November 4th, 1908 — January 8th, 1975
Swarthy and bushy-eyebrowed, with a husky voice, Anthony Warde both looked and sounded the part of the stereotypical movie gangster to perfection, and was almost repeatedly cast as such during the course of his movie career. Most of Warde’s roles in features were small bits; he was given considerably more scope in his serials, where he created some extremely convincing thuggish heavies. Warde’s villains (almost always henchmen) seemed to combine smug self-satisfaction with surly ill-temper; they would meet success with gleeful chortles and opposition with sardonic snarls, and never showed much respect to anyone, even higher-ranking villains. These unashamed sociopaths were unpleasant by any objective standard, but, as played by Warde, they were great fun to watch.
Anthony Warde was born Benjamin Schwartz in Philadelphia, but grew up in Danbury, Connecticut. He joined the Navy before finishing high school, and returned to Connecticut after his discharge. In the early 1930s, he moved to California with his ailing father, hoping to improve the latter’s health; this move failed to have its hoped-for effect on the elder Schwartz (who passed away not long after going West), but the younger Schwartz remained in California, and embarked on an acting career under the stage name of Anthony Warde. During the ensuing years of the 1930s, Warde studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, and quickly began appearing in theatrical productions for both the Playhouse and the Federal Theater Project. It was a 1937 Project presentation of the play Blind Alley that brought Warde to the attention of Hollywood’s film producers; though he’d played a wide variety of roles (many of them comic) on stage, his Alley part was that of a gangster–and he thus found himself typecast as soon as he started making movies, despite having acquired a reputation as a talented and versatile actor during his stage years. His first screen part was a small role (as a gangster) in the 1937 Republic B-movie Escape by Night; another of his earliest film appearances came in the Universal serial Tim Tyler’s Luck (also 1937).
Tim Tyler was one of Universal’s best serials, a jungle adventure starring Frankie Thomas as an adventurous youth in the African jungles, doing battle with a gang of diamond thieves and ivory poachers led by “Spider” Webb (Norman Willis). Warde played Webb’s lieutenant, Garry Drake, a tough, sneering, and ultimately rebellious henchman, who tried to double-cross Spider in the penultimate chapter after a falling-out between the two villains, but was gunned down by his former colleagues. Willis’ strong performance as Webb commanded the most villainous attention in Tyler, but Warde’s performance was notably nasty as well, particularly in his crankily suspicious interchanges with heroine Frances Robinson when the latter was posing as a crook, and in his equally bad-tempered interchanges with his fellow villains. He also got to be congenial and even somewhat suave in the first chapter, when his character was posing as a respectable citizen aboard a jungle riverboat; this was the first and last time that one of Warde’s serial characters would display so much subtlety.
After playing heavies in a few more Republic B-crime films, Warde returned to Universal for a second serial role in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938); his part here was much smaller than in Tyler. As Turan, king of the semi-barbaric Forest People and a secret ally of Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton), he only appeared sporadically throughout the chapterplay, snarling in ferocious fashion at his followers and at “invaders” of his forest realm.
Following a string of appearances in yet more B-crime films for Republic and RKO, Warde took a third turn in a Universal chapterplay. Buck Rogers (Universal, 1939), featured him in the first and only true brains heavy role of his serial career—as the “super-gangster” Killer Kane, ruler of Earth in the 25th Century, who was opposed by holdouts in the “Hidden City.” Warde’s character never left his headquarters, delegating all active missions against the Hidden City’s champion Buster Crabbe to underlings; however, he was memorably threatening in Kane’s once-a-chapter appearances—reacting to failure by his minions with menacing sarcasm or harsh ranting, imperiously sending prisoners to the “robot room” to be turned into mindless slaves, and generally behaving in a self-indulgent, overbearing, almost brutish manner.
