By Ty Burr
Updated January 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

— ”During his childhood, Matthau, his brother and his mother lived in a succession of cold-water tenement apartments in the Ukrainian area of the Lower East Side…’It was a nightmare — a dreadful, horrible, stinking nightmare,’ he grimly remembers.” (The New York Times, 1971)

— ”We had one toilet for everyone on the floor. And I would sit for hours in the toilet and read Shakespeare….One girl…[would]knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, Shakespeare, get out of there.”’ (Matthau, New York Daily News, 1986)

— ”Rose Matthow, 78, doesn’t understand why son Walter changed the spelling of his name to Matthau. ‘He never robbed a bank or anything.”’ (People, 1978)

— ”Walter had to hustle to make a living. He played everything everywhere. Shakespeare, summer stock, Broadway. Most of the plays on Broadway lasted three weeks.” (Anonymous friend, Parade magazine, 1971)

— ”Mr. Matthau, a black-haired, lunging gentleman, is a good actor who is likely to find himself in a good play sometime.” (The New York Times review of Broadway’s The Grey-Eyed People, 1952)

— ”Walter Matthau as a sneering villain is one of the old tent-show school.” (The New York Times review of the actor’s film debut in The Kentuckian, 1955)

— ”Walter and I got married at City Hall. He insisted we go by subway.” (Carol Matthau, in her memoir, Among the Porcupines, on the couple’s 1959 wedding)

— ”The second and solidest act of the play is commandeered by Walter Matthau in a brilliant portrayal of a patrician whose blood has been blue for so long that it has curdled. Haughty, unutterably bored, pompous, his face and his talk seem ravaged by Bourbonic plague — a snob’s snob who becomes human under stress.” (Time on Matthau’s Tony-winning performance in Broadway’s A Shot in the Dark, 1961)

— ”Don’t worry, darling. This will be a very big hit, no matter what. And you can get a lot of maids in the morning.” (The actor to his wife before leaving for the 1965 opening-night performance of The Odd Couple on Broadway, as told in her memoir)

— ”Mr. Matthau could play all the parts in Dead Souls with one hand tied to one foot and without changing makeup. He is a gamut-runner, from grim to game to simple hysteria, and when he finally does have his long overdue nervous-breakdown, with his voice sinking into his throat like the sun in the western sea, he is magnificent.” (Walter Kerr reviewing the stage version of The Odd Couple, 1965)

— ”He is a tall, loose-jointed man of forty, with a brain full of razor blades and a heart full of chutzpah.” (The Fortune Cookie script description of shyster Willie Gingrich, the role that won Matthau a 1966 Best Supporting Actor Oscar)

— ”…Walter Matthau now asking $1 million per flicker…” (Item in Ed Sullivan’s ”Little Old New York” gossip column, 1969)

— ”After a number of false starts on funny stories about Matthau, [producer Howard W.] Koch finally admitted that Matthau was a loner and a very private man. Koch says that Matthau reads a great deal and is terribly fond of classical music which is constantly playing in his home…and his dressing room on the sets.” (Reporter’s notes, Time magazine in-house files, 1971)