Warren Mercer Oates (July 5, 1928 – April 3, 1982) was an American actor 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). Another of his most acclaimed performances was as officer Sam Wood in In the Heat of the Night (1967). Oates starred in numerous films during the early 1970s that have since achieved cult status, such as The Hired Hand (1971), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and Race with the Devil (1975). Oates also portrayed John Dillinger in the biopic Dillinger (1973) and as the supporting character U.S. Army Sergeant Hulka in the military comedy Stripes (1981). Another notable appearance was in the classic New Zealand film Sleeping Dogs (1977), in which he played the commander of the American forces in the country.
Oates in 1963
Warren Mercer Oates
July 5, 1928
Depoy, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||April 3, 1982 (aged 53)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Teddy Louise Farmer
(m. 1959; div. 1966)
(m. 1969; div. 1974)
Judy A. Jones
Warren Oates was born and reared in Depoy, a tiny rural community in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, located just a few miles west of Greenville, the county seat. According to the federal census of 1940, he was the younger of two sons born to Sarah Alice (née Mercer) and Bayless Earle Oates, who owned a general store. His brother, Gordon, was five years his senior. On his father's side, Warren was of English, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. He attended Louisville Male High School in Louisville, Kentucky, until 1945, but did not graduate from that institution. He did, however, later earn a high-school equivalency diploma. After high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for two years (1946-1948), serving in its air wing as an aircraft mechanic and reaching the rank of corporal. Oates became interested in theater while attending the University of Louisville, where in 1953, he starred in several plays produced by the school's Little Theater Company. Four years later, in New York City, he got an opportunity to star in a live production of the television series Studio One.
Oates moved to Los Angeles, where in the 1950s he began to establish himself in guest roles in weekly television Westerns, including Wagon Train, Tombstone Territory, Buckskin, Rawhide, Trackdown, Tate, The Rebel, Wanted Dead or Alive, The Virginian, Have Gun – Will Travel, Lawman, The Big Valley, Bat Masterson and Gunsmoke. Oates first met Peckinpah when he played a variety of guest roles in The Rifleman (1958–1963), a popular television series sometimes directed by Peckinpah. He also played a supporting role in Peckinpah's short-lived series The Westerner in 1960. The collaboration continued as he worked in Peckinpah's early films Ride the High Country (1962) and Major Dundee (1965).
"There were 40 [Western] series, and I went from one to the other. I started out playing the third bad guy on a horse and worked my way up to the No. 1 bad guy," Oates once quipped.
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 the story line, rescuers Johnson and Wes Cameron (Jim Davis) search for a lost girl in the sewer tunnels and encounter three criminals hiding out underground. Pete soon breaks with his gang companions and joins the firemen Wes and Skip in locating the missing child.
In 1961, Oates guest-starred in the episode "Artie Moon" in NBC's The Lawless Years crime drama about the 1920s. In 1962, he appeared as Ves Painter in the short-lived ABC series Stoney Burke, co-starring Jack Lord, a program about rodeo contestants.
Oates also played in a number of guest roles on The Twilight Zone (in "The Purple Testament" and "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms", in which he costarred with Randy Boone and Ron Foster), The Outer Limits ("The Mutant" ), Combat! ("The Pillbox" ) and Lost in Space ("Welcome Stranger" ). During the 1960s and 1970s, he guest-starred on such shows as Twelve O'Clock High ("The Hotshot" ), Lancer, and The Virginian.
In addition to Peckinpah, Oates worked with several major 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... (1970); John Milius in Dillinger (1973); Terrence Malick in Badlands (1973); Philip Kaufman in The White Dawn (1974); William Friedkin in The Brink's Job (1978); and Steven Spielberg in 1941 (1979).
He appeared in the Sherman Brothers musical version of Tom Sawyer (1973), as Muff Potter, the town drunk. He also starred in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), Return of the Seven (1966), The Shooting (filmed in 1965, released in 1968), The Split (1968), The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), Cockfighter (1974), Drum (1976), and China 9, Liberty 37 (1978), and played the title role in a 1971 crime drama, Chandler. 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).
