American actor Warren Mercer Oates was born this day July 5, 1928.
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 first met Peckinpah when he played a variety of guest roles on The Rifleman (1958–1963), a popular television series created by the director. He also played a supporting role in Peckinpah's short-lived series The Westerner in 1960. The collaboration continued as he worked on Peckinpah's early films Ride the High Country (1962) and Major Dundee (1965).
In the episode "Subterranean City" (October 14, 1958) of the syndicated Rescue 8, Oates played a gang member, Pete, who is the nephew of series character Skip Johnson (Lang Jeffries).
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... 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).
Warren's role as "Officer Sam Wood" is spectacular as he plays a peeping-tom officer and possible killer in the critically acclaimed film.
Oates was cast in Roger Donaldson's 1977 New Zealand film Sleeping Dogs together with New Zealand actor Sam Neill. 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. 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. 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 the 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.
Monte Hellman's film Iguana ends with the titles "For Warren" as a dedication.
Oates also portrayed John Dillinger in the biopic Dillinger (1973) and Sergeant Hulka in the comedy Stripes (1981).
1904 - Milburn Stone (actor: Gunsmoke, Arrowhead, The Sun Shines Bright, Atomic City, Branded, Heading for Heaven; died June 12, 1980)
1928 - Katherine Helmond (actress: Soap, The House of Blue Leaves, Who’s the Boss, Brazil, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman)
1928 - Warren Oates (actor: Dillinger, Wild Bunch, In the Heat of the Night, Stripes, The Blue and the Gray, Prime Time, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Rawhide; stunt tester: Beat the Clock; died Apr 3, 1982)
1936 - Shirley Knight (actress: Dark at the Top of the Stairs, The Group, 21 Hours at Munich, Sweet Bird of Youth, Color of Night)
1968 - Jillian Armenante (actress: Judging Amy, The Seven Mysteries of Life, Delivered, Girl, Interrupted)