Carol "Holly Golightly" Saroyan Matthau dead at 78

From today’s NY Times:

Carol Matthau, whose outspoken memoir of her life and three marriages to two famous men brought her notoriety far beyond her own wide circle of Hollywood and literary celebrities, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 78. The cause was a brain aneurysm, said her son Charles Matthau, a film director. Mrs. Matthau was the widow of the actor Walter Matthau, to whom she was married from 1959 until his death three years ago at 79. She was previously wed twice to the author and playwright William Saroyan.

With the publication of Among the Porcupines: A Memoir in 1992, the mercurial wit that was both loved and feared by friends like Maureen Stapleton, Oona O’Neill, Gloria Vanderbilt and Truman Capote became public property. For example, when a Swedish starlet flirted with Mr. Matthau and he asked her age, Mrs. Matthau said she interjected, “For God’s sake, Walter, why don’t you chop off her legs and read the rings?” In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the book’s publication, she said: “I married Saroyan the second time because I couldn’t believe how terrible it was the first time. I married Walter because I love to sleep with him.” She was a friend of Capote for decades and laid claim in her memoir to having been his muse for Holly Golightly, the blithe spirit of his Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She also figured in the “Côte Basque” section of his Answered Prayers and defended Capote long after other unwitting celebrity subjects turned against him.

When I was working in a hotel in Alabama that Matthau stayed at during filming of THE GRASS HARP, he frequently came to the front desk late at night to talk. Great memories; one night a businessman arrived at the hotel around 1 a.m. and nearly had a coronary when he came into the lobby and found the night auditor sitting at a table playing gin with Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and Roddy McDowell.

During one of his conversations, after he’d finished trashing the movie GRUMPY OLD MEN (which he claimed not to even remember the name of, though I seriously doubt it) he was telling a story that mentioned his wife. He added “Now you know, my wife is white…”

I told him I didn’t know that but I’d assumed she was since their son certainly was.

“No… I’m not talking about race… my wife is white. She has no color. She looks like an albino geisha…” and he took out a picture from his wallet. Sure enough, she was: she looked almost like one of the portraits of Elizabeth I from the end of her reign when she was covered in clown make-up.

“Now an interesting thing about my wife is that you can yell at her, you can call her a stupid bitch, you can tell her she’s stark raving nuts, and she won’t get mad… but if you ever tell her that she uses too much make-up, run for your ****ing life because the woman’s gonna blow…”

Just thought I’d mention.

Cool story!

I interviewed her extensively for my Kay Kendall bio (she and Kay were great friends), and Carol Matthau was the only person I talked to who had a single nice word for Rex Harrison.

Was Carol Matthau one of Capote’s swans? I know that Oona O’Neill Chaplin and Gloria Vanderbilt (DiCicco Stokowski
Lumet Cooper) were and that at various times both of them claimed inspiration for Holly Golightly (which is interesting since Holly Golightly was born a Texas hick while Oona was the daughter of one legend and wife of a nother and Gloria was of course born to (one of the poorest members of) one of the richest families in America, so I’m guessing they inspired the feet.

Yes, she was one of the Swans. As was Kay’s sister, Kim, who still is unbelieveably tall, thin and elegant, in her 70s.

Alright Eve I give.

What was the one nice thing that Carol Matthau said about Rex Harrison and more importantly, what were the other things everyone said about him?
I adored Walter Matthau and read a blurb about him and his wife that has always struck me hilarious.

They were taking a train trip back in Germany visiting/viewing a concentration camp. They had had and argument that couldn’t be resolved. Walter looked up at her with those great puppy dog eyes and said, " You just ruined my trip to Auschweitz."

If I remember correctly, it was something along the lines of “he really wasn’t as big a bastard as everyone says he was—he could really be quite nice when he wanted to be.” Everyone else said he was a big ol’ bastard.

That’s what was so fun about writing that book, I got to Hob-Nob wit’ the Swells. I remember “Suzzie” Dillon calling me and explaining, “I’m sorry, darling, it took me so long to get back to you—we’ve just closed up the Palm Beach house and are opening the New York apartment and we’re breaking in a new cook, and well, you know what that’s like!”

And Kim and I trying to decide where to meet for lunch: I was about to suggest a coffee shop near my office when she sighs, “Well, I suppose there’s always ‘21’.”

Thanks for the story, Eve. Holly Golightly is one of my all-time favorite characters. I watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s frequently,
and it never loses its charm for me.

Was she “white” when you met her?

Not a surprise on Rex Harrison, though I certainly enjoyed him in MY FAIR LADY and CLEOPATRA. The story I’ve heard on him and Kay Kendall is that their marriage was his second wife’s idea: Lilli Palmer knew that Kay Kendall was in love with “Sexy Rexy” (which I understand he HATED being called almost as much as Errol hated “In Like Flynn”) and that Kendall was dying, so she divorced Rex with the notion of remarrying him when Kendall died, only instead he moved onto Rachel Roberts who long after her divorce from him killed herself with weed killer. Is any of this accurate?

The only person I’ve ever heard slam Rex was ex-wife #5, Elizabeth Ogmore, who seemed to get along quite well with her other ex-husband, Richard Harris. Has Julie Andrews ever said anything about him? He must hold some sort of record for the most money ever made by giving the same performance 179 times (with the possible exception of King Mongkut, he seems to have always played Henry Higgins in every movie).

I’m a major Helen Keller buff and I loved Lilli Palmer’s account of her trip to Portofino in CHANGE LOBSTERS AND DANCE.

Wait just a minute…“Holly Golightly” married “Oscar Madison”?


I only interviewed her over the phone, Sampiro. The version you’ve heard is pretty much on target; Kay and Rex had been having an affair for about two years when Kay was diagnosed with leukemia in early 1957.

Rex ran crying to Lilli Palmer when he was told; she was sick of him by that time and having a good time on the side herself–so she insisted Rex had to divorce her and marry Kay and take care of her. Rex was terrified and had to be bullied into it, though he really did come through and take care of Kay till she died two years later. It’s always been said that Rex kept Kay’s condition secret from her, but I spoke to friends who said, “Oh, she wasn’t stupid, she new perfectly well she was dying.”

Ironically, Rex Harrison’s sons later kept his own terminal cancer secret from him.

Hard to believe that Lilli stayed with him that long after Carole Landis.