Throughout the 1940s, Warde would play the same type of roles he had played during the tail end of the thirties: bits, minor heavy roles, and occasional featured parts in B-crime movies from various studios, a few bits in A-films, and large roles in serials. His first forties serial, however, gave him only a one-chapter part; as Lefty Brent, a hoodlum in The Green Archer (Columbia, 1940), Warde took part in one villainous assignment, quarreled bitterly with his jewel-thief boss (James Craven), and was then nailed by one of the arrows of a “Green Archer” in Craven’s service. Warde thus missed any participation in the comic antics that proliferated in Green Archer (courtesy of its idiosyncratic director James W. Horne)—although his next serial, The Spider Returns (Columbia, 1941), would place him right in the center of Horne’s peculiar brand of serial action. As Trigger, the harried chief henchman of a masked criminal called the Gargoyle, Warde played his role very broadly–shouting, snarling, and fretting in positively cartoonish fashion, and even donning a paper hat and joining his fellow thugs in a “wild party” in one chapter. I can’t help but wonder if Warde, given his background in stage comedy, might not have enjoyed this chance to parody his typical movie roles.
Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (1941), was Warde’s first Republic serial; here, he played Corey, the number-one henchman of a masked criminal called the Ghost—but, since the Ghost and his mad-scientist partner Lucifer (John Davidson) took an active part in most of the villains’ operations, Warde was less of a true action heavy and more of a background accomplice to his two bosses. His best (or worst) moment in Crime Inc. came when he turned off the oxygen tent of a hospitalized victim with obvious and appalling delight.
King of the Mounties (Republic, 1942), again featured Warde as a leading henchman—a Canadian thug named Stark in the pay of enemy saboteurs. Here, he received far more good opportunities to be villainous than in Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc.–slugging hero Allan Lane with vicious vigor, grinning evilly as he set oil-fields ablaze, and snarling angrily when thwarted. Although he was billed far down in the credits, he and his co-henchman Bradley Page handled almost all of the active evildoing in the serial, on behalf of three top Axis agents who never took the field themselves.
Batman (Columbia, 1943) cast Warde as Stone, another Axis agent, who figured as a background henchman until dying in a fall from a railroad bridge in Chapter Four. Secret Service in Darkest Africa (Republic, 1943), featured him more briefly but more noticeably as Relzah, the treacherous servant of a North Africa sheik, who murdered his master on the orders of Nazi agents; Warde managed to get hero Rod Cameron accused of the crime, but the truth was discovered and Warde was gunned down by the dead sheik’s son.
The Masked Marvel (Republic, 1943), in which Warde was cast as filming began, a last-minute replacement for another actor, gave him the best-remembered part of his serial career. As Killer Mace, a smug and callous gangster working for Japanese spy Sakima (Johnny Arthur), Warde did all the villainous heavy lifting himself, executing one outrage against American war defenses after another while his boss remained undercover in a basement hideout. Masked Marvel was an amazingly action-packed chapterplay that remains very popular with fans, despite the unevenness of its cast; the best performances in the serial came from Arthur, heroine Louise Currie–and from Warde, whose harsh-voiced threats, cynical jeers, and crafty facial expressions stole many of the serial’s scenes.
The Phantom (Columbia, 1943), featured Warde in one chapter as Karak, the lieutenant of Tartar chieftain Dick Curtis; he only appeared briefly before being murdered by treacherous followers (his death was then blamed on hero Tom Tyler). The Great Alaskan Mystery (1944), Warde’s first Universal serial since Buck Rogers, gave him a much meatier role as Brandon, leader of a band of North Woods criminals working for Nazi agents. Although he did not appear untill Chapter Three, Warde functioned as the serial’s action heavy from that point on, snarling sardonic dialogue at the heroine, viciously pummeling an underling who fell down on the job, and otherwise doing all the things that serial fans had come to expect from him by now–although his character here took a more active part in villainous planning and came off as an altogether cooler customer than in many of his previous serials.
