Remembering Warren Hymer
You’re watching an old 1930s film on AMC or TCM, and you see him: the street-wise plug-ugly gangster guy with beady eyes, fedora slightly askew, suit just a wee bit too tight. . .you know his face, but you can’t quite place his name.
Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon one of Lakewood Theatre’s most famous alumni of the era: character actor Warren Hymer.
Born on February 25, 1906, Warren Hymer was the son of playwright John Bard Hymer and actress Eleanor (Kent) Hymer. When Warren was 10 years old, his father John began taking the family to Lakewood each summer, where John would write (and direct) plays for the Lakewood stage.
It was at Lakewood that Warren received his early acting training, appearing in a number of Lakewood productions. He later achieved a modicum of success on Broadway and abroad, acting in his father’s play Crime in London in 1927 to rave reviews.
Warren’s father John built the Colony House (now the Colony House Inn B&B) in 1929, the year Warren went to Hollywood, where he became a well-known character actor.
Warren was an avid sportsman, and he and his father organized many golf and tennis tournaments while summering at the Lakewood Theatre Colony. By all accounts, Warren was a popular and well-liked young man, both with the members of the colony and the audiences alike.
Part of Warren’s success was his ability to feign stupidity; this, combined with his rugged looks and his gifted acting ability, put him in great demand for tough-guy roles (albeit usually soft-hearted tough guy roles) – for which he was typecast much of the time.
Interestingly, despite being typecast as a dumb thug, Warren Hymer was actually a very intelligent, bookish, and well-educated Yale man.
Warren was so successful in these early days of “talkies” that he was once even billed above Humphrey Bogart in the credits. It was in 1930, when Warren acted in the movie Up the River with Spencer Tracy, Claire Luce, and Bogart (whom Hymer undoubtedly knew from Lakewood, as Bogart was also at Lakewood in 1928, 1929, 1931, and 1935).
Sadly, Warren Hymer’s accomplishments were eventually overshadowed by his hot temper and affinity for strong drink.
According to Hollywood writer/historian Hal Erickson, the beginning of the end of Warren’s career came about when Warren, “arguing with Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn, punctuated his tirade by urinating on Cohn's desk. After that, Hymer was virtually blackballed from Hollywood. . .”
So much more can be written about Warren’s very short, very interesting life; I look forward to sharing more about this fascinating personality with such strong ties to Lakewood in future posts.
But today we simply remember Warren Hymer, character actor extraordinaire of Broadway, Hollywood, and Lakewood. He was (and, to all of us who adore classic film, he remains) a brilliant star in the early days of talkies, having entertained us in more than 129 films. He died on this day in 1948, at just 42 years old.