Today would have been Warren Oates’ 81st Birthday, had he not gotten his card punched by a heart attack in 1982, at age 53.
Oates was born in Depoy, KY, in the western part of the state, just west of Nebo, but not quite as far as McNary, i.e., in the hillbilly middle o’ nowhere. By the early 50’s he’d landed in New York to starve and struggle. But he did land some theater and television work during those years. Eventually he bagged New York and headed for the coast, and a more successful career in television and film. He appeared in episodes of the TV mystery drama Studio One and various westerns like Have Gun Will Travel, The Rough Riders, Buckskin, and The Black Saddle. In 1960 he played Eddie Diamond in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond⎯correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to be his first feature film role. Eventually Oates hitched up with directors Monte Hellman, Sam Wood, and Sam Peckinpah to appear the classics Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter, Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and In the Heat of the Night, among others. Other greats starring Warren Oates include Race with the Devil (with Peter Fonda) and Dixie Dynamite, just to name a few. And now that Johnny Depp’s face plasters every NY subway station advertising his new movie Public Enemies (which, actually, I kinda want to check out), just remember that Warren Oates did it before in his great, performance in John Milius’ Dillinger, from 1973.