Warren William

Warren William

from the trailer for the film Goodbye Again (1933)
Born Warren William Krech
(1894-12-02)December 2, 1894
Aitkin, Minnesota, U.S.
Died September 24, 1948(1948-09-24) (aged 53)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Cause of death multiple myeloma
Occupation Actor
Years active 1920–1947
Spouse(s) Helen Barbara Nelson (1923-1948; his death)

Warren William (born Warren William Krech; December 2, 1894 – September 24, 1948) was a Broadway and Hollywood actor, immensely popular during the early 1930s; he was later nicknamed the "King of Pre-Code".

Early life

Warren William Krech's family originated in Tennstedt, Saxony, Germany. His grandfather, Ernst Wilhelm Krech (born 1819), fled Germany in 1848 during the Revolution, going first to France and later immigrating to the United States. He wed Mathilde Grow in 1851, and had six children. Freeman E. Krech, Warren's father, was born in 1856.

Around the age of 25, Freeman moved to Aitkin, a small town in Minnesota, where he bought a newspaper, The Aitkin Age, in 1885. He married Frances Potter, daughter of a merchant, September 18, 1890. Their son Warren was born December 2, 1894.

Warren William's interest in acting began in 1903, when an opera house was built in Aitkin. He was also an avid and lifelong amateur inventor, a pursuit that may have contributed to his death.[1] After high school, William auditioned for, and was enrolled in, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in New York City in October 1915.[2]

As his senior year at AADA was coming to an end, the First World War had begun, and William enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned from base to base, in charge of training new men at various locations, and in 1918, was assigned to Fort Dix near New York City, in New Jersey. While in New York, he met his future wife, Helen Barbara Nelson, who was 17 years his senior. In October 1918 he left for France, to enter the war. William left the army in early 1919, after which he began working on his acting career. In 1923, he and Helen were married.


William appeared in his first Broadway play in 1920, and had soon made a name for himself in New York. William appeared in 22 plays on Broadway between 1920 and 1931. During this period he also appeared in two silent films, The Town That Forgot God (1922) and Plunder (1923).

William moved from New York City to Hollywood in 1931. He began as a contract player at Warner Bros. and quickly became a star during what is now known as the 'Pre-Code' period. He developed a reputation for portraying ruthless, amoral businessmen (Under 18, Skyscraper Souls, The Match King, Employees Entrance), crafty lawyers (The Mouthpiece, Perry Mason), and outright charlatans (The Mind Reader). These roles were considered controversial yet they were highly satisfying, as this was the harshest period of the Great Depression, characterised by massive business failures and oppressive unemployment; hence audiences tended to jeer the businessmen, who were portrayed as predators.[2]

William did play some sympathetic roles, including "Dave The Dude" in Frank Capra's Lady for a Day, a loving father and husband cuckolded by Ann Dvorak's character in Three on a Match (1932), a comically pompous business manager in Golddiggers of 1933, Julius Caesar in Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934; starring Claudette Colbert in the title role), and with Colbert again the same year as her character's love interest in Imitation of Life (1934). He played the swashbuckling musketeer d'Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), directed by James Whale. William was the first to portray Erle Stanley Gardner's fictional defense attorney Perry Mason on the big screen and starred in four Perry Mason mysteries.[3] He played Raffles-like reformed jewel thief The Lone Wolf in nine films for beginning with The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), and appeared as Detective Philo Vance in two of the series films, The Dragon Murder Case (1934) and the comedic The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939). He also starred as Sam Spade (renamed Ted Shane) in Satan Met a Lady (1936), the second screen version of The Maltese Falcon.

Other roles include Mae West's manager in Go West, Young Man (1936), a jealous District Attorney in another James Whale film, Wives Under Suspicion (1938), copper-magnate Jesse Lewisohn in 1940's Lillian Russell, the evil Jefferson Carteret in Arizona (also 1940), sympathetic Dr. Lloyd in The Wolf Man (1941), Brett Curtis in cult director Edgar G. Ulmer's modern day version of Hamlet, 1945's Strange Illusion, and as Laroche-Mathieu in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947), which would be William's last film.

