Robert Warwick, Broadway and Silent Film Star Turns Talkie Character Actor

The popular character actor Robert Warwick was born October 9, 1878 in Sacramento, CA.

I have no doubt you've seen Mr. Warwick, time and again, as he worked on screen in well over 200 films besides his many later appearances on television.

You probably know him best from something like this:

Joel McCrea Robert Warwick Porter Hall

"But with a little sex in it," suggests Robert Warwick, middle, in Sullivan's Travels (1941) starring Joel McCrea. McCrea is left of Warwick, fellow producer Porter Hall at the right.

Robert Warwick appeared in over 160 feature films from 1931-1959 alone. Sometimes only a scene, sometimes a slightly larger supporting role, but the tall actor was best known for his rich voice and distinctive profile--he had a rather large nose.

Besides Sullivan's Travels (1941), as shown up above, Warwick was a regular for Preston Sturges for whom he appeared in The Palm Beach Story (1942) and also handled small bits in several of his other films as well. Warwick was also memorable as Susan Hayward's father in Rene Clair's I Married a Witch (1942). He appeared in many films for Warner Brothers including several Paul Muni features: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Juarez (1939); and many of Errol Flynn's best remembered titles: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Sea Hawk (1940), and Adventures of Don Juan (1948).

The list goes on and on. No fan of 1930s and 40s movies can help but bump into Robert Warwick. Often.

Susan Hayward and Robert Warwick

Warwick with Susan Hayward in I Married a Witch (1942)

Yet this all came after the better part of his career was behind him.

After all, when the headlines announced "Bob Warwick Back in Films" in 1930, Warwick was already 48 years old. He was past 50 for all of those classics named above and well into his 60s for some of them. He continued working into his 80s having told columnist Sheila Graham in 1960 that "I get at least one TV engagement a month."

Born Robert Taylor Bien in Sacramento, CA, October 9, 1878. It was while studying music in Paris that the young opera singer met and married first wife, Arline Peck, whose father was a Chicago millionaire then overseas as Commissioner to the Paris Exposition. Miss Peck's parents objected to the marriage and time would prove them right.

Robert Warwick 1910s Kromo Gravure Trading CardBien changed his name to Robert Warwick when he became an opera singer and it's said that he was to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House, but his voice gave out. Instead he took to a variety of dramatic and musical comedy roles which led to his Broadway debut in late 1903. That show, Glad of It, also included the much more heralded debut of John Barrymore. Warwick was a regular on Broadway over the next 25 years, only slowing down for film stardom and the First World War.

The young star soon drifted from his wife as he toured the country on his own, eventually making the acquaintance of a Mrs. George Whittell, Jr. Mrs. Whittell had formerly been known on the stage as Josephine Cunningham, an Anna Held chorus girl (most references state an early Floradora Girl; see comments) who had found her own millionaire in Mr. Whittell.

Warwick did not contest his divorce from Arline, who charged desertion, and their marriage came to an end in October 1909. Arline was awarded alimony of $3,000 per year and custody of their daughter, Rosalind, then 6. Warwick and the former Mrs. Whittell were married by the spring of 1910.

From Moving Picture World, Volume 21, page 1792About this time Robert Warwick was appearing in several of William A. Brady's shows on Broadway and so it was natural that Warwick would make his film debut late in 1914 for Brady's new production company releasing films through World Pictures. The film was The Dollar Mark, and as you can see it garnered some first class ballyhoo!

The electronic display was 60 feet wide and 35 feet high with the letters of Warwick's name standing 9 feet high. The electronic flashing sign was in front of the New York Theater at Forty-fifth Street and Broadway in September 1914.

After starring in a second Brady film, political drama The Man of the Hour (1914), Warwick signed a two-year contract with World Film, who agreed to "pay Mr. Warwick the largest salary ever paid to a stage star for his spare time" ("Robert Warwick Signs"). Warwick was allowed to continue performing for Brady on Broadway where he was then leading man for Frances Starr.

Robert Warwick 1910s Kinema Theater Advertisement Card

The first two Warwick films were great successes for World and he next starred in the screen's first adaptation of Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915), probably his best known silent film effort today. It was directed by Maurice Tourneur. Other Warwick early films included The Stolen Voice (1915), Friday the 13th (1916), The Heart of a Hero (1916) and A Girl's Folly (1917), also directed by Tourneur.

Considered a heartthrob and matinee idol, Warwick had made a hit in films and receded from the Broadway stage for a few years in which time he formed the Robert Warwick Film Corp. A little later during this period he would distinguish himself during World War I when he rose to the rank of Major and was reported to have been a member of General Pershing's staff. When Warwick returned to acting his films were often advertised like this:

From the Biloxi Daily Herald, August 5, 1919, page 4

Pretty prominent billing over Chaplin there as well!

