?"
Spending money you don't have for things you don't need to impress people you don't like.
  • "Overwrite — put down everything that comes to your mind," I was told.
    "Be explicit, elaborate. Judicious pruning will be done later. Don't be afraid to name names. Lawyers will tooth-comb the book before it gets into print and protect you from libel suits. Don't be afraid to shock people. Be daring. Be spicy. Tell all!"
    I did.
    I followed everybody's advice. About seven hundred thirty pages were judiciously pruned in order to protect the innocent, to make it possible for the book to be sent through the U.S. mails, and to prevent me from spending the twilight years of my life in jail for criminal libel.
    What's left is here.
    PLEASE LIKE IT.
    • Preface, p. viii
  • Biographies usually begin with the smack on the bottom and the first lusty cry of the subject. I deplore this literary custom, because it is impossible to remember anything about one's birth firsthand. It is bound to be hearsay, and embellished, gilded hearsay at that.
    • Ch. 1, p. 1
  • In that wonderful musical show Knickerbocker Holiday Maxwell Anderson defined the outstanding characteristics of an American as "one who refuses to take orders!"
    I think that I qualified for that, my chosen nationality, at an early age.
    As far back as I can remember, an expressly given order triggered instant defiance. My little mind started functioning like an IBM machine; signals flashed in my resistance center, lights flickered around my resentment glands, bell and buzzer alerted all the cunning of a five-year-old.
    Strategy and tactics went to work, not to rest till they had circumvented or defied that specific order.
    I don't know if that character trait was deplorable or laudable; I only know that I have never been able to lose it. And I am extremely grateful that I was too young to serve in the First World War and too old for the Second; I surely would have been court-martialed for insubordination, and expired in front of a firing squad.
    Even today, at my ripe old age, if someone suggests I do something and this suggestion is tinged with an excessive amount of authority, I immediately turn into a bristling fortress of resistance.
    • Ch. 1, p. 3
  • I never lie unless it is absolutely necessary. Or convenient.
    • Ch. 1, p. 8
  • Papa told her about a Lohengrin performance. It was just before his first entrance. He was ready to step into the boat, which, drawn by a swan, was to take him on-stage. Somehow the stagehand on the other side got his signals mixed, started pulling, and the swan left without Papa. He quietly turned around and said: "What time's the next swan?"
    That story has since become a classic in operatic lore.
    • p. 210
  • After America had entered the war in December 1941 all postal service with Germany and Austria was stopped. But Papa had faithfully kept on writing to me, a ten-page letter nearly every week. They were never mailed and I found them, neatly bundled, sealed and addressed to me. … And now, on the plane, winging back home, I began to read his letters. They are remarkable documents. It's the whole war, as seen from the other side, through the eyes of a man who detested the fascist system, who hated the Nazis with a white fury. In the midst of the astonishing German victories in the early part of the war he was firmly convinced that Hitler MUST and WOULD lose. He dreaded communism, and all his predictions have come true. He told of all the spying that went on, the denunciations to the Gestapo, the sudden disappearances of innocent people, of the daily new edicts and restrictions, of confiscations that were nothing but robberies, arrests, and executions; how every crime committed was draped in the mantilla of legality.
    His great perception, intelligence, decency, his wonderful humanity, his love of music and above all his worshipful adoration for his Elsa — through every page they shimmered with luminescent radiance.
    • On reading letters his father had written him during the years of World War II, after his father's death, p. 226

Quotes about Slezak[edit]

You have to be prepared for all the awful things that happen to actors, the rejection, humiliation, and embarrassment and receiving bad reviews if you do get a job. You have to be prepared for all of that.
  • Until I was about 12 or 13, it was just, “Oh sure, okay, fine.” Then when I was about 14, my father asked, “Are you serious about this? Do you really want to be an actor?” I said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” So, he took me in his little office, sat me down for about an hour and told me everything bad about this business. He said, “You have to be prepared for all the awful things that happen to actors, the rejection, humiliation, and embarrassment and receiving bad reviews if you do get a job. You have to be prepared for all of that.

External links[edit]

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