Had you asked me ten years ago who my favorite actor of all time was I would have probably answered either Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart, perhaps Orson Welles if my mind was running on a slightly higher plane that day. But our digital age has granted us exposure to so many more stars of the past that while I still love all of those actors, plus so many more, not one of them does any more for me today than a far lesser known star of the thirties and forties by the name of Warren William. I have a strong feeling that if you can already picture Warren William just by mention of his name, then you may already agree–this site is for you and for those who are just discovering Warren William for the first time.
There he is, up above, often described as a poor-man's John Barrymore, both back then and now, you can see why. The comparison usually holds up with his performance on-screen as well.
As forgotten as he is Warren William's resume is quite impressive. He is probably best known by the widest margin of people today for his portrayals of famed detectives–he played Michael Lanyard a.k.a. The Lone Wolf nine times, followed William Powell as Philo Vance and played the part twice, and preceded Raymond Burr's famed TV version of Perry Mason in four films back in the mid-thirties. These are all fun movies, but best enjoyed after viewing some of William's other films which are mentioned more specifically a couple of paragraphs down.
Warren William will live on in film forever for his small role as the Dr. Lloyd in "The Wolfman." Several classic parts are somewhat relegated to history because the films were later successfully remade, but he was the original Dave ‘the Dude’ in "Lady for a Day" (remade in 1961 as “Pocketful of Miracles”) and played Steve Archer in 1934’s “Imitation of Life” (later played by John Gavin opposite Lana Turner). As Ted Shayne in "Satan Met a Lady" he was playing the part originally written by Dashiell Hammett and later billed on film as Sam Spade when played by Bogie in the classic "The Maltese Falcon". He even played Julius Caesar in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 version of "Cleopatra". You can easily find all of those movies in current DVD releases, but what Warren William should be remembered for are a group of roles that have been pretty much forgotten except by the enthusiastic fans of pre-code era films.
The movies I'm talking about can be caught playing on TCM every so often, or you can hunt down what are sometimes quite expensive out-of-print VHS or laser disc releases from the 1990's on eBay, but none have yet to see an official DVD release, which is a shame. I'm referring to the pre-code era films featuring Warren William as what can best be described as a charming heel, perhaps even a villainous hero. He's the heavy, yet at the same time he's often the lead.
These are the parts Warren William played as the fast talking businessman in films such as "Skyscraper Souls" (1932) and "Employees' Entrance" (1933). He's playing the same type, though from more humble beginnings, in 1932's "The Match King", where the film opens with him sweeping up outside of Wrigley Field before he goes on to monopolize the match business, and in "The Mouthpiece" (1932), where he wins a case that sends an innocent man to the electric chair only to have his guilt over that inciting incident somehow propel him into a career as a flamboyant mob lawyer. In "Bedside" (1934) he gambles away money gifted to him for medical school but manages to become a society doctor through his dealings with an ex-doctor turned morphine addict and a slick public relations man who gets his name out to the public–if that one sounds fun, don't worry, there's a lot more than that going on, I can't wait to cover it in more detail here!
Warren William’s roles in these films, more often than not from his home studio of Warner Brothers (with the notable exception of MGM's "Skyscraper Souls"), were shaped by the Depression and each of these movies would play well today in a history class as an introduction to the era. While it’s easy to imagine period movie crowds sympathizing with his cutthroat rise to the top, or equally strong desire to remain there, it’s a credit to William’s charm and talent that his characters still play as the hero when viewed today. Sometimes this is because of the vulnerability his characters show after climbing so high that they must fall, maybe it's just because no matter how bad a guy he is a Warren William character is always hustling to make himself better–or at least better-off. Personally I think it’s just because he plays the parts so damn well, but whatever your take on it you find yourself rooting for the guy every time.
