Warren Oates

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Warren Oates
BornWarren Mercer Oates
(1928-07-05)July 5, 1928
Depoy, Kentucky, USA
DiedApril 3, 1982(1982-04-03) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Years active1956–1982
SpouseJudy A. Jones (1977–1982; his death)
Vickery Turner (1969–1974; divorced)
Teddy Farmer (1959–1966; divorced)
 
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Warren Oates
BornWarren Mercer Oates
(1928-07-05)July 5, 1928
Depoy, Kentucky, USA
DiedApril 3, 1982(1982-04-03) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Years active1956–1982
SpouseJudy A. Jones (1977–1982; his death)
Vickery Turner (1969–1974; divorced)
Teddy Farmer (1959–1966; divorced)

Warren Mercer Oates (July 5, 1928 – April 3, 1982) was an American actor best known for his performances in several films directed by Sam Peckinpah including The Wild Bunch (1969) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). He starred in numerous films during the early 1970s which have since achieved cult status including The Hired Hand (1971), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Race with the Devil (1975). Oates also portrayed John Dillinger in the biopic Dillinger (1973) and Sergeant Hulka in the comedy Stripes (1981).

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Early life

Oates was born and raised in Depoy, Kentucky, a tiny rural community west of Greenville in Muhlenberg County. He was the son of Sarah Alice (née Mercer) and Bayless Earle Oates, who owned a general store.[1][2] He attended high school in Louisville, became interested in theater at the University of Louisville and starred in several plays there in 1953 for the Little Theater Company. He got an opportunity in New York City to star in a live production of the television series Studio One in 1957.[3]

Career

The actor migrated to Los Angeles where he began to carve out a niche playing guest roles in Western television programs of the period including Wagon Train, Tombstone Territory, Rawhide,Trackdown, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Have Gun-Will Travel, The Big Valley and Gunsmoke. Oates first met Peckinpah when he played a variety of guest roles on The Rifleman (1958–1963), the popular television series created by the director. He also played a supporting role in Peckinpah's short-lived TV series The Westerner in 1960.[4] The collaboration continued as he worked on Peckinpah's early films Ride the High Country (1962) and Major Dundee (1965).

In 1961, he guest starred in the episode "Artie Moon" in NBC's The Lawless Years crime drama about the 1920s. In 1962, he appeared as "Ves Painter" in the short-lived ABC series Stoney Burke, co-starring Jack Lord, a program about rodeo contestants. Oates also portrayed a number of memorable characters in guest roles on the enduringly popular television series The Twilight Zone ("The Purple Testament" 1960, "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms" 1963, with co-stars Randy Boone and Ron Foster), The Outer Limits ("The Mutant" 1964), and Lost in Space ("Welcome Stranger" 1965). During the 1960s and 1970s, he guest-starred on such shows as Twelve O'Clock High, Lancer, and The Virginian.

In addition to Peckinpah, Oates worked with several major film directors of his era including Leslie Stevens in the 1960 film Private Property, his first starring role; Norman Jewison in In the Heat of the Night (1967); Joseph L. Mankiewicz in There Was a Crooked Man... (1970); John Milius in Dillinger (1973); Terrence Malick in Badlands (1973); Philip Kaufman in The White Dawn (1974); William Friedkin in The Brink's Job (1978); and Steven Spielberg in 1941 (1979).

He appeared in the Sherman Brothers musical version of Tom Sawyer as "Muff Potter", the town drunk. He also starred in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), Return of the Seven (1966), The Shooting (filmed in 1965, released in 1968), The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), Cockfighter (1974), Drum (1976) and China 9, Liberty 37 (1978). Oates co-starred three times with friend Peter Fonda in The Hired Hand (1971), Race with the Devil (1975) and 92 in the Shade (1975).

Oates was cast in Roger Donaldson's 1977 New Zealand film Sleeping Dogs together with New Zealand actor Sam Neill. A political thriller with action film elements, Sleeping Dogs follows the lead character "Smith" (Neill) as New Zealand plunges into a police state, as a fascist government institutes martial law after industrial disputes flare into violence. Smith gets caught between the special police and a growing resistance movement and reluctantly becomes involved. Oates plays the role of "Willoughby", commander of the American forces stationed in New Zealand and working with the New Zealand fascist government to find and subdue "rebels" (the resistance movement).

His partnership with Peckinpah resulted in two of his most famous film roles. In the 1969 Western classic The Wild Bunch, he portrayed Lyle Gorch, a long-time outlaw who chooses to die with his friends during the film's violent conclusion. According to his wife at the time, Teddy, Oates had the choice of starring in Support Your Local Sheriff, to be filmed in Los Angeles, or The Wild Bunch in Mexico. "He had done Return of the Seven in Mexico; he got hepatitis, plus dysentery. But off he went again with Sam (Peckinpah). He loved going on location. He loved the adventure of it. He had great admiration for Sam. Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman were the two directors Warren would work with anytime anywhere."[5] In Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, the dark 1974 action/tragedy also filmed in Mexico, Oates played the lead role of Bennie, a hard-drinking down-on-his-luck musician hoping to make a final score. The character was reportedly based on Peckinpah himself. For authenticity, Oates wore the director's sunglasses while filming scenes of the production.