While making a guest appearance on a segment of the Western television series Dundee and the Culhane, Oates managed to steal the show with his off-camera antics and bloopers that had everyone on the set rolling. After a long day of filming, he headed over and set his footprints in concrete along with all the other stars who appeared at Apacheland Movie Ranch. It was during this time that In the Heat of the Night was a blockbuster summer movie. Oates played Officer Sam Wood, a peeping-tom policeman and possible killer in the critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning film.
Oates was cast in Roger Donaldson's 1977 New Zealand film Sleeping Dogs together with New Zealand actor Sam Neill. A political thriller with action film elements, Sleeping Dogs follows the lead character "Smith" (Neill) as New Zealand plunges into a police state, as a fascist government institutes martial law after industrial disputes flare into violence. Smith gets caught between the special police and a growing resistance movement and reluctantly becomes involved. 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. In the 1969 Western classic The Wild Bunch, he portrayed Lyle Gorch, a long-time outlaw who chooses to die with his friends during the film's violent conclusion. 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. "He had done Return of the Seven in Mexico; he got hepatitis, plus dysentery, but off he went again with Sam [Peckinpah]. He loved going on location. He loved the adventure of it. He had great admiration for Sam. Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman were the two directors with whom Warren would work anytime, anywhere." In Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, the dark 1974 action/tragedy also filmed in Mexico, Oates played the lead role of Bennie, a hard-drinking, down-on-his-luck musician and bartender hoping to make a final score. The character was reportedly based on Peckinpah. 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. Film critic Leonard Maltin remarked that Oates' performance in this film was as good as any he had 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, Sgt. 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.
In 1981, Oates also co-starred as a fanatical Southern preacher-turned-Confederate officer in The Blue and the Gray, a CBS TV miniseries that aired in November 1982. His last two films were not released until 1983: Blue Thunder and Tough Enough, both filmed in late 1981. Both films are dedicated to him, along with Monte Hellman's 1988 film Iguana, which ends with the titles "For Warren".
Oates was ill with influenza in the weeks before his death. On April 3, 1982, at the age of 53, he died of a heart attack while taking an afternoon nap at his home in Los Angeles. The fatal attack occurred after Oates had experienced chest pains and shortness of breath earlier that day. An autopsy determined that he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. After his funeral, in accordance with Oates' wishes, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at his ranch in Montana.
Today, the actor has a dedicated cult following because of his memorable performances in not only Peckinpah's films, but also in Monte Hellman's independent works, his films with Peter Fonda, and in a number of B movies from the 1970s. His occasionally crude façade, likeable persona, and uncommon presence are admired by such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater. During a screening of Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, Linklater introduced the film and announced 16 reasons why viewers should love the 1971 movie. The sixth was: "Because there was once a god who walked the Earth named Warren Oates."
Oates was the subject of a 2009 biography, Warren Oates: A Wild Life, written by Susan Compo.
|1959||Up Periscope||Seaman Kovacs||Uncredited|
|1960||The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond||Eddie Diamond|
|1962||Ride the High Country||Henry Hammond|
|Hero's Island||Wayte Giddens|
|1964||Mail Order Bride||Jace|
|1965||The Rounders||Harley Williams||Also played uncredited cowboy|
|Major Dundee||O.W. Hadley|
|1966||The Shooting||Willett Gashade|
