Warren was born William Wayne Warren, Jr. on December 9, 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi to
William Wayne "Snooks" Warren and
Maxine Warren. He grew up in Brandon, Mississippi, surrounded in age by many siblings; three
older sisters, three younger sisters
and one younger brother. "Snooks" Warren was a "backwoods"
restaurant- nightclub owner so Biff was exposed early on to a wide variety
of entertainers such as Brenda Lee, Timi Yuro and Sam the Sham, as well as
"good, hard Southern bands." In fact, Biff had his humble
start in show business singing at the club from the age of eleven.
In referencing articles about Biff, one may come away with a confusing representation of his childhood. Depending upon which source you happen to be perusing, Biff either grew up in a "close, happy, protective home" or had a "tough childhood" being shuffled between parents who had split. According to the Afternoon TV article by Dorothy Vine (July 1978), when Biff decided to leave for California at age 18, leaving the University of Mississippi to pursue dreams of a career in Hollywood, "He was not running away from them or poverty, because it was a ‘comfortable, middle-class, suburban family’ and his father was paying his college tuition. Rather, he was running to his future." But according to the Teen Bag article by Francine L. Trevens (April 1978), "Biff’s parents split during his childhood and his life was split, six months with each at a time." They went on to say he was "sent to a very religious boarding school in Lumberton, Mississippi where he developed his interest in acting."
These articles only give us a general idea of who Biff was growing up, but Frank McNeely was a personal friend of Biff's who very kindly shared some of his memories of Biff with us. "I first met Biff at Central Jr. High. When we first met it was like we had known each other in another life. We became best friends! He moved [to Hot Springs, Arkansas] to live with his mother, Maxine. She was a waitress at the Arlington Hotel. There is not a time that I go by [the hotel] that I don't think about Biff and myself going there and seeing her! We would always pretend we were having cocktails . . . she would always bring us a non-alcoholic beverage with an umbrella in it! We were something! He would *always* find something to use as a microphone and start singing for everyone around us. I always knew one day he would be famous! But time passed so very quickly . . . his parents sent him to Bass Memorial Academy in Lumberton, Mississippi. I had lost my best friend!"
Despite their separation, Biff and Frank McNeely remained friends, and Frank recalled Biff's college days and subsequent trip to Hollywood: "We stayed in touch for a long time! We both went off to college . . . I knew he had pledged Sigma Nue! Found out he wrote a hot check to go to Hollywood to pursue his dream! His parents were not happy!"
Biff studied at the University of Mississippi's Drama Department where he performed in plays. And when he did decide to go to Hollywood, it's true that he resorted to desperate measures to get there. The check-forging incident was also reported in an issue of Teen Beat magazine (January 1977): "Biff is very honest about the rather daring trick he pulled to get his career going. Biff wrote a bad check and jumped on a west-bound plane. He has since paid the money back and become a resident of Manhattan Beach, California."
And indeed Biff's parents were not pleased with his decision. As Biff told Afternoon TV (July 1978): "They were furious about it. They told me I couldn't go. They thought it was a crazy thing for me to do and thought I was making a big mistake. But I went, anyway. Somehow I knew that was the right time for a break. Although they knew that all my life I wanted to be a performer, they weren't for it and couldn't understand. They believed in me, but didn't see what I saw in myself - a feeling that I would be successful. And there was no way I could explain to them that this was something I had to do. I just had to do it!"
But Biff expressed understanding about his parents feelings as well. "It hurt them, I guess - like it would any parents when their first son, just turned 18, says, 'I'm leaving - I'm going off to California.' They hated to see me go and would have liked for me to finish school. They thought it was fine to venture out on my own, but felt I was a little too young. I know they were trying to look at what was best for me and told me that singing in daddy's club at 11 and being on my own in Los Angeles at 18 were two very different things." But his parents were firm and made it clear that if he went they would not support him financially. "They weren't trying to be mean about it. But they probably thought if they would dish out money to support me, it could go on forever. They made it very clear if I was going to make it, I'd have to do it on my own."
