Take a moment to pour yourself a drink – Tequila would be best – and join me in a toast to the late, great, Warren Oates. Warren would have turned 78 today, and they aren’t making his type anymore.
When he was finished with the Marine Corps, Warren decided to try his hand at acting. This was in the 50’s and the golden age of TV Westerns, and Warren found his niche playing heavies on various series.
At the same time, Sam Peckinpah was honing his skills on such series as "The Rifleman", "The Westerner", and "Trackdown", and he and the fledging actor struck up a friendship. Peckinpah eventually moved to the big screen and when he made his early masterpiece "Ride The High Country", Oates was with him as one of the white trash Hammond brothers.
In the amalgam of beautiful moments that are "The Wild Bunch", my favorite belongs to Warren. When William Holden’s Pike comes to collect him to go and get Angel, their conversation is a marvel of economy. Pike says simply "Let’s go!" and Warren gives this wry little smile and replies "Why not?" Damn right.
My personal favorite Oates role, however, isn’t with Peckinpah – It’s in Monte Hellman’s "Two-Lane Blacktop". Driving a cool yellow GTO, Warren steals the film out from under its boring-as-sawdust headliners, James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. As a lonesome hot-rodding knight errant, he’s the one whiff of real humanity in the film.
So here’s to you, Lyle Gorch.
Here’s a little something for the piano player.