This site is being built purely for fun, and so it may take some time for all of the pieces to come together, but the general idea is for it to mold itself into the home of all things Warren William. There will be a little advertising and surely some affiliate links to help pay the bills, but I'll try not to make them very intrusive and include them largely for the purpose of leading you to more Warren William, either products or information. I’ll also try to set up something on the site to allow you to post your thoughts and memories of Warren William. I’m honestly surprised at myself for trying to build this, as a few years ago I would have never dreamed of becoming such a huge fan of an actor who I’d never heard of and who’s been gone so long–my father was only a year old when Warren William passed away, so that alone should illustrate how distant this talent is from me, yet nothing cheers me up more than if the TV is on and Warren William should pop up on the screen (I guess I have on TCM then, right?). Enjoy!
Another Warren Willliam fan – there are a few of us! Five years ago I saw “The Case of the Lucky Legs,” and was completely entranced by the face, voice and acting of Warren William. I’d never really seen anyone quite like him. I’ve been fortunate to discover some photos of him in antique shops and on eBay (my favorite is Warren reclining in a sail boat, wearing a jaunty knit cap and holding a little terrier in his arms) which are mounted on the wall at home and work. When TCM celebrated his birthday month a few years back, I took the day off work to watch his movies. Thankfully, I’ve since discovered TiVo. And thankfully, I’ve discovered your website!
Carol Tenge says
This man is hollywoods best kept secret. He did so many films so well. Handle any part, comedy,or serious or…….. Employees entrance is a fine example of Warren Williams palette all on one film. Magnetic.
Yes, I think we’re growing in number! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment (btw, if you click the link at the top of the page you’ll see a lot more articles-can’t get the sidebar to stick on this page).
Uh oh, you must be my opposing bidder!
I just watched “The Case of the Lucky Legs” a couple of weeks ago with plans of writing about it, but got sidetracked. May need another viewing now, but it’ll be here eventually!
So Cliff, I have to ask you – did you bid on the autographed Warren William photo? I sadly watched it jump up to $366 in the last few seconds of bidding and just couldn’t compete. In fact, I let out a gasp so loud that my dog rushed over to see what was going on! 😀
When I’m able to scan photos, I’ll send you the one one of him on the boat (steering with his feet) that I have.
Hope you were the successful bidder,
Whew, Deborah, that’s a bit rich for my blood! Good for Warren William though!
I’ve got to be honest, autographs have always scared me, so I won’t pay top dollar for them–I buy everything under the assumption that it’s either forged or ghost-signed. It’s an area of collecting that I’ve never really enjoyed, unless I’ve obtained the signature in person … which in Warren William’s case would obviously be impossible.
If I ever decide to spend over $100 or so on an item like this I’d probably ease my mind by bidding at a major auction house. I know I’d pay a premium, but honestly I can’t see one going for much more than that!
Boy, am I glad I found this site. I love WW. Thank you for this.
Love the site!
It was a great surprise to look up Warren and find his site. Being a fan of pre-code cinema you start getting favorite actors that aren’t on AFI’s lists. I still love Bogie and Carey Grant but suddenly I found myself looking for others leads like Norma Shearer, William Powell, and the like. (not to mention all the great character actors like Guy Kibbee and Edward Everett Horton. But above all I LOVE Warren. I happened to watch Skyscraper Souls and Employee’s Enterance right in a row. It was like a one to punch. Next I found myself searching everywhere for his work. I’m glad others out there are around to keep his work alive.
Tanks again for your work.
Thanks so much, Noirkiss3! Those are the 2 that first hooked me in too, those VHS Forbidden releases with Leonard Maltin’s picture on them.
I’m a fan of everybody you’ve named there.
Thanks for the kind words, hope you enjoy what you find here and maybe happen upon a title you wouldn’t have thought of watching previously.
Alan M Fildes says
So nice to find other Warren William fans, The Lone Wolf series is a joy to watch. I managed to purchase a dvd with all the Lone Wolf films on but sadly the reproduction is very poor. Here in the UK it is very rare for WW films to be aired which is sad. He was so gifted and oozed charm he died the year of my birth, i would have loved to have met him. Thanks AMF. Manchester.
Welcome aboard, Alan, glad you found the site! While updates are on a somewhat irregular basis, they do keep coming, as I’ve got plenty more I want to say, but only so much time to type it out!