On radio, William starred in the transcribed series Strange Wills, which featured "stories behind strange wills that run the gamut of human emotion."[4]


Although on-screen William was an actor audiences loved to hate, off-screen William was a private man, and he and his wife, Helen, kept out of the limelight. Warren and Helen remained a couple throughout his entire adult life. He was often described as having been shy in real life. Co-star Joan Blondell once said, "[He] ... was an old man – even when he was a young man."[3]

Warren William died on September 24, 1948, from multiple myeloma, at age 53. His wife would die a few months later.[1] He was recognized for his contribution to motion pictures with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 1960.[5]


Year Title Role
1922 The Town that Forgot God Eben
1923 Plunder (serial) Mr. Jones
1931 Honor of the Family Captain Boris Barony
Expensive Women Neil Hartley
Under 18 Raymond Harding
1932 The Woman from Monte Carlo Lieutenant d'Ortelles
Beauty and the Boss Baron Josef von Ullrich
The Mouthpiece Vincent "Vince" Day
The Dark Horse Hal Samson Blake
Skyscraper Souls David "Dave" Dwight
Three on a Match Robert Kirkwood
The Match King Paul Kroll
1933 Just Around the Corner (short film) Mr. Sears
Employees' Entrance Kurt Anderson
The Mind Reader "Chandra" Chandler
Gold Diggers of 1933 J. Lawrence Bradford
Goodbye Again Kenneth L. "Ken" Bixby
Lady for a Day Dave the Dude
1934 Bedside Bob Brown
Upper World Alexander "Alex" Stream
Smarty Tony Wallace
Dr. Monica John Braden
The Dragon Murder Case Philo Vance
The Case of the Howling Dog Perry Mason
Cleopatra Julius Caesar
Imitation of Life Stephen "Steve" Archer
The Secret Bride Robert "Bob" Sheldon
1935 Living on Velvet Walter "Gibraltar" Pritcham
The Case of the Curious Bride Perry Mason
Don't Bet on Blondes Oscar "Odds" Owen
The Case of the Lucky Legs Perry Mason
The Widow from Monte Carlo Major Allan Chepstow
1936 Times Square Playboy Victor "Vic" Arnold
Satan Met a Lady Ted Shane
The Case of the Velvet Claws Perry Mason
Stage Struck Fred Harris
Go West, Young Man Morgan
1937 Outcast Dr. Wendell Phillips / Phil Jones
Midnight Madonna Blackie Denbo
The Firefly Colonel de Rouchemont
Madame X Bernard Fleuriot
1938 Arsène Lupin Returns Steve Emerson
The First Hundred Years Harry Borden
Wives Under Suspicion District Attorney Jim Stowell
1939 The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt Michael Lanyard/"The Lone Wolf"
The Gracie Allen Murder Case Philo Vance
The Man in the Iron Mask d'Artagnan
Day-Time Wife Bernard "Barney" Dexter
1940 The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady Michael Lanyard
Lillian Russell Jesse Lewisohn
The Lone Wolf Strikes Michael Lanyard
Arizona Jefferson Carteret
The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date Michael Lanyard
1941 Trail of the Vigilantes Mark Dawson / George Trent
The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance Michael Lanyard
Wild Geese Calling Blackie Bedford
Secrets of the Lone Wolf Michael Lanyard
The Wolf Man Dr. Lloyd
1942 Wild Bill Hickok Rides Harry Farrel
Counter-Espionage Michael Lanyard
1943 One Dangerous Night Michael Lanyard
Passport to Suez Michael Lanyard
1945 Strange Illusion Brett Curtis
1946 Fear Police Capt. Burke
1947 The Private Affairs of Bel Ami Laroche-Mathieu

Broadway performances

Year Title Role
1920 Mrs. Jimmie Thompson Edgar Blodgett
1921 John Hawthorne John Hawthorne
We Girls Doctor Tom Brown
1924 The Wonderful Visit Sir John Gotch, K.B.E.
Expressing Willie George Cadwalder
1925 Nocture Keith Reddington
The Blue Peter David Hunter
Rosmersholm Johannes Rosmer
1926 Twelve Miles Out Gerald Fey
Easter One More Day Elis
Fanny Joe White
1928 Paradise Dr. Achilles Swain
Veils Mr. Robert Sloan
The Golden Age The Stranger
1929 Sign of the Leopard Captain Leslie
Let Us Be Gay Bob Brown
Week-End Brett Laney
1930 Out of a Blue Sky Paul Rana
The Vikings Sigurd
Stepdaughters of War Geoffrey Hilder
1931 The Vinegar Tree Max Lawrence


  1. 1 2 Stangeland, John (2010). Warren William: Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-6182-0.
  2. 1 2 Wagner, Laura (March 8, 2013). "Book Points: January 2013". Classic Images. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  3. 1 2 Fristoe, Roger. "William Warren Profile". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  4. "(Teleways ad)" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 21, 1946. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  5. "Warren William". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
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