View blog reactions Waiting for Speedway Fowler: The United States of Warren Oates

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The United States of Warren Oates

Is Warren Oates the coolest actor ever, or what?

The other night, with the kids in bed and my wife out with her sister, I decided to once again cue up "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" on the DVD player. This is a DVD you can get for $5.99 at BestBuy. It's everything a Warren Oates movie ought to be: messy, unsettling, cynical, world-weary and incredibly cool.

That was Oates. The actor died back in the mid-80's, just after he wrapped up what would be his most famous role, that of Sergeant Hulka in the classic Bill Murray comedy "Stripes". Ironically, the role was a bit of a departure from the typical Oates character. Hulka is a comic foil with a sense of dignity and gravity. Oates built a career playing anything BUT Sergeant Hulka.

Maybe you remember him as GTO, the down-on-his-luck driver who bedevils James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in the cult race movie "Two Lane Blacktop". Maybe you caught him as the doomed RV owner in the drive-in 70's staple "Race With the Devil", (70's drive-in bonus: he co-starred with Peter Fonda!) I still remember sitting in the Elizabeth Theatre in Falmouth, Massachusetts, watching him as Muff Potter in a surprisingly enjoyable version of "Tom Sawyer" that was produced by Reader's Digest and starred Johnny Whittaker. Oates brought a serious sense of earthiness to the role. He also starred in another great drive-in flick, "Dixie Dynamite", and even played Charlie Allnut in a TV adaption of "Tha African Queen". I've never seen that one, but I can only imagine how good he was in a role that seems perfect for the classic Oates demeanor. After all, this is the guy about which Aussie singer Dave Graney once said : "He always played a lovable loser. A guy in a filthy white suit who knew how to live, love, and lose with a lot of style, with tomato sauce all down the front of his jacket."

He's got a face like 200 miles of country road,
Don't go in there, you'll get lost.
Every cigarette, every drink, every doomed affair.
Sittin' across from you at the 'Chat-n-Chew',
a bloodstained airways bag at his feet.
Flies drunk in the heat,
walking Spencer Street,
sideburns, curly hair.
Hands in his pocket,
single rooms,
Fifteen bucks a night.

Walkin' alone, drinkin' alone,
drivin' slow, parked outside your home.
Sleepin' just like everybody else.

Yeah, he was really out there, away inside,
among the tall trees,
The white water breakin' at the edge of his lips
nobody could reach him.
He could get to us anytime.

A banged-up Holden covered in red dust,
on the side of the city.
A cracked voice saying "beer"
Who's gonna believe him?
Who's he gonna believe?
Who's gonna stand up for him?

Walkin' alone, drinkin' alone,
Ridin' slow, parked outside your home.
Sleeping just like everybody else.
There with no grace of god you go,
through the United States of Warren Oates.

First time I seen or heard of Warren Oates was on a early TV show called Stoney Burke.

Believe it was a modern day western and he played the sidekick of Stoney Burke who was played by Jack Lord.

Now, whouldn't it be a hoot if you could get all the Stoney Burke episodes on DVD?
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