Gerard Bryce Warden


Died June 21, 1988

College: Saybrook

Gerard Bryce Warden

Jerry Warden didn’t lope like 17-year-old boys. A regular on the Honor Roll, he did not do sports. In glasses with clear plastic rims, in an old gray suit dusted with cigarette ash, always the same suit it seemed, he walked like the brooding Harvard historian he would become. But Jerry dined on whimsy. At Taft, he wrote a column in the Papyrus called The Mummer. The Mummer anointed himself King of the World. As king he would mandate electric grass made of brass that would never need mowing and that would melt the snow alighting on it. His brass grass would be wired. “Impractical you say?” he wrote. “Look at Times Square in New York. Millions of light bulbs. If they can take the trouble to get wires to all those little bulbs, they certainly can get wires to every grass blade.” He identified 24 “practical psychoses” that voluntarily afflicted students could mimic to “eliminate oneself from any kind of responsibility or exertion.” To get off exercise, there was Abasia, an inability to walk. To get out of math tests, there was Acalculia, an inability to count. To get out of study hall, there was Acathisia, an inability to sit down. Kakorrhaphiophobia was a fear of failure. “Froth at the mouth, chew desk, clutch teacher’s lapel,” Mummer Warden advised. G. B. Warden was the rigorous teacher and author who wrote a seminal history of colonial Boston and edited the papers of Benjamin Franklin. Jerry Warden was an accomplished performer on many stages. “He played the flute as a boy,” his brother Jim says. “He taught himself piano, cello, violin, and he taught himself how to paint.” Jerry wrote theater scripts for fun. At Taft he was president of the Masque and Dagger Society. He starred as Mr. Roberts in Mr. Roberts and Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Enrolling at Yale where he would go on to get his bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees in history, he joined Actors Equity and apprenticed – with Liza Minnelli – at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. Moving from Yale to Princeton and finally to Harvard, he became a director of the Cambridge Historical Society and fixture at events celebrating revolutionary Boston. He would appear dressed up like George Washington and Ben Franklin. Not that he had much respect for Ben. In the American Heritage magazine’s list of under and over-rated Americans, Jerry wrote of Franklin: “He overrated himself, to begin with, and historians ever since have believed him. Without a printing press and a larcenous view of other people’s ideas, he would have ended up as a second-rate shopkeeper and third-rate politician. If he were alive today, with access to movies and television, he would be a third-rate former actor in the White House.” Jerry died in June, 1988, of a heart attack at home in Cambridge. He was 48. He never married, although he had long time attachments to at least two women. “He was a man of many parts,” his brother Jim said.

Jerry was planning a sailing trip with Boston friends, and when he did not show up for one of their periodic planning meetings for the trip, one of them called me in Philadelphia and asked if he could break into the house where they found Jerry’s body. He had had a heart attack shoveling snow for a girl friend in Denver a few years before and had been not only a lifelong smoker, from 12 years old, but also, as far as I know, had had welsh rarebit every day for lunch at Mory’s from freshman year through his MA and PhD at Yale and his years teaching and researching thereafter. As a choir boy his nickname had been “cheesy.” I am not sure he had ever taken any serious exercise.

He was a person of many parts. He was the recorded voice of the cricket atop Faneuil hall for Boston’s bicentennial celebrations; we still have a self portrait of Jerry in oils in full colonial uniform as general George Washington, a role he performed for pay around bean town; he taught himself the cello and had played the flute from teenage years. Besides his historical writings he had written about 30 screen plays, none produced, alas. He drew meticulous plans for a model of the Wright brothers’ first airplane and built a working miniature printing press to entertain visitors to the Cambridge Historical Society. He led walking tours of Boston crafted for every particular audience – historical, comical, tragic, smutty, or religious. He was a specialist in Colonial America, legal history, Boston and Cambridge and comparative revolutions, writing “The Making of the American Revolution” and “Boston, 1689 – 1776” and editing the “Papers of Benjamin Franklin.”

He was the first and probably last member of our family to be a member of a trade union – actor’s equity – earned after working many summers at the Cape Cod melody tent where he was stage manager for a number of summers and where earlier one his fellow summer apprentices was Liza Minelli. He was a fine actor himself; I remember his Captain Queeg performed at Taft School far more vividly than Bogie’s film effort. He loved his job as executive director of the Cambridge Historical Society and his ‘ladies’ to whom he taught grant writing and public relations. A few years before he died I attended a lecture he gave there to the wives of Harvard law students on Boston and Cambridge history. The room was packed and he had them eating out of his hand. He had taught a course at the Harvard Law School on the differences between case law and real history.

He loved his parents and siblings more than they deserved and was a devoted and much loved uncle to our two sons.

— by Jim Warden ’59