Warren Oates

Warren Oates


Birth Place
Depoy, Kentucky, USA
July 05, 1928
April 03, 1982


Warren Oates (1928-1982) was an earthy, plain-spoken character actor who specialized in somewhat grubby roles, progressing to leads but still seeming more like that offbeat, unshaven guy who lurks on the sidelines. Film historian David Thomson wrote of Oates that ?You can smell whiskey and sweat on him? He has a face like prison bread, with eyes that have known too much solitary confinem...

Photos & Videos

Private Property - Scene Stills
Private Property - Movie Poster


Warren Oates (1928-1982) was an earthy, plain-spoken character actor who specialized in somewhat grubby roles, progressing to leads but still seeming more like that offbeat, unshaven guy who lurks on the sidelines. Film historian David Thomson wrote of Oates that ?You can smell whiskey and sweat on him? He has a face like prison bread, with eyes that have known too much solitary confinement.?

Such evocative writing, along with Tom Thurman?s appreciatory 1993 documentary Warren Oates: Across the Border, have helped establish Oates as a cult figure. This unassuming yet riveting actor is especially remembered for a series of films he made for Sam Peckinpah ? although he worked with on-the-edge directors throughout his career. Oates was born in Depoy, Ky., and attended high school in Louisville before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked in university and community theater before heading to New York and then Los Angeles to find work on television. He seemed especially at home in TV Westerns and acted for many of them including Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Lawman and Have Gun ? Will Travel. Oates first met Peckinpah when he was cast in guest roles in two series created by the director, The Rifleman (1958-63) and The Westerner (1960).

Oates made his feature-film debut in the James Garner Navy adventure Up Periscope (1959), in an uncredited bit as a sailor who?s always hungry. He earned his first credit as ?Corporal? in the Clint Walker Western Yellowstone Kelly (1959), and played the sickly brother of Ray Danton as the real-life gambler in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). His first Peckinpah feature was Ride the High Country (1962), playing the loutish brother of villain James Drury in this much-celebrated Western starring Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott.

Oates had roles in two Westerns directed by Burt Kennedy, Mail Order Bride (1964) starring Buddy Ebsen and Welcome to Hard Times (1967) starring Henry Fonda. 1967 was also the year of Norman Jewison?s Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, with Oates as a police officer who becomes a suspect in the murder case that?s central to the plot.

Peckinpah?s The Wild Bunch (1969) was a seminal Western, arousing admiration with its stylistic innovations and controversy with its violent action. The story revolved around a gang of aging outlaws struggling to survive by any means, with Oates playing a character called Lyle Gorch and getting fifth billing after William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan and Edmond O?Brien.

Three Oates films from the 1970s are TCM premieres as of August 2015. There Was a Crooked Man (1970), the only Western directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, has Kirk Douglas and Oates as prison inmates, with Henry Fonda as their warden. Oates received star billing with Ryan O?Neal and Jacqueline Bisset in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), playing an insurance investigator on the trail of jewel thief O?Neal. Peckinpah?s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), with Oates given top billing as a man on a bizarre mission to ransom the head of a corpse, was not considered a success in its day but has since achieved cult status.

In the meantime Oates played the title roles in two high-profile films. In Dillinger (1973) for director John Milius, he turns in a subtle and believable performance as the notorious bank robber. For that film, he received a Saturn award as Best Actor. In the neo-noir film Chandler (1971) Oates plays a private eye hired by the government to protect a Frenchwoman who is an important witness. In one of the more unlikely couplings in film history, Leslie Caron stars opposite Oates as the woman on the run.

Oates made three films with his good friend Peter Fonda: The Hired Hand (1971), Race with the Devil (1975) and 92 in the Shade (1975). These movies, along with Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), all helped in building his reputation as a cult figure. Critic Leonard Maltin felt that Oates gave such an outstanding performance in Two-Lane Blacktop that he should have won an Oscar. In Terrence Malick?s highly praised Badlands (1973), Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play a violent young couple, with Oates as the girl?s father, who becomes a catalyst in the pair?s killing spree.

Oates reportedly enjoyed the chance to sing (although he was later dubbed) as Muff Potter, the town drunk, in a musical version of Tom Sawyer (1973). Oates, who also remained active in television movies and series, had a big box-office hit in the military comedy Stripes (1981), playing straight man as a drill sergeant to Bill Murray?s comic recruit. He supports Jack Nicholson in Tony Richardson?s The Border (1982), with Nicholson as a disillusioned Texas border crossing guard and Oates the chief of his unit.

Oates died in his sleep at age 53. His final two films, Blue Thunder and Tough Enough, were released posthumously in 1983 and dedicated to him. He was married three times and had three children.

Life Events

Photo Collections

Private Property - Scene Stills
Private Property - Scene Stills
Private Property - Movie Poster
Private Property - Movie Poster


