Saturday, July 22, 2006

Jack Warden R.I.P.

Character actor Jack Warden died Wednesday at age 85 in a New York hospital. He was best known for playing gruff characters, whether they were cops or coaches.

Jack Warden was born John H. Lebzelter on September 18, 1920 in Newark, New Jersey. He was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Warden worked various jobs as a young man. He worked as a professional boxer, a bouncer, and a tugboat deckhand. Eventually he joined the Navy in 1938. Following the Navy he was part of the Merchant Marine, but left it to serve in the Army. It was following World War II that he took up acting.

Warden made his screen debut in 1951 in an uncredited part in You're in the Navy Now. He would go onto have several more roles in motion pictures. He appeared in 12 Angry Men, Run Silent, Run Deep, Shampoo, All the President's Men, and Used Cars. His best known movie role was perhaps in 1978's Heaven Can Wait (a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan). He was twice nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, once for his role in Shampoo and once for his role in Heaven Can Wait.

Warden also appeared on stage. He made his debut on Broadway in the play Golden Boy in 1952. He also appeared in A View from the Bridge (1955), The Man in the Glass Booth (1969), and Stages (1978).

Despite his work on film and stage, it was perhaps from television that Warden was best known. He made his debut on television on The Philco Teleivison Playhouse in 1948. He was a regular on numerous series, including Mr. Peepers (on which he was the coach), Norby, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, The Asphalt Jungle, N.Y.P.D., Jigsaw John, and Crazy Like a Fox (on the last two series he had the lead role). He guest starred on an incredible number of TV series over the years, including Studio One, Climax, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Route 66, Bewitched, The Fugitive, and Ink. Warden was nominated twice for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on Crazy Like a Fox. He had earlier won the Emmy in 1972 for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Drama for his role in the TV movie Brian's Song.

I must admit that I always liked Jack Warden. Like most people I was first exposed to him through his many guest appearances on television. I also remember watching Jigsaw John (a rather well done, but short lived police mystery series). Of course, later I would get to see his roles in various movies, such as Shampoo and All the President's Men. When it came to playing either comedy or drama, Warden was flexible. He was convincing in a drama as Washington Post editor Harry M. Rosenfeld in All the President's Men, yet at the same time he could do equally as well with comedy as twins and rival car dealers Luke Fuchs and Roy L. Fuchs in Used Cars (which remains one of the funniest movies I've ever seen). I think there is little doubt that Jack Warden was one of the greatest character actors of his time, certainly no one played gruff characters quite as well as him. He will certainly be missed.

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