Last Known Activity|
JOHN H. LEBZELTER
Jack Warden Lebzelter aka Jack Warden
U.S. Navy 1938-1941, Yangtze River Patrol
U.S. Merchant Marines 1941-1942, Armed Guard
U.S. Army 1942-1945, 101st Airborne
Other names Jack Lebzelter
Jack Warden Lebzelter
Boxed as a welterweight under the name "Johnny Costello"
Jack Warden was born John H. Lebzelter (German for "honey-cake baker") on September 18, 1920 in Newark, New Jersey to a Jewish father, Jack Warden Lebzelter, and his Irish wife, Laura M. Lebzelter (nee Costello). Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, at the age of 17, young Jack Lebzelter was expelled from Louisville's Du Pont Manuel High School for repeatedly fighting. Good with his fists, he turned professional, boxing as a welterweight under the name "Johnny Costello", adopting his mother's maiden name. (In an interview, Jack Warden said that his mother had tried to suppress his identification with Judaism, possibly out of a misguided sense of having him avoid the then-prevalent antisemitism of American society. However, as he got older, his Jewish heritage became more important to him.) The purses were poor, so he soon left the ring and worked as a bouncer at a night club. Warden worked as a nightclub bouncer, tugboat deckhand and lifeguard before joining the United States Navy in 1938. He was stationed in China for three years as a watchmen with the Yangtze River Patrol on board the USS Oahu (PR-6) a river gunboat.
In 1941, he joined the United States Merchant Marine but, quickly tiring of the long convoy runs, he switched to the United States Army in 1942 where he served as a paratrooper in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, with the elite 101st Airborne Division during World War II.
In 1944, on the eve of the D-Day invasion (during which many of his friends died), Staff Sergeant (Lebzelter) Warden shattered his leg by landing on a fence during a night-time practice jump in England. After almost six months in the hospital (during which time he read a Clifford Odets play and decided to become an actor after the end of the war), he recovered enough to participate in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Ironically in That Kind of Woman Warden played a paratrooper from the 101st's rivals: the 82nd Airborne Division.
After leaving the military with the rank of sergeant, he moved to New York City and pursued an acting career on the G.I. Bill. He joined the company of the Dallas Alley Theater and performed on stage for five years. In 1948 he made his television debut on The Philco Television Playhouse and Studio One. He made an uncredited film debut in 1951 in You're in the Navy Now, a movie which also featured the film debuts of Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson.