Frederick Barkham Warde was born in Wardington, Oxfordshire, on February 23, 1851. Educated at the City of London School, he had planned to become a lawyer. But after being cast as ‘Second Murderer’ in an 1867 production of Macbeth, a life on the stage beckoned. He learned his craft at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, playing eighty parts in nine months.
In 1871, he married actress Annie Edmondson. They would have four children together. After playwright Dion Boucicault encouraged Warde to try his luck across the Atlantic, he made his American debut in Boucicault’s Civil War play, Belle Lamar, at Booth’s Theatre, New York City, in 1874. Over the next few years, Warde established himself as a leading man, and formed a successful partnership with actor Maurice Barrymore.
As a new century loomed, Warde partnered with another classical actor, Louis James, and later starred opposite Kathryn Kidder in Salammbo, an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s historical novel. In 1902, he ‘discovered’ actor Douglas Fairbanks, who would later become one of the greatest stars in silent film.
By 1904 Warde was deeply in debt, and was forced to declare himself bankrupt. Fortunately, it proved to be only a temporary setback. That summer he embarked on a lecture tour, and in 1905, went on the road with his own company in productions including The Winter’s Tale. In the summer of 1909, assisted by his two sons, he opened The Frederick Warde Institute of Oratory, Expression and Shakespearean Study on his 30-acre estate, Wardesden, at North White Lake, New York.
At sixty-one, Warde made his movie debut in The Life and Death of King Richard III (1912.) Rediscovered over seventy years later, it is thought to be the oldest surviving American feature film. In November 1915, he signed a contract with America’s leading independent filmmaker, Edwin Thanhouser. Warde starred as the eponymous weaver in Silas Marner (1916), which was followed by a feature-length King Lear, and The Vicar of Wakefield in 1917.
All three films have survived, though Warde’s next production for Thanhouser – Hinton’s Double – is thought to be lost. On March 24, 1917, Thanhouser-Pathé announced that they had signed Jeanne Eagels to appear in two films opposite Frederick Warde. The twenty-seven year-old actress had recently starred in another Thanhouser movie, The World and the Woman.
In The Fires of Youth, directed by Emile Chautard, Warde played a wealthy industrialist returning to his boyhood town to recapture the joy forsaken while amassing his millions. He befriends a young boy, Billy (played by child actress Helen Badgley), and becomes infatuated with Billy’s sister, Rose (Eagels.)
The Fires of Youth was released on June 17 to good notices. The original five-reel Pathé Exchange version, lasting more than an hour, is now missing. The Imperial Film Company later re-released a two-reel, thirty-one minute version, which is still in print.
Chautard would direct Warde again in his second feature opposite Jeanne, Under False Colors. It was a timely film, set in Russia prior to the March 1917 dethronement of Czar Nicholas. Critics cited Eagels’ alliance with Warde as “acting of the highest class” one of the “best starring combinations ever seen on the screen.” Sadly, Under False Colors is now lost.
While Eagels returned to Broadway, Warde’s next Thanhouser production, The Heart of Ezra Greer, would be his last, as the studio had begun phasing down operations. Warde went on to star in three more films, including A Lover’s Oath, which marked the screen debut of Ramon Novarro.
In 1921, Warde recorded an early sound film, Frederick Warde Reads Poem, A Sunset Reverie. After his wife died in 1923, he went into semi-retirement. Frederick Warde died of a heart condition at his daughter’s Brooklyn home on February 7, 1935.