The Mystery of the Riverboat (Universal, 1944) cast Warde as Bruno Bloch, a subordinate member of a gang of crooked speculators trying to acquire oil-rich Louisiana bayou land through underhanded means. Warde was as nasty as ever in Riverboat (particularly when viciously slugging the hero over the head, in hopes of causing a bus crash), but his role here was largely a background one, due to Riverboat’s enormous cast; he had to be satisfied with what little screen time was left over by the time the serial’s multiple protagonists and numerous superior villains had taken their turns on stage. Brenda Starr, Reporter (Columbia, 1945), a singularly dull crime story, featured him a little more prominently as Muller, one of several henchmen of a gang boss in pursuit of a satchel of stolen money–although he had comparatively little dialogue, being mostly restricted to serving as scowling backup for higher-ranking henchman Jack Ingram. His most memorable moment of villainy in Brenda came in Chapter Ten, when he ruthlessly plugged a female medium who was about to squeal on Ingram; the ensuing police chase led to a rooftop fight that in turn led to Warde’s accidental shooting by one of his cohorts, and thus to his exit from the serial.
Warde’s next serial, the severely underwritten The Monster and the Ape (also Columbia, 1945), was not much more interesting than Brenda Starr; as Joe Flint, one of the followers of mad scientist George Macready, Warde had almost nothing to do in the way of distinctive villainy (most of which was handled by the titular ape), and delivered perhaps the most subdued performance of his serial career. The Purple Monster Strikes (Republic, 1945), featured Warde in one chapter as a phony blind beggar named Tony, who acted as an agent for a gang led by Martian invader Roy Barcroft; as part of his masquerade, he was briefly allowed to affect a meek and passive manner very different from his usual one.
Hop Harrigan (Columbia, 1946), like Warde’s two previous Columbia serials, was an overlong and weakly-written outing; most of its virtue came from its supporting cast, including Warde as a henchman pack member named Edwards, who, along with his various colleagues, obeyed the orders of a villain called the Chief Pilot and repeatedly harassed eccentric scientist John Merton. Like Monster and the Ape, Harrigan gave its heavies few opportunities to do anything really distinctively villainous, and—again as in Ape—Warde’s performance lacked the verve of most of his earlier henchman turns.
King of the Forest Rangers (Republic, 1946), gave Warde his meatiest heavy role since Great Alaskan Mystery. As an indefatigable villain named Burt Spear, the henchman of a crooked archeologist (Stuart Hamblen), he tried everything from mere intimidation to murder in order to drive rural landowners off property that concealed valuable mineral deposits. Forest Rangers was a fast-moving serial with good action but a weak brains heavy in the person of Hamblen; Warde’s sneering, smirking performance (the strongest in the serial) brought much-needed energy to the villains’ plotting scenes, as well as to his character’s repeated confrontations with low-key leading man Larry Thompson.
The Mysterious Mr. M (Universal, 1946), gave Warde a very small but noteworthy single-chapter role as a scientist named Martin Brandon–noteworthy because his character, for the first and only time in his serial career, was not villainous or even antagonistic; he dropped his usual snarling voice and delivered his lines in polished and gentlemanly fashion instead, but was unfortunately killed off a few minutes after his first appearance, getting gunned down by the thugs who came to steal one of his inventions.
The Black Widow (Republic, 1947), featured Warde as the action heavy—this time a character actually named Ward (first name, Nick). One of the best of Republic’s post-war serials, Widow had a clever script that balanced humor with genuine serial excitement, and Warde’s role allowed him to deliver some truly amusing dialogue without compromising himself as a menace—unlike his earlier comedic heavy turn in Spider Returns. As thuggish as ever when threatening the good guys, he was also very funny when chuckling over the hero’s mystery novels or annoying his boss Carol Forman with his coarse belligerence.
