I guess this is what happens when you’ve been dead for nearly 60 years. I’m reading a couple of books about Warner Brothers movies and stars right now, Daniel Bubbeo’s “The Women of Warner Brothers” from 2002 and the Ted Sennett’s 1971 “Warner Brothers Presents.” I’m about two-thirds of the way through each of these titles and sadly there isn’t any worthwhile Warren William information in either. This is basically what you get:
“(Name of Warner Bros. star here) next appeared in (Name of Warner Bros. movie here) starring (choose one: dapper, suave, caddish) leading man Warren William.”
I’ve run into this sentence in other books previously as well. The Sennett book is 36 years old, I really thought I’d hit upon a gem or two in there, but alas, Warren William is already dead 23 years at its time of publication and already, it seems, forgotten.
Poor Warren William, it seems, did not live long enough to enjoy any possible retrospective on his career. William died September 24, 1948, his wife, Helen, passed just a few months later on December 31, 1948. The couple had no children. From the information I’m gathering, it’s pretty clear that William was a bit of a loner on the studio lots and usually raced home as soon as his work day was over. So there has been no family to keep his legend alive and it appears his co-workers didn’t have much of a reason to prop him up either.
I have found a couple of great articles about Warren William in different issues “Classic Images” that I’ll be referring to at some point. But I’ve found the best resources to be online newspaper archives. These cost a few dollars, so I’ve been buying articles only when I’ve had a few extra bucks lying around, but so far I’ve accessed articles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Daily Tribune. These primary sources actually treat Warren William as the star he obviously was in the early 1930’s. He and his films are popular and usually well-reviewed (especially by Mae Tinee of the Chicago Daily Tribune who really seemed to love his work). Beyond the standard reviews I’ve also come across some more general articles about Warren William’s life. I’m slowly buying them, reading them, arranging them and trying to decide how to best use the information I find in these papers. Perhaps a “Press” section on the site, we’ll see.
I was happy today to locate an article I’d been searching for without having to buy the back issue and wait for it, etc. Also, I wasn’t sure if the information I had on this back issue was correct–it was, however the article was just a single page column rather than the longer feature I’d expected. Seeing it, I was glad to save a few dollars for a change!
This was in Film Comment, the May-June 2005 issue, which somebody was gracious enough to scan and place on their site. It’s Guy Maddin’s column, “My Jolly Corner” titled this issue “Slippery When Wet.” Maddin opens his column by stating, “Buttery joy is mine when I consider the career of Warren William. His Most Oleaginous Imperial Potentate of the Pre-Code.” Maddin mentions The Mouthpiece, Skyscraper Souls, Employees’ Entrance, The Mind Reader, and Gold Diggers of 1933 all by name as proof of William’s talents. Of William’s performances in these, all favorites of mine as well, Maddin writes “…William typically portrays a ruthless entrepreneur whose conscience was somehow lost at birth (one can’t help thinking of William’s 1894 genesis in Minnesota as some kind of natal oil spill), a man who knows what he wants … and wastes no time embezzling his way to this end, pausing only to feast at the banquets of adultery that the era spreads before him like soup kitchens transmogrified by the collective lust of the movie-crazed public.” He remarks that Breen and the code “squeezed the juice out of William’s unambiguous, all-American powerlust,” which is largely true. Afterwards “he was shunted into dull series work,” which is partially true–the Perry Mason and Lone Wolf movies are certainly altogether different from William’s pre-code work, but they are far from dull. Maddin closes by declaring “Long live the suave and smeary stain of Warren William!”