Robert Warwick 1910s Strand Theater Advertising CardWarwick and second wife Josephine were estranged during the war but were reported to have reconciled upon his return. I can't place Warwick's divorce from the former chorus girl, Cunningham, but he would remarry, likely sometime in the early 1930's. The 1940 census places Warwick with third wife, Estella and then 6-year-old daughter, Betsey. The third Mrs. Warwick would predecease the actor in 1960. Warwick was in his 80s by that time and would not marry again.

Warwick only appeared in a handful of 1920s films as he made his return to Broadway, initially back with Brady and the Schuberts, and he continued to act on stage through the remainder of the decade. Then came that 1930 announcement heralding "Bob Warwick Back in Films" and the long run of one of our favorite character actors would soon lead to many of those classics named at the top of this page.

Robert Warwick died in Los Angeles, CA, June 6, 1964 at age 85.

Robert Warwick and Henry O'Neill

Robert Warwick (dark coat with medals) face to face with Henry O'Neill in 1937's The Life of Emile Zola on this 1940 A and M Wix Cinema Cavalcade Tobacco Card

Sources

  • "Bob Warwick Back in Films." Reno Evening Gazette 18 Oct 1930: 8. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • "The Floradora Girls." Oakland Tribune 27 Mar 1910: 24. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • Graham, Sheila. "Bardot's Biography Uncensored, Wild." Bluefield Daily Telegraph 9 Dec 1960: 4. NewspaperArchive 9 Oct 2012.
  • "Mrs. Whittell Will Marry Matinee Idol." Oakland Tribune 7 Dec 1909: 1. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • "Robert Warwick Divorced." Sheboygan Daily Press 29 Oct 1909: 4. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • "Robert Warwick Signs With World Film." The Moving Picture World 22 (Oct-Dec 1914): 312. Media History Digital Archive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • "Story With a San Francisco End." Oakland Tribune 27 Oct 1918: 36. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.
  • "Wedding of Note." Victoria Weekly Advocate 22 Mar 1902: 5. NewspaperArchive. Web. 9 Oct 2012.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for the wonderful summary of Robert Warwick’s life and career! My grandmother was his niece and I am doing a little bit of family research. This was such a joy to find!

    • says

      You’re very welcome, so glad you enjoyed it! I’m always tempted to polish up these biographical posts every time I come across the actor in something I hadn’t seen them before–for example, I just saw Mr. Warwick play a judge last night in a single scene of Jimmy the Gent (1934)–but I always seem to run into a time crunch! That said, if you find out anything interesting that you care to share, please feel free to return here to post your findings. Thanks again!

  2. says

    Hi! If you ever come across more information on the divorce of Josephine, please let me know. I am working at the Thunderbird Lodge, which was once the estate of her first husband, George Whittell. I am researching her background right now and also cannot find the divorce date, but I did find him with his third wife by 1931. And also, even though the newspapers loved calling her a Florodora girl, she actually was never in that role. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi,

      This one clipping dates their split to 1907: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=57MiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=N7MFAAAAIBAJ&pg=589%2C288520 — Maybe you can dig up something more official using that as a starting point?

      Oh, also just found a New York Herald clipping dating February 7, 1907 that mentions her as “the divorced wife of George Whittell, Jr.” adding that “an interlocutory decree has been signed, but has not been made final.” It’s on a site that’s hard to link to, but I downloaded a copy of the page, just email me if you want a copy.

      Any particular reason that you doubt the Floradora reference? I don’t doubt you, but you’re right, the reference is everywhere (including that 1907 clip), so I’m curious as to how you disproved it.

      Thanks, and good luck with the research!
      Cliff

      • says

        Hi Cliff, I never replied here, but then I received a notice that Margaret replied and remembered I should! Yes, the reference is EVERYWHERE! Even in a lot of our material it is in there and I think many of our docents probably still say it since it was so prevalent. A few ways I figured it out: there were only a few actual Florodora girls and they were listed on the UK and US rosters, Josie is never found, so there is that. Then I have an article that I love because it keeps calling her a Florodora Girl and yet it it references Josie herself saying she was NOT a Florodora girl, but rather an Anna Held chorus girl (Oakland Tribune, July 3, 1906). So even when she was trying to correct them, the newspapers pretty much ignored her over and over again within the same article. The Florodora story was a better one.

  3. Margaret Mouratis says

    Cliff. I also am researching my great aunt, Josepine and have been communicating with Thunderbird Lodge. I would like to learn more about her work in silent films. If you have anything I’d love to know about it.

    I agree she was often reported to have been a Flordora girl but my grandmother always denied it

    Margaret Cunningham Mouratis

  4. says

    Hi @thunderbirdlaketahoe and Margaret,

    I spent some more time today digging into this and you’ve convinced me enough to change the reference. She’s an Anna Held Chorus Girl now (with parenthetical reference to the Floradora reference).

    It’s still so very hard to disprove a negative, but it seems the deeper back you go the more the references are to the Anna Held show and the Floradora mentions begin to seem like a lazy bit of journalism after the marriage.

    I was finally sold based on this bit from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, November 24, 1905:

    Josephine Cunningham 1905 article

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