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!