Warren William — Just to Oblige (1935) 🇺🇸
The furthest thought from Warren William was one day to be an actor. But because he so thoroughly looked the part, his friends and family urged him to try the stage, and it was only because of their insistence that he enrolled at a dramatic school.
by Mark Dowling
He looks like an actor in the grand old tradition, but he hasn’t a trace of temperament on the surface, and while other actors may rant and rave, he goes through his lines with all the ardor of a well-trained machine. He could be one of Hollywood’s most popular figures, but he’d rather be off sailing his boat, the Pegasus, down along the Mexican coast.
He handled strong masculine roles as in “The Match King” and “The Mouthpiece” with a skill which put him close to the top of the Hollywood pile, and then accepted without struggle a series of weak parts which made him a mere foil for women stars — the sort of thing that nearly ruined Clark Gable. Only recently, since his playing of Julius Caesar in Cleopatra and his role in “Imitation of Life,” has Hollywood been asking, “What’s the secret behind Warren William?”
For beneath a startling number of contradictions hides a personality which has baffled the movie town for nearly four years. The answer, never revealed before, is one of life’s major ironies — the man never wanted to be an actor at all! He never felt the burning desire to stand on a stage in front of an audience, which had all the other stars, in their salad days, saving pennies for that trip to Broadway or Hollywood. He looked so much like the popular conception of a grease-paint hero that his friends and even members of his own family insisted that he become one. And Warren William, well-bred son of a well-to-do father, simply followed the line of least resistance!
“I was perfectly willing to try their suggestions,” he says now. “especially after finding out that to be an engineer, as I really wanted, I’d have to be excellent at mathematics — and I’ve always hated mathematics. This same thing kept me from going to West Point, another of my early ambitions”.
“So when my sister Pauline kept after me to go on the stage. I thought I might as well try it. I’ve always loved tinkering around in a tool shop and I rather fancied myself as an amateur inventor, but I realized this would never turn into a particularly well-paying profession.”
So this amazingly obliging young fellow, whose real name is Krech and whose profile is handsome and hawklike, came to New York to study acting, as he would have studied any other trade, at a dramatic school. He spent two years at this and then joined a stock company.
“I still didn’t care much what I did, but I thought I might as well keep on acting as lung as I’d spent the two years learning how,” he admits casually. “I never suffered any particularly grilling hardships and I never had much struggle. The months in stock weren’t pleasant, but I guess the beginnings of any professional career have difficulties.”
He went the rounds of the New York managers, who were more impressed by his looks than by his graduation certificate from the acting school, and except for two years spent in the War, he has risen slowly and surely, without making any terrific sacrifices.
And he didn’t rely on his profile alone to get ahead. He comes of a long line of hard-working ancestors, and he worked to perfect himself at his profession with methodical pains. He has none of the facility of the born actor; he can’t turn himself inside out for a part, for publicity, or for the curiosity of his public.
So, many of the breaks of his career, amazingly, have come because of his appearance. Rachel Crothers chose him for an important role in “Expressing Willie” because he looked the part. Hollywood producers made a great fuss over him when he first arrived on the Coast, calling him a second John Barrymore and hoping he’d keep his profile turned to the cameras.
He was considerably annoyed at this comparison, and you can imagine him also considerably amazed at the Hollywood merry-go-round. He flatly refused to go to premieres or other public gatherings, and he spent most of his time on the docks at San Pedro or Wilmington looking at the boats. Sailing has been his hobby for years, real seamanship in ocean-worthy boats — with real men who take him at his true value, and not, like the studios, at his face value.
He dislikes quarrels, whereas most actors love them, and will accept almost any sort of part rather than squabble with the studio. “I just can’t be bothered,” he says. This obliging altitude amazes other stars who know that if you don’t demand the right sort of roles the producers have a way of handing you the wrong ones.
His only open rebellion so far came with his assignment in “Doctor Monica,” the Kay Francis picture in which he played an erring husband. “I just can’t understand how that man’s mind is supposed to work,” he told his wife with some bewilderment when they were discussing the character.
His disgust took the form of simply walking through the picture without especially trying, and fans who have wondered at his strange, stiff gestures in this part can understand now that they have seen Warren William in revolt.
Roles of this type have ruined many a star’s career, but William’s profile keeps coming to his rescue. When DeMille was hunting for a man to play Caesar he realized suddenly that right in Hollywood was a player whose features might have been stamped on an old Roman coin. Warren got the part, a Hollywood plum, and the critics raved about his performance.
Now he promises that he will really try to convince the studio that he deserves a break, but his friends are afraid that when the crucial moment comes, he’ll decide, as usual, that fighting is just too much trouble.
Except for his appearance, he might have been quite happily settled in some saner occupation, for his tastes and his amusements are thoroughly unactorish. He hates gossip, and won’t even criticize fellow actors for their screen performances; he loves classical music, and loathes jazz; he despises the radio and only turns it on, in the morning, to hear the news. Dickens is his favorite author above all others, and he reads regularly the Nation.
He lives in most unstarlike fashion with the same wife he married twelve years ago, a small attractive blonde whose wit and determination have done much to help him reach the top. And even though they have just bought a new home with a swimming pool and a tennis court, it is neither in fashionable Beverly Hills nor Pasadena, but off the beaten track some miles from the studios.
This is the real Warren William, playing with his four wire-haired terriers or sailing his boat, and the ladies who are led by his dashing profile to expect brilliant small-talk, compliments, and even hand-kissing, will find instead a rather phlegmatic fellow whose best remark is, “Won’t you have another glass of beer?”
The critics were so impressed by his performance in “Cleopatra,” that Warren William hopes the studio will continue to give him such worthy roles.
Source: Picture Play, February 1935