Dangers of the Canadian Mounted (Republic, 1948), which drew frequently on stock footage from King of the Mounties but managed to be entertaining in its own right, cast Warde (dressed in a facsimile of his King of the Mounties outfit) as Mort Fowler—the lieutenant of a mysterious “chief” trying to stop highway construction along the Alaska-Canada border long enough to probe the secret of a nearby wrecked Mongol treasure ship from the days of Genghis Khan. Since the “chief’s” orders were relayed second-hand throughout the serial (the mastermind not being revealed until the last chapter), Warde was the only prominent heavy in Dangers and held villainous center stage throughout–aggressively pestering captive scientist I. Stanford Jolley to unravel the secret of the treasure ship, chucking hand grenades out of his car window with an amazingly complacent air, and otherwise making good use of the biggest share of screen time he would ever have in a serial.
Congo Bill (Columbia, 1948) featured Warde as Rogan, the lieutenant of ruthless gold-smuggler Andre Bocar (Leonard Penn); this serial featured such a huge collection of rival villains–Penn, shady barkeeper Charles King, corrupt circus owner I. Stanford Jolley, and witch doctor Frank Lackteen–that Warde had comparatively little dialogue and spent most of his screen time merely serving as a background thug. However, he still got some good moments of individualized villainy–among them a scene in which he mowed down a native in cold blood and sneeringly self-justified himself afterwards, and another scene in which he aggressively threatened to “drill” King’s “fat hide.”
Warde’s final serial role came in Radar Patrol vs. Spy King (Republic, 1949); as Ricco Morgan, henchman of “spy king” John Merton, he made repeated sabotage attempts on a chain of US radar stations along the Mexican border. Although Warde was outranked here by both Merton and Merton’s female accomplice Eve Whitney, he still was allowed plenty of opportunities to snarl, sneer, and swagger in his customary fashion. In the last chapter, his character’s over-eager attempt to gleefully push the hero out of a plane not only got him killed but also doomed the other heavies—an appropriate end to Warde’s career of overbearing serial villainy.
In 1948, Warde had opened a men’s clothing store in his home neighborhood, the California suburb La Canada; also in the late 1940s, he joined several Hollywood friends (including Dana Andrews and Victor Jory) in reviving a West Coast repertory company known as Eighteen Actors (which they had first founded in 1940, only to have it derailed by World War Two after a season’s worth of performances). Store business and stage work thus began to cut into Warde’s film-acting time during the 1950s, although he still appeared fairly frequently on the big and small screen during that decade–particularly on the small screen; though he played some bits in feature films during the earlier years of the 1950s, he became almost exclusively a TV actor from 1954 on, appearing in familiar heavy roles on some mystery and adventure series (The Thin Man, Adventures of Jim Bowie), but concentrating largely on comedic parts, on programs like The Abbott and Costello Show, Topper and—most frequently–The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Warde kept appearing on TV into the early 1960s, as well as occasionally playing roles in features; his last screen appearance came in the 1964 film The Carpetbaggers, in which he played a loan shark. Warde continued to run his clothing store up until the early 1970s; he was still living in La Canada when he passed away in 1975.
Anthony Warde made no secret of the fact that he regarded his screen career as a stock B-movie heavy as a complete disappointment; Hollywood never gave him the opportunity to display the versatility that had won him the regard of his peers in his stage-acting days. In the eyes of serial fans, however, his career was far from disappointing; his performances as chapterplay action heavies continue to be treasured by cliffhanger buffs to this day. Despite the disdain Warde felt for such one-dimensional roles, and his irritation with the Hollywood typecasting system, he gave characters such as Killer Mace or Mort Fowler all the benefit of his acting skill, and delivered some of the most vivid portrayals of thugs and gangsters ever seen on the serial screen.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Gregory Jackson’s interview with Anthony Warde from the second issue of Serial World in 1974–which is to date is the only detailed source of information on Warde’s career. My thanks also to Job Seberov and to his uncle, relatives of Warde’s who provided me with useful information (see the comments below for Mr. Seberov’s own words). Finally, an especially big thanks to Warde’s son Robert Warde, whose detailed comment (again, see below–it’s eminently worth reading) gave me the most comprehensive and accurate account yet of Anthony Warde’s life and career