Movie Clip

Wild Bunch, The (1969) -- (Movie Clip) Shall We Gather At The River Part of Sam Peckinpah's preposterous opening, in which the prayer meeting enters the incipient shootout, Crazy Lee (Bo Hopkins) abuses hostages, and rivals Thornton (Robert Ryan) and Pike (William Holden) miss shots at each other, in The Wild Bunch, 1969.
Wild Bunch, The (1969) -- (Movie Clip) He Was After The Girl We’ve just met the grossly corrupt federal general Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) who’s taken over the Mexican home village of Angel (Jaime Sanchez) where Pike, Dutch, Sykes and the gang (William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O’Brien, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates) are hiding when Teresa (Sonia Amelio), his former fianceè appears, sparking more trouble, with Fernando Wagner as the German agent, in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, 1969.
Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, The (1960) -- (Movie Clip) He Didn't Use His Head Pacey and crisp opening from director Budd Boetticher, introducing Ray Danton in his signature performance in the title role, Warren Oates his tagalong brother, Karen Steele a fascinated dance instructor, in the loose bio-pic The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, 1960.
Wild Bunch, The (1969) -- (Movie Clip) Plain And Fancy They After the bank job, still in military disguise, the Gorch's (Warren Oates, Ben Johnson) tangle with Pike (William Holden) and Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and bad news about the loot sends Sykes (Edmond O'Brien) into a rant, in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, 1969.
Split, The (1968) -- (Movie Clip) I'll Blow Your Face Off After staging real-world encounters with Ernest Borgnine, Jack Klugman, Donald Sutherland and Warren Oates (as Klinger, Kifka, Negli and Gough) planner Gladys (Julie Harris) explains why heist-man McClain (Jim Brown) has brought them together, in The Split, 1968, also starring Gene Hackman.
Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, The (1960) -- (Movie Clip) Do You Actually Have A Sick Brother? Leaving a movie, Alice (Karen Steele) has no idea Jack (Ray Danton) is using her as an alibi for a robbery, and to absolve himself, he introduces brother Eddie (Warren Oates), in The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond, 1960, directed by Budd Boetticher.
In The Heat Of The Night (1967) -- (Movie Clip) What Does That Make Him? Visiting Philadelphia detective Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) pressed into service, has just finished speaking with the murder victim's widow (Lee Grant), and is skeptical when Mississippi sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) et al bring in suspect Harvey (Scott Clark), in In The Heat Of The Night, 1967.
Private Property (1960) -- (Movie Clip) You Don't Breed A Bird With A Snake Having demonstrated now that they're criminals, Duke and Boots (Corey Allen, Warren Oates) pounce on the first customer at the gas station (Jerome Cowan as salesman Ed), then the next, Kate Manx, wife of the writer-director Leslie Stevens, as stylish and disoriented Ann, early in Private Property, 1960.
Private Property (1960) -- (Movie Clip) Tell Me About Yourself, Son Creepy Duke and Boots (Corey Allen, Warren Oates) have occupied the vacant Beverly Hills house next door to their stalking target Ann (Kate Manx, who lived there, with her husband, writer-director Leslie Stevens), as her frustration with her husband (Robert Wark) is revealed, in Private Property, 1960.
Private Property (1960) -- (Movie Clip) How Far To The Sunset Strip? Credits for the restoration, and stark verging on artsy opening from writer-director Leslie Stevens, Corey Allen and Warren Oates as drifters Duke and Boots, guerrilla-style shooting on the Pacific Coast Highway, the gas station man is un-credited, in the semi-cult drama Private Property, 1960.
In The Heat Of The Night (1967) -- (Movie Clip) Bow Legged Polly People forget that Warren Oates as deputy Wood carries the first several sequences, cruising the fictional town of Sparta, Mississippi, to an original tune on the radio, by Quincy Jones and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, sung by Glen Campbell, opening In The Heat Of The Night, 1967.
In The Heat Of The Night (1967) -- (Movie Clip) I'll Pay For The Call Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), hauled in as a murder suspect, reveals his identity to Mississippi Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger), who summons deputy Wood (Warren Oates), early in Norman Jewison's In The Heat Of The Night, 1967.


Return Of The Seven (1966) -- Theatrical Trailer Yul Brynner does return as Chris and Robert Fuller pretends to be Steve McQueen (“Vin”) but the others are all recruited anew, with more Elmer Bernstein music and a variation on the plot, Burt Kennedy directing in John Sturges’ stead, in the first sequel (to The Magnificent Seven, 1960), from the Mirisch company and United Artists, shot Spaghetti-Western style in Spain, Return Of The Seven, 1966.
China 9 Liberty 37 (1978) -- (Original Trailer) Just about R-rated, promoting more sex than most Westerns from any era, the trailer for maverick director Monte Hellman’s sort-of comeback feature, the Spanish-Italian co-production, China 9 Liberty 37, 1978, with Warren Oates, Jenny Agutter and Fabio Testi, featuring Sam Peckinpah.
There Was A Crooked Man (1970) -- Original Trailer The bulky trailer for the ambitious Kirk Douglas comic Western by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, co-written by the Bonnie And Clyde team, David Newman and Robert Benton, with Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn and Burgess Meredith, There Was A Crooked Man, 1970.
Up Periscope - (Original Trailer) U.S. frogman James Garner infiltrates a Japanese-held island during World War II in Up Periscope (1959).
Split, The - (Original Trailer) Jim Brown heads an all-star cast in The Split (1968), about a heist planned during an L.A. Rams game.
Wild Bunch, The - (Original Trailer) A group of aging cowboys look for one last score in a corrupt border town in director Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).
In The Heat Of The Night - (Original Trailer) A black police detective from the North forces a bigoted Southern sheriff to accept his help with a murder investigation In The Heat Of The Night (1967).
Major Dundee - (Original Trailer) A Union officer (Charlton Heston) leads Confederate prisoners against Apaches in Mexico in Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965).
Badlands - (Original Trailer) Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play lovers on a cross-country killing spree in Badlands (1973) directed by Terrence Malick.
Ride the High Country - (Original Trailer) Two aging gunslingers (Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea) sign on to transport gold from a remote mining town in Ride the High Country (1962).
1941 - (Original Trailer) Panic sweeps Hollywood when a Japanese invasion is suspected in Steven Spielberg's gigantic farce 1941 (1979).