Caroline K. Warfield, 91, former News-Post writer

October 17, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Caroline Kirwan Warfield, a former Baltimore News-Post feature writer whose many exploits included appearing in a movie with Clark Gable and sailing aboard an old square-rigger through a ferocious North Atlantic storm, died of heart failure Saturday at the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville. She was 91.

Born Caroline Garner Kirwan in Baltimore and raised in Bolton Hill, she was a 1929 graduate of the Greenwood School and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art.

She married Albert Gallatin Warfield in 1941 and lived for many years at Sunnyside Farm in Woodbine. Her husband, a prominent Howard Countian who was a partner and manager of the Baltimore office of Pierce, Fenner and Smith Inc., died in 1983.

In the 1930s, she joined the staff of the News-Post and wrote feature stories under the byline of Caroline Kirwan.

She also traveled to Hollywood, where she wrote about the movie industry, including profiles of the film colony's reigning stars of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

She even landed a bit part as an extra in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Boom Town, a 1940 feature film about two wildcatter oilmen played by Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. Set in the dusty oil fields of Oklahoma, the film's other stars include Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lammarr.

"She played a bit part as a gum-chewing prostitute and appears in the barroom scene sitting on a stool wearing a strapless sequin and brocade dress," said a daughter, Mary Hutton "Missy" Hollingsworth of Aiken, S.C.

"If you get through with a shirttail left on your ego you're lucky," Mrs. Warfield wrote of the experience.

After 10 takes and numerous interruptions, the film's director was finally satisfied with the results.

"By then my feet were aching like a tooth and my knees felt like crepe paper - but the show must go on is what they say in Hollywood," she wrote.

"It certainly did strike me funny that Clark Gable, as rich as he is, would stand around all day like that doing the same thing over and over. And Spencer Tracy the same way of course. And Miss Colbert was off in the corner somewhere just staring into space as if she didn't have a few million in the bank," she wrote.

"She always said that Gable and Tracy were complete gentlemen, modest and always accessible. And they always treated her like a lady," said son Albert G. Warfield III of Alpine, Calif., a scriptwriter and author.

Mrs. Warfield, who stood 5-feet-8-inches tall, was a striking presence with her dark hair and eyes and smooth complexion. "She was big-boned, always wore red, red lipstick, and had kind of a Lauren Bacall look about her," said the daughter.

"She was very intelligent, had a wonderful sense of humor and was always popular with everyone," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Worcester, a longtime friend and Roland Park resident.

"She also always got along well with celebrities, and they liked her. Joan Crawford became a friend of hers. But she didn't let it go to her head, put on no airs or rave about it. She took it in her stride and said it was her job," said Mrs. Worcester.

Mrs. Warfield, who had a taste for adventure, found one in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 1937 while returning from a vacation in Bermuda aboard the Joseph Conrad. The three-masted square-rigger owned by Huntington Hartford, heir to the A&P grocery fortune, had been built in 1882.

On its northward voyage, the ship was overtaken by a powerful storm whose high winds buckled its mainmast while foaming seas boiled across its decks.

In a radiogram to Andy Banks, city editor at the News-Post, Mrs. Warfield said she was aboard a sailing ship caught in the grips of a fierce storm.

"In a return radiogram, he said: `SEND 150 WORDS.' I felt better after that. At least I was working after a fashion, and getting paid for my enforced idleness," she recalled in a 1976 article in The Sun Magazine.

Blown off Nova Scotia and reported overdue and missing, the Conrad eventually limped into Newport, R.I.

In the 1950s, she also wrote the newspaper's advice column under the byline of "Annette."

"They'd bring the mail to her home, and I remember my early childhood being filled with the sound of her typewriter going at all hours," said Mrs. Hollingsworth, also a writer, who recalled her mother's advice.

"She always said the most important thing was the lead on a story and the last sentence because no one ever read anything else," she said, laughing.

After leaving the newspaper in the 1950s, Mrs. Warfield became an accomplished painter, working in oils.

Mrs. Warfield led a vigorous life until suffering from glaucoma in her 80s.

"She was an independent cuss," said Mrs. Hollingsworth. "She was a man's woman, not a woman's woman."

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to her son and daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Caroline King Warfield of Hampden, and three grandchildren.

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