Love the Lone Wolf films, and hey, sometimes you got to take what you can get–mine are pretty ugly too. Even with TCM, they don’t air often enough over here, except for the obvious titles which would still be airing with or without WW.
Thanks again, hope you find some interesting notes here!
I recently discovered Warren William myself and was very glad to find your site. Everything you say about William as an actor is true and I agree that his pre-code films deserve to be known today. They hold up extremely well. Like you, I discovered William in SKYSCRAPER SOULS. I was amazed by his great performance (also, by the way, by the even more forgotten Veree Teasdale–their interplay in this movie is fantastic). Later I caught William in THE MIND READER, EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE, THE MATCH KING and others. William’s comic turn in SATAN MET A LADY is near-genius. Can’t wait to see more of him. And can’t wait to explore your site.
David Russell says
Love your site!
I saw a Lone Wolf film on TCM a year or so ago and loved it. I read your comment concerning a dvd with all the Lone Wolf films on it. Can you offer any suggestions as to how I could obtain this dvd?
Thanks for commenting mackjay, glad you found us!
Wow, “near-genius,” so the trend continues–I’m not the only one who likes “Satan Met a Lady”! This movie is despised in critical reviews dating back to its release, I don’t know, it cracks me up.
You’ve seen a lot of my favorites, that’s for sure! That said, I highly recommend “Bedside” if you’ve yet to catch it.
Thanks again, Cliff
Thanks for finding the site!
Sure, there’s no official mainstream DVD release for The Lone Wolf series yet (though there are rumors of one), so you’d have to settle for DVD-R copies like the rest of us for now (basically a collector to collector recording on blank DVD-R’s).
There are a couple of sets from different sellers available on eBay right now (affiliate link), I’d picked up mine sometime back on iOffer.com if you prefer checking there.
Thanks again! Cliff
When I was in high school (in the 70s), I had to draw an “ideal man” for art class. I chose Warren William (a ringer for the Arrow shirt guys of the 20s/30s).
He is debonair, clasically handsome, and appropriatly rakish.
I have been a WW fan since the 60s.
Thanks so much for stopping by and saying hi, ww, I appreciate it! Wow, the 60’s huh–let me ask, was there more appreciation for Warren William then than there is now, or had he already been more or less cast aside? I know some of his films enjoyed popular re-release through the 1950’s, which must have given him the spotlight every so often, but I’m not sure if that practice continued as steadily in the 60’s. Thanks again, Cliff
Across the Canvas says
Though often times his name slips my mind when trying to remember it once I see another of his films on TCM I recall why I so enjoy his films. After watching Lady for a Day again just recently I decided to look up this gifted actor and came across the site. I believe it is wonderful that people take the time to create web sites so those of us like myself can learn more about them. Good job and bravo!
Dr. Monica says
What a lovely website! It’s an inspiration to anybody who takes the time to look at it. I’m a Kay Francis fan who somehow found her way here. I’ve only seen Warren William in DR. MONICA and THE WOLFMAN but he was marvelous in both. In fact, I watched DR. MONICA again last night and – although it’s easily Kay’s film all the way – Mr. William does a great job playing a very-far-less-than admirable character. Now that I’ve seen your site, I have to try to hunt down THE MATCH KING and EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE.
Thanks so much! Dr. Monica is one of the handful with Warren William I’ve yet to see, but that fact that I haven’t watched it yet has directly led me to a newly found appreciation of Kay Francis! I’d had both DM and Living on Velvet waiting to be watched on my DVR when it short-circuited and all movies were wiped out! Since I’d counted these as in my collection, despite not watching yet, I was forced to track them down anew. Doing so I wound up with copies on a couple of discs highlighting Kay Francis movies–well, I’ve watched Living on Velvet, Doctor Monica is up next, but I also found myself sidetracked and thoroughly enjoyed seeing Kay in each Mandalay and especially Confession for the first time! Previously I’d really only appreciated her in Trouble in Paradise and Jewel Thief, but these bonus experiences have added Kay to my must-watch list!
Thanks again, Cliff
Dr. Monica says
After I wrote my first post here, I felt so stupid because I have also seen LIVING ON VELVET. Everyone in it is marvelous.
