Charles Marquis Warren; Western Writer


Charles Marquis Warren, a novelist and film scenarist whose fascination with frontier lore helped bring such adult Westerns as "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide" and "The Virginian" to television screens, died Saturday evening.

Nick Beck said his longtime friend had died at Humana Hospital West Hills at age 77 after undergoing surgery for an aneurysm.

A producer and director who as a writer considered himself the author of dramatic histories rather than a teller of Western tales, Warren's talents spanned the entire range of things theatrical.

In a letter of recommendation written to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Warren's longtime mentor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age novelist called his protege "amazingly varied. He writes, composes, draws. . . . I haven't believed in anybody so strongly since Ernest Hemingway."

The letter was written as Fitzgerald, who made Warren his godson in an alcohol-tinged ceremony shortly after their meeting at a Baltimore theater, had sent the young man to Hollywood to work on a screen treatment of Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night."

Despite the glowing recommendation, Warren at first had limited success in film writing and turned to magazines.

He sold more than 250 articles of pulp fiction and became a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post.

Three of his Post serials, "Only the Valiant," "Bugles Are for Soldiers" and "Valley of the Shadow," became best-selling novels. "Valiant," which tells of a cavalry officer's battles in the Indian wars, was made into a 1950 film starring Gregory Peck.

Born in Baltimore, Warren was a vigorous and hardy youth who participated in athletics at McDonogh School and Baltimore City College, where he also began writing musical plays. Warren said he first met Fitzgerald when the fabled author dropped in on a production of the then-21-year-old's musical revue "So What?" They quickly became friends, said Beck, a retired journalism professor who has a large collection of Fitzgerald memorabilia.

When World War II broke out, Warren joined the Navy, where he served in the Photo Science Laboratory, filming amphibious landings. He was wounded by a Japanese grenade in the South Pacific in 1944, and received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and five battle stars and was recuperating in a hospital on Guadalcanal when he learned that Warner Brothers had purchased the rights to "Only the Valiant."

Warren rose to the rank of commander and after the war returned to Hollywood as a writer and, eventually, director. His credits included "Beyond Glory," "Streets of Laredo," "Springfield Rifle," "Pony Express," "Seven Angry Men," "Flight to Tangier," "Trooper Hook" and "Arrowhead."

Steeped in the tradition of the West, Warren was asked to craft the pilot production of "Gunsmoke" for CBS, and in 1955 he began to produce the classic TV series based on the radio programs that had starred William Conrad. He cast James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon and hired Milburn Stone as Galen (Doc) Adams, Amanda Blake as Kitty Russell and Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode.

Warren directed 26 episodes that first year while also writing five of the original teleplays, but he opted in 1956 to return to films.

In 1959, he came back to CBS to create "Rawhide," finding an unknown actor named Clint Eastwood to portray Rowdy Yates in those tales of sprawling cattle drives.

Three years later, he began what became the nine-year saga of "The Virginian," which starred James Drury as the mysterious man who forced his version of law and order on a Wyoming Territory community in the 1890s.

He also wrote for "Playhouse 90" and was producer, director and writer for the "Iron Horse" television series about the travails of a railroad moving west. It starred Dale Robertson.

His last motion picture was Elvis Presley's "Charro" in 1969.

Warren said he came to celebrate his journeys between print, film and television, saying he had gained from each.

"There's a kind of horse-with-blinders feeling you develop when you work in only one medium," he told The Times in 1958.

Survivors include his wife, Mildred, three daughters from his first marriage, four grandchildren and a nephew.

A funeral service will be held at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks in Westlake Village at 1 p.m. Thursday. Warren will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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