Saturday, July 22, 2006

An Actor of Class and Character

Although crime-fiction fans might not recognize his name right off the bat, most would certainly identify the distinctive voice and mug of veteran actor Jack Warden, who died on Wednesday of natural causes at a New York hospital. He was 85 years old.

Warden’s film career spanned five decades, beginning with a role in 1951’s The Man With My Face and followed quickly by a three-year stint on the TV sitcom Mr. Peepers. His first memorable role, however, came in 1957 when he played a salesman who was anxious for a quick decision in a murder case, in the film 12 Angry Men.

The Washington Post brought a personal note to its own coverage of Warden’s death. The actor had played a Post editor in 1976’s All the President’s Men, the film version of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book about their breaking of the Watergate scandal.
Harry M. Rosenfeld, the Post metropolitan editor played by Mr. Warden, recalled last night how the actor “sat in my office” in the newsroom, watching him at work as part of his preparation. ...

While in Washington, Rosenfeld said, Mr. Warden made friends quickly and beat the editor badly at tennis. He said news of the death left him “deeply saddened.”
Over the course of his long career, Warden had roles in over 100 movies, including including From Here to Eternity (1953), The Thin Red Line (1964), Shampoo (1975), The Verdict (1982), Heaven Can Wait (1978), The Presidio (1988), While You Were Sleeping (1995), Bulworth (1998), and The Replacements (2000).

POSTSCRIPT FROM J. KINGSTON PIERCE: Despite all the prominent film roles Jack Warden had, probably my fondest memories of this actor come from a pair of TV crime series in which he starred. The first was 1976’s short-lived Jigsaw John, a Carroll O’Connor production in which Warden acted the part of Los Angeles Police Department special investigator John St. John (“called Jigsaw because of his methodical way of piecing together clues,” recalls Richard Meyers in TV Detectives). Introduced in a 1975 teleflick called They Only Come Out at Night, St. John was supposed to be famous for his crime-solving acumen, but audiences didn’t find his escapades quite as awe-inspiring as the crooks he put behind bars; Jigsaw John was cancelled after 25 weeks. Warden, though, came back to series television a decade later in Crazy Like a Fox (1984-1986). Here, he played a seat-of-his-pants, almost-anything-goes, adventure-loving San Francisco private eye named Harrison “Harry” Fox Sr., who was always looking for legal help and free legwork from his son, the far more conservative attorney Harrison Fox Jr. (John Rubinstein). The pairing of these two characters was absolutely terrific, even if the plots of their comedy-drama series tended toward the outrageous at times. All Harrison Jr. wanted, it seemed, was to put food on the table for his wife and young son, while Harry was all about the thrill of the chase and the clever con that would expose a criminal--and inevitably cause his son to cringe before his white-shoe lawyer buddies. For his Crazy Like a Fox work, Warden was twice nominated for Emmys in the category of Leading Actor in a Comedy Series. He should’ve won.

READ MORE:Jack Warden, 85; Prolific Film, TV Actor,” by Valerie J. Nelson (Los Angeles Times); “Jack Warden,” by Ed Gorman (Mystery*File).

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