|Return of the Seven||Colbee|
|1967||Welcome to Hard Times||Leo Jenks|
|In the Heat of the Night||Sam Wood|
|1968||The Split||Marty Gough|
|Something for a Lonely Man||Angus Duren||Television film|
|Crooks and Coronets||Marty Miller|
|The Wild Bunch||Lyle Gorch|
|1970||The Movie Murderer||Alfred Fisher||Television film|
|Barquero||Jake (Jacob) Remy, Gang Leader|
|There Was a Crooked Man...||Floyd Moon|
|The Hired Hand||Arch Harris|
|The Reluctant Heroes of Hill 656||Cpl. Leroy Sprague||Television film|
|1972||A Job for Mr. Banks||Mr. Elwood Colby Banks||Nominated Saturn Award for Best Actor|
|1973||The Thief Who Came to Dinner||Dave Reilly|
|Tom Sawyer||Muff Potter|
|Kid Blue||Reese Ford|
|Dillinger||John Dillinger||Saturn Award for Best Actor|
|1974||The White Dawn||Billy|
|Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia||Bennie|
|1975||Rancho Deluxe||Harmonica player in bar||Uncredited|
|Race with the Devil||Frank Stewart|
|92 in the Shade||Nichol Dance|
|1977||American Raspberry||Celebrity Sportsman|
|The African Queen||Capt. Charlie Allnut||Television film|
|Sleeping Dogs||Col. Willoughby|
|1978||True Grit: A Further Adventure||Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn||Television film|
|China 9, Liberty 37||Matthew Sebanek||Italian-Spanish 1978 western film directed by Monte Hellman|
|The Brink's Job||Specs O'Keefe|
|1979||And Baby Makes Six||Michael Kramer||Television film|
|My Old Man||Frank Butler||Television film|
|1941||Colonel "Madman" Maddox|
|1980||Baby Comes Home||Michael Kramer||Television film|
|1983||Blue Thunder||Captain Jack Braddock||Released posthumously, filmed in 1981|
|Tough Enough||James Neese||Released posthumously, filmed in 1981|
- The United States Steel Hour (1956, one episode, "Operation Three R's") as Private Lear
- The Big Story (1956, one episode, "Reunion") as Danny (as an adult)
- Kraft Television Theatre (1957, one episode, "Gun at a Fair One") as Milkman
- Westinghouse Studio One (1956–1958, three episodes, including "The Night America Trembled") as 2nd Card Player
- Gunsmoke (1958–1967, 10 episodes) as Al Tresh/Chris Kelly/Deke Bassop/Speeler/Lafe/Tate Crocker/Sweet Billy Cathcart/ Jep Galloway/Jed Hakes/Seth Pickett
- Wanted Dead Or Alive (1958–1961, four episodes) as Jesse Cox/Billy Clegg/George Aswell/Clem Robinson. Note: wrongly credited as "Warren Oats" as Jesse Cox in "Die by the Gun," Season 1, Episode 14, first aired 12/6/1958.
- Rescue 8 (1958, one episode, "Subterranean City") as Pete
- The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1958, one episode, "The Epidemic") as Deke
- Playhouse 90 (1958, one episode, "Seven Against The Wall") as Ted Ryan
- Black Saddle (1958, one episode, "Client: Steele") as Deputy Simms
- Tombstone Territory (1958–1960, three episodes) as Joe Clinton/Bob Pickett/Vic Reel
- Have Gun – Will Travel (1958,1960, two episodes) as John Bosworth/Harrison
- Buckskin (1959, one episode, "Charlie, My Boy") as Charlie
- The Rough Riders (1959, one episode, "The Rifle") as Frank Day
- Trackdown (1959, three episodes) as Lute Borden/Kelly Hooker/Deputy Norvil
- Wagon Train (1959, one episode, "The Martha Barham Story") as Private Silas Carpenter
- The Rebel (1959, one episode, "School Days") as Troy Armbruster
- Bat Masterson (1959,1961, two episodes) as Sonny Parsons/Cat Crail
- Hotel de Paree (1960, one episode, "Hard Luck for Sundance") as Charlie Aiken
- Bronco (1960, one episode, "Every Man a Hero") as Private Hurd Maple
- Rawhide (1960–1965, 4 episodes) as Marco/Charlie "Rabbit" Waters/Weed/Jesse Gufler
- Johnny Ringo (1960, one episode, "Single Debt"), as Burt Scanlon
- Tate (1960, one episode, "Before Sunup) as Cowpoke
- Wrangler (1960, one episode, "Affair at the Trading Post") as Shep Martin
- Outlaws (1960, one episode, "Thirty a Month") as Bill Hooton
- The Westerner (1960, one episode, "Jeff") as Drunk
- Lawman (1960, one episode, "The Second Son") as Al May
- Hawaiian Eye (1960, one episode, "The Contenders") as Al
- Michael Shayne (1960, one episode, "Murder 'Round My Wrist") as Frank Hobbes
- The Case of the Dangerous Robin (1960, one episode, "Baubles and Bullets")
- Target: The Corruptors! (1961–1962, 2 episodes, "Mr. Megalomania" and "Journey into Mourning")
