Remembering Warren Hymer

 Warren Hymer with Sally Starr in a publicity still for the 1933 film,  In the Money  (Courtesy of Kelly Parmelee)

Warren Hymer with Sally Starr in a publicity still for the 1933 film, In the Money (Courtesy of Kelly Parmelee)

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. 

 Warren Hymer (right) with Lester Dorr in  So's Your Aunt Emma  (1942)

Warren Hymer (right) with Lester Dorr in So's Your Aunt Emma (1942)

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.

 Warren Hymer (standing right) with his father, playwright John B. Hymer (seated) and playwright Sam Shipman (standing left) at the tennis courts at Lakewood.  (Author's collection.)

Warren Hymer (standing right) with his father, playwright John B. Hymer (seated) and playwright Sam Shipman (standing left) at the tennis courts at Lakewood.  (Author's collection.)

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. 

 The Colony House at Lakewood (now the  Colony House Inn B&B ), which Warren's father, playwright John B. Hymer, built in 1929.  Warren grew up summering at Lakewood and acting on the stage in a number of plays.. (Author's private collection.)

The Colony House at Lakewood (now the Colony House Inn B&B), which Warren's father, playwright John B. Hymer, built in 1929.  Warren grew up summering at Lakewood and acting on the stage in a number of plays.. (Author's private collection.)

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 appearing in  Motion Picture  magazine (July 1931)

Warren appearing in Motion Picture magazine (July 1931)

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).

 From left to right, Claire Luce, a young Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, and Warren Hymer in  Up the River  (1930). Warren had just broken into Hollywood the year before but was already successful enough that he was billed above Bogart in the credits.

From left to right, Claire Luce, a young Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, and Warren Hymer in Up the River (1930). Warren had just broken into Hollywood the year before but was already successful enough that he was billed above Bogart in the credits.

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.

 Warren Hymer (standing third row, left, leaning against the pillar) with the 1926 Lakewood Stock Company. Note the book in Warren's left hand; he would have been a 20-year-old Yale student, summering with his family at Lakewood when this photograph was taken. Warren's father, playwright John Bard Hymer, is seated fifth from the left in the front row.

Warren Hymer (standing third row, left, leaning against the pillar) with the 1926 Lakewood Stock Company. Note the book in Warren's left hand; he would have been a 20-year-old Yale student, summering with his family at Lakewood when this photograph was taken. Warren's father, playwright John Bard Hymer, is seated fifth from the left in the front row.