Finding a site such as yours is such a real pleasure in this age of ours when many people don’t know any Golden Age stars except Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. I love to see such passion for actors whose craft and talent gave us all these wonderful movies. Thank you so much for the lovely comments on the Kay movies. MANDALAY should be in the FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD collection by now but – of course – is not. And CONFESSION is my top favorite Kay Francis film. It’s the one that made me a rabid fan. Oddly enough, I watched it to see Basil Rathbone.
Where can I find THE MATCH KING and EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE?
THE MATCH KING can be had from Vintage Classic Movies. EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE can be had, albeit on VHS, from marketplace sellers on Amazon.
More for Dr. Monica: eBay seller truth3152 has four 4-disc Warren William collections (including EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE and other greats) (as well as a separate 4-disc Kay Francis collection). BUT, he doesn’t offer them on eBay. He does offer Lone Wolf and Perry Mason sets (among other “B” detective series) there, and if you order one of them, you get on his private customers email list. Or, I suppose if you just go to one of his sale pages and click on Ask a Question, he might well accomodate you.
I am a big Warren fan. After seeing Skyscraper Souls and Bedside I was hooked. I Dvr’d this morning the Mind Reader and so far it is classic Warren. He was such a great actor and could portray the good and bad guy equally. I now want to watch Imitation of Life again to see him. I also watched the Match King recently and again he played it so well. Too bad he died so young. He could have gotten bigger in the 1950’s color movies.
It’s only been since I bought a DVD recorder last September that I’ve really come to appreciate just how great Warren William is. Not that I’ve seen anywhere near all of his films, but if he’d done nothing else but The Match King, Employees Entrance, Lady For A Day, and The Mind Reader, that would have been enough. AFAIC when it comes to sound films, it’s more like John Barrymore is the poor man’s Warren William, and not the other way around.
Love Warren William — watching him now in Golddiggers of 1933. Absolutely adore him as Dave the Dude and as d’Artagnan in the Man in the Iron Mask. Wish more of his movies were on DVD. Thanks for this site!
@Kimbutgar Those are some of my favorites you mention, I got hooked on Skyscraper Souls and Employees Entrance myself when I came upon used VHS copies from the Leonard Maltin Forbidden Hollywood collection. The hunt’s been on ever since!
@TCMjunky “more like John Barrymore is the poor man’s Warren William” in talkies, I love it!
@ImaBigFan Me too! Hadn’t seen 42nd Street in awhile and once that ended and Ginger started singing in pig latin I just had to hang around. Amazing that it’s 45 minutes before he and Guy Kibbee are even on screen in Gold Diggers!
Thanks to all for taking the time to comment and special thanks to @Jeffers, who’s great at pointing us all to video sources!
Oh, @noirkiss3, did you receive my email re: The Widow from Monte Carlo?
Thanks all, Cliff
Note to all Warren William fans.
On the morning of June 8 /9 (the 8th on the Turner schedule, but the 9th on your calendar), TCM is playing four of the Warren William Lone Wolf films:
1:00 AM The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt
2:15 AM The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady
Thanks for posting, just spotted that yesterday myself (think that June schedule link has been making the rounds) and will definitely put up a reminder post as we get closer.
Reviewing Warren’s Perry Mason films right now, but expect to start the Lone Wolf’s, one by one and in order, sometime in May.
Thanks again, Cliff
Ted Beisel says
My grandmother, Elizabeth Krech Lyon was Warren William’s younger sister. My mother and her two sisters called him uncle woogie. I throughly enjoy your site and want to pas along the following news. A bio of Warren William titled”The Forgotten Prince of Precode Hollywood” will be released in the Fall of 2010. It is authored by John Stangeland. Happy reading.
Yours truly, Ted
Thanks so much for finding us and taking the time to leave a comment!
Yes, I’ve been in communication with Mr. Stangeland and am thrilled to report that he’s going to do a couple of things on this site in the coming months … and don’t worry, I’ll be promoting the heck out of his book in this space once we get closer to the release date!