- Laramie (1961, one episode, "Two for the Gallows") as Pete Dixson
- Stagecoach West (1961, three episodes) as Billy Joe, Trooper Haig, and Tom Lochlin
- The Lawless Years (1961, one episode, "Artie Moon") as Charlie Brown
- The Dick Powell Show (1961, one episode, "Somebody's Waiting") as Bruno
- The Rifleman (1958–1962, four episodes) in "The Day of Reckoning" as Willie Breen, "The Marshall" as Andrew Sheltin "Bloodlines" as Jed Malakie, and "The Prodigal" as Santos
- Thriller (1960–62, episodes 13 & 57) "Knock Three-One-Two" & "The Hollow Watcher"
- 77 Sunset Strip (1960,1962, two episodes) as Dink Strahman and Orville
- Bonanza (1962, one episode "The Mountain Girl")
- The Untouchables (1962, one episode, "Pressure") as Artie Krebs
- Stoney Burke (1962–1963, 11 episodes) as Ves Painter (Oates' only regular role on a television series)
- The Twilight Zone (1963, two episodes) in "The Purple Testament" and "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms"
- The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (1963, one episode, "The Day of the First Suitor") as Eldon Bishop
- The Virginian (1963–1966, 4 episodes) as Corbie/Roy Judd/Bowers/Buxton
- Combat! (1964, one episode) as Soldier Stark in "The Pillbox"
- The Outer Limits (1964, one episode) as Reese Fowler in "The Mutant"
- The Fugitive (1964, two episodes) in "Devil's Carnival" as Hanes McClure and "Rat in a Corner" as Herbie Grant
- The Reporter (1964, one episode, "No Comment") as Mickroe
- Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (1965, one episode) in "The War and Eric Kurtz" as Joe Grover
- Branded (1965, one episode) in "Judge Not" as Pierce/Frank
- A Man Called Shenandoah (1965, one episode) in "The Fort" as Sergeant Ryder
- Slattery's People (1965, two episodes) as Eugene Henson and Stu Burns
- Twelve O'Clock High (1965) as Lt. Col. Troper
- Lost in Space (1965, one episode) "Welcome Stranger" as Jimmy Hapgood
- The Big Valley (1965–1966, two episodes) as Korby Kyles/Duke
- The Monroes (1966, one episode) as Nick Beresford
- Shane (1966, one episode) as Kemp Spicer
- Dundee and the Culhane (1967, one episode) as Lafe Doolin
- The Iron Horse (1967, one episode) as Hode Avery
- Cimarron Strip (1967, two episodes) as Mobeetie
- Run for Your Life (1968, one episode) as Deputy Potter
- Disneyland (1968, two episodes) as John Blythe
- Lancer (1969–1970, two episodes) as Sheriff Val Crawford and Drago
- The F.B.I. (1971, one episode) as Richie Billings
- The Name of the Game (1971, one episode) as John Lew Weatherford
- Black Beauty (1978) as Jerry Barker
- Police Story (1978, one episode) as Richey Neptune
- Insight (1979, one episode)
- East of Eden (1981, miniseries) as Cyrus Trask
- The Blue and the Gray (1982, miniseries) as Major "Preacher" Welles (released posthumously)
- Tales of the Unexpected (1985, one episode) as Harry (filmed in 1981; released posthumously; final role)
- Kentuckian Warren Oates Got His Big Break in 1954
- Jesse Oates, retrieved July 27, 2019
- "Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940". Depoy, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, April 4, 1940. Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce, Washington, DC. Digital copy of original enumeration page available on Family Search, a genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved July 19, 2017.
- Obituaries, Warren Oates. The New York Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- "Tedstrong, Warren Oates". tedstrong.com. 2002. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
- "Actor Warren Oates Dies", Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, April 5, 1982, p. 8
- "Subterranean City, Rescue 8, October 14, 1958". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 321. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
- Compo, Susan Warren Oates: A Wild Life (2010) p. 396
- Compo, Susan Warren Oates: A Wild Life (2010) p. 401
- Compo, Susan A. Warren Oates: A Wild Life. University Press of Kentucky, 2009, ISBN 0-8131-2536-7
- "The Films of Monte Hellman". Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- "Monte Hellman: In His Own Words". Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2007.