Carol Matthau | Biography

A Celebrated Original

"The Original Holly Golightly" – The New York Times

Carol Grace (September 11, 1924 – July 20, 2003) was born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the sixteen-year-old daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and an unknown father. Later, her mother Rosheen Marcus identified him as British actor Leslie Howard, from “Gone with the Wind”. She was eventually placed in foster care until the age of eight when her mother married Charles Marcus, the head of the Bendix Aviation Corp., whose name she took.

Young Carol attended the Dalton School during high-school. It was around this time she met her life-long friends Oona O’Neill (daughter of Eugene O’Neill) and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. She was also pals with young Truman Capote, whom she met when both were thirteen. Carol’s personality, not occupation, was the inspiration for Capote’s character Holly Golightly, the heroine of his 1958 novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Carol twice married and divorced Pulitzer-Prize winning writer William Saroyan, with whom she had two children, Aram Saroyan, a writer, and Lucy Saroyan, who became an actress.

In 1955, she had a small part and was the understudy to Jayne Mansfield in the Broadway show “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”. It was on this production she met stage actor Walter Matthau.

That same year, Carol published a well-received novel, “The Secret in the Daisy”.

Carol and Walter Matthau were married in August of 1959. Their son Charlie Matthau, a director, was born a few years later.

Throughout her life, Carol was a celebrated original in both New York and Hollywood. She was the muse and confidante to some of the twentieth century’s most renowned writers (William Saroyan, James Agee, Kenneth Tynan, and Truman Capote), friend of writers, artists and actors (Charlie Chaplin, Maureen Stapleton, Carson McCullers, Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall, Richard Avedon, Isak Dinesen), the witness to high-society fetes of the forties, the guest at and host of glitzy Hollywood dinner parties throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, and frequent attendee at the Oscars and the White House.

She published her memoirs, “Among the Porcupines” in 1993. Carol passed away on July 20, 2003, at the age of seventy-eight.