A Siegel Film, Don Siegel’s account of his life as a film director is an entertaining and instructive guide to making movies. I especially like the section about Siegel’s experience working with Walter Matthau on Charley Varrick.
For a little background on Matthau, consider that the normally conscientious and respectful Mike Nichols once told an interviewer, “Walter Matthau was not a nice man. There it is.”
Certainly nobody ever called him an easy man. Like Pete Axthelm in sports writing, Matthau loved gambling—which helps explains why he was such a natural to play the sad ass Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears. Check out this fun little 1974 People magazine story by the criminally underappreciated Brad Darrach.
From Siegel’s book:
Walter Matthau is addicted to gambling and knows it all too well. he compounds his illness by actually not wanting to win. His excitement and enjoyment in gambling come from losing.
I lost a bet with Walter thai a picture he had completed some months before Charley Varrick would earn more money than our film. I bet him $1,200 that he was wrong. I wrote out a cheque and sent it off to him. While working on this book, I found the returned cheque, totally voided. This will make him idiotically happy.
And here’s more:
Joe Don Baker and Matthau met me in my trailer. We started talking about what they faced in the coming scene.
Me: Naturally, we’ll go over the lines and what I want you to do, Joe, so Walter won’t have to hang upside down any longer than absolutely necessary. And by the way, can you hang upside down without fainting?
Matthau: My dear Don, I’ve been hung from trees with a rope around my neck. I’ve hung from my heels, held by a Mafia gorilla, out of a window, until I agreed to pay my usual gambling debts. I was born upside down. I think and make love upside down.