The biography is so overdue, I can’t wait! I started this site because there was barely any info about Warren William on the web three or so years ago when I launched it, now it’s nice to know that the even more glaring void on our bookshelves will soon be corrected as well!
Thanks again, Ted, for taking the time to stop by–if you ever have anything you want to post on the site about your great-uncle please feel free to contact me at [email protected] and we’ll get it online for you. After all, no amount of research on my part would uncover “Uncle Woogie,” thanks for that 🙂
Best regards, Cliff
Alan M Fildes says
Great news re the Bio, please keep us posted we hear very little re WW on this side of the pond. It would make my day to read about the life of my favourite actor.
Randy Skretvedt says
Hello, Cliff–I too am a big fan of Warren William. I live in Orange County, California, and for 14 years have helped program the weekly Friday Film Forum at the Long Beach School for Adults. This summer we’ll be doing our third annual Pre-Code festival, which will include three WW films:
July 30: Employee’s Entrance (along with another Warners Pre-Code, “Merry Wives of Reno”)
August 20: Double Feature: Upperworld / Bedside
We have an excellent DVD projection and sound system, so it looks just like 35mm film. Should anyone want more information, please e-mail me at [email protected] — our screenings are at 7:00 p.m., at the Long Beach School for Adults, 3701 E. Willow Street (just east of Redondo), in Long Beach.
All the best–
Hi Randy, that sounds great! Wish I wasn’t all the way on the other coast, wow, Bedside on the big screen, I’d love it! If you have a site to promote the event feel free to post it. Would love to hear how it goes too!
Rob Ray says
Count me in as another Warren William fan. I was just a lad in the 60s and to answer your question from several posts back, stars such as Mr. William were generally only remembered by old-time film buffs back then. Even above-the-title megastars such as Norma Shearer were all but forgotten until video and, most especially, TCM, gave their careers new life. In the 60s and 70s where I lived anyway, only high-profile titles like The Gold Diggers of 1933 got regular exposure. All the one-hour programmers of the Doctor Monica mode were gathering dust in the vaults and nobody under 40 knew these people.
TCM and home video certainly changed that! There was a golden era in the 1990s when you could walk into any mainstream video store and see the likes of Harlow, Shearer and even Warren William staring at you from the shelves.
Warren William and Kay Francis are two of my favorite precode stars. I probably first took real notice of Warren William at a screening of Doctor Monica at the 1992 Cinecon. Before that, I just knew him from as one of the ensemble cast members of the Berkeley epics. When Employee’s Entrance and Skyscraper Souls came out on laserdisc around the same time, I was hooked. I sought out more precodes on TCM and now I have a fairly full storage binder of DVDs starring Warren William. Ditto Kay Francis. Mandalay, Jewel Robbery, Trouble in Paradise, One Way Passage and Confession are my favorites of hers.
And another name to add to the list is Ann Dvorak. Catch a little film called “Heat Lightning” the next time TCM runs it. It features the Warners Stock Company with no above-the-titles stars. Those are always a lot of fun!
Thanks for sharing some great memories, Rob, really appreciate it! Those are the two Warren William films that drew me in, from the Leonard Maltin collection of pre-code films released on VHS.
Have definitely been getting more into Kay Francis lately and you basically ran down all of my favorites with her! Love Ann Dvorak, especially, of course, in Three on a Match.
I just watched Warner Archive Collection’s brand new release of “Goodbye Again,” the last WW Pre-code that I hadn’t seen. It’s a bit talky, being based on a stage play, but it’s very funny and WW really shines in it, particularly during the last ten minutes. Essential for we WW fans! https://www.wbshop.com/collections/warner-archive-new-releases/products/goodbye-again-1933-mod
Cliff Aliperti says
It definitely screams stage play, but I agree, it’s funny. Besides my usual dose of Warren William it has the benefit of some great support too–besides Blondell, Tobin, Wallace Ford, I always love a little Helen Chandler!
Leonard Street says
Warren William, my favorite actor. I like every movie that he was in, tho some of the stories where so-so, but he made them entertaining.