Although the Peckinpah film roles are his best-known, his most critically acclaimed role is GTO in Monte Hellman's 1971 cult classic Two-Lane Blacktop. The film, although a failure at the box-office, is studied in film schools as a treasure of the 1970s, in large part due to Oates' heartbreaking portrayal of GTO. Famed film critic Leonard Maltin remarked that Oates' performance in this film was as good as any he'd seen and should have won the Oscar.

A year before his death, Oates co-starred with Bill Murray in the 1981 military comedy Stripes. In the role of drill sergeant Sergeant Hulka, Oates skillfully played the straight man to Murray's comedic character. The film was a huge financial success, earning $85 million at the box office. In 1982, he co-starred opposite Jack Nicholson in director Tony Richardson's The Border.

Death

Oates died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California on April 3, 1982. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at his ranch in Montana.[6]

In 1981, nearly one year before his death, he had co-starred in the TV mini-series The Blue and the Gray, which aired in November 1982. His last two films, filmed back-to-back in the year before his death, Blue Thunder and Tough Enough (both released in 1983), were posthumously dedicated to him. Monte Hellman's film Iguana ends with the titles "For Warren" as a dedication.

Legacy

Today, the actor has a dedicated cult following due to his memorable performances in not only Peckinpah's films, but Monte Hellman's independent works, his films with Peter Fonda and a number of B-movies from the 1970s.[7][8] His occasionally crude facade, likeable persona and uncommon presence are admired by such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater. During a recent screening of Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, Linklater introduced the film and announced 16 reasons why viewers should love the 1971 movie. His sixth reason was "Because there was once a god who walked the Earth named Warren Oates."[3]

The documentary film Warren Oates: Across the Border was produced by Tom Thurman in 1993 in tribute to the actor's career.

Oates was again recognized in March 2009 with the first-ever biography of his colorful life. Featuring interviews with the late actor's former wives, children, and friends, Warren Oates: A Wild Life, was written by Susan Compo. It has received much acclaim from fans and critics alike.[9]

Filmography

Films

YearTitleRoleNotes
1959Up PeriscopeSeaman KovacsFilm Debut
Uncredited
Yellowstone KellyCorporalFirst Credited Role
1960The Rise and Fall of Legs DiamondEddie Diamond
Private PropertyBoots
1962Guns in the AfternoonHenry Hammond
Hero's IslandWayte Giddens
1964West of MontanaJace
1965The RoundersHarley WilliamsAlso played uncredited cowboy
Major DundeeO.W. Haldey
1966Return of the SevenColbee
1967Killer on a HorseLeo Jenks
In the Heat of the NightSam Wood
1968The ShootingWillett Gashade
The SplitMarty Gough
Something for a Lonely ManAngus DurenTelevision Movie
1969Lanton MillsShort
Smith!Walter Charlie
Crooks and CoronetsMarty Miller
The Wild BunchLyle Gorch
1970The Movie MurdererAlfred FisherTelevision Movie
BarqueroJake (Jacob) Remy, Gang Leader
There Was a Crooked Man...Floyd Moon
1971Two-Lane BlacktopG.T.O.
The Hired HandArch Harris
The Reluctant Heroes of Hill 656Cpl. Leroy SpragueTelevision Movie
ChandlerChandler
1972A Job for Mr. BanksMr. Elwood Colby BanksNominated Saturn Award for Best Actor
1973The Thief Who Came to DinnerDave
Tom SawyerMuff Potter
DillingerJohn DillingerSaturn Award for Best Actor
Kid BlueReese Ford
BadlandsFather
1974The White DawnBilly
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo GarciaBennie
CockfighterFrank Mansfield
1975Rancho DeluxeHamonica played in barUncredited
Race with the DevilFrank Stewart
92 in the ShadeNichol Dance
1976Dixie DynamiteMack
DrumHammond Maxwell
1977American RasberryCelebrity Sportsman
The African QueenCapt. Charlie AllnutTelevision Movie
Sleeping DogsCol. Willoughby
1978True Grit: A Further AdventureReuben J. "Rooster" CogburnTelevision Movie
Amore, piombo e furoreMatthew Sebanek
The Brink's JobSpecs O'Keefe
1979And Baby Makes SixMichael KramerTelevision Movie
My Old ManFrank ButlerTelevision Movie
1941Colonel "Madman" MaddoxNominated BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1980Baby Comes HomeMichael KramerTelevision Movie
1981StripesSgt. Hulka
1982The BorderRed
1983Blue ThunderCaptain Jack BraddockReleased Posthumously
Tough EnoughJames NeeseReleased Posthumously

Television

References

  1. ^ Kentuckian Warren Oates Got His Big Break in 1954
  2. ^ http://www.oatesfamily.com/PHOTO_ALBUM/Jesse%20Oates/Jesse%20Oates.htm
  3. ^ a b "Tedstrong, Warren Oates". tedstrong.com. 2002. http://www.tedstrong.com/warrenoates.shtml. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  4. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  5. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 321. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  6. ^ Compo, Susan A. Warren Oates: A Wild Life. University of Kentucky Press, 2009, ISBN 0-8131-2536-7
  7. ^ "The Films of Monte Hellman". http://www.mondo-digital.com/twolane.html. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  8. ^ "Monte Hellman: In His Own Words". http://www.impossiblefunky.com/archives/issue_7/7_hellman.asp?IshNum=7&Headline=Interview%3A%20Monte%20Hellman. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  9. ^ Warren Oates - A Wild Life: A Conversation With Biographer Susan Compo

External links