Biff found that getting into show business wasn’t an easy proposition, and took odd jobs to earn a living while looking for work as an actor. One such job as a go-fer on a movie set turned out to be the kind of incident his parents were most worried about. As Biff explained to Afternoon TV (July 1978), "When I got to the set and saw what was taking place, I'll never forget my feelings of shock and surprise. It was a porno film! There they were filming, while I was busily sweeping up the sets! Then, when the film was over, the people just took off and I never even got paid!"
But work slowly started coming in and as he remembered for Rona Barrett’s Daytimer’s TV (December 1977), "My show business start was in a Movie-of-the-week called Shirts / Skins. I had one line directed to Bill Bixby. I said, ‘Would you sign here please!’ I was a messenger boy." Another made-for-TV movie he appeared in early in his career for NBC was called The Death of Sammy (many thanks to C.A.P.E.R. fan Amy for letting us know this 1975 made-for-tv movie is also known as The Dream Makers, and is notable for marking the acting debut of country singer Kenny Rogers.) The parts and lines started to grow, and he worked his way up to a few lines in his appearance on The Streets of San Francisco in the episode "Going Home" in which he played a teenager who witnesses Tom Bosley running away from the scene of a crime. His role was even larger when he guest starred on The Waltons in an episode entitled, "The Romance" which aired in October 1974. He played Don Millman, Mary Ellen’s boyfriend, and the pair have a bit of a quarrel over their differing views of a woman’s place in the world.
Biff had his first foray into the world of live action Saturday morning television when he played, of all things, a bully in the series Shazam! In the episode, "The Brain," a nerdy boy is set apart from a group of more athletic and popular kids. Billy Batson and his mentor try to encourage the boy to join the others, only to have Greg (Biff’s character) coerce him into a daring initiation stunt which ends up leaving Captain Marvel to save them both! During his pre-C.A.P.E.R. days, Biff also reportedly did commercial work, as well as enrolling at UCLA for a time and studying acting with the Melrose Theatre Workshop and in the Drama Department of Cal State Northridge.
Biff's friend, Steve Malone, recalled one specific commercial Biff filmed for Taco Bell which announced a new item. According the Steve, the script went like this: "It's a burrito! No, it's an enchilada." Then Biff said, "I know what we will call it. An 'Enchirito!'" Steve added, "[Biff] made enough off that commercial to buy himself a brand new Karmann Ghia convertible."
But it was his role on C.A.P.E.R. that endeared Biff to a legion of new fans who fell in love with his sweet, gentle and loving character, Doomsday. After playing such a different role on Shazam!, one could really see the range of characters Biff was capable of portraying. It could be argued, however, that his role on C.A.P.E.R. might easily have turned into a thankless one, as too often the actors portraying the intellectually dimmest characters in an ensemble cast can be overlooked as less talented (although portraying such a character is often the toughest and most exhausting challenge of all!) But Biff’s natural charisma kept him from being lost in the group, and while the writers didn’t really give Doomsday the spotlight as often as they might have (for instance, his ability to talk to animals was only ever utilized in one episode . . . this may have been due to budget restraints which could have limited the use of actual animals on the show,) his moments onscreen are both endearing and memorable.
But there could be down sides to fame, as Biff reportedly found out. Articles often referred to Biff’s love of the beach and often talked about how much he loved living in Malibu. But as was reported in Tiger Beat Star (April 1977), "Biff Warren, one of the unbeatable C.A.P.E.R. kids, was forced to move from his former house near the beach! Seems like many of Biff’s fans found out where he lived and began setting up ‘watches’ outside the house to catch him coming-and-going! Biff’s landlord got more than a little upset, so Biff had to move! Now he’s into a house with a hiiigh wall around it, so even if fans know where he lives, they can’t disturb him!" Apparently he moved from Malibu to Westwood, and another Tiger Beat article (May 1977) quoted Biff as having another, more career-oriented reason behind the change: "I was getting too mellow -- not taking my work seriously enough!"
Biff was definitely serious about his career and determined to do everything he could to better learn his craft. According to Afternoon TV (July 1978), "It was while on [C.A.P.E.R.] he was referred to drama coach Helen Westcott, a former stage and screen actress, once associated with method acting and actors. Biff is, characteristically, enthusiastic and appreciative of the important influence she had on his acting career. ‘She was my salvation. She was really the one who stimulated me and molded me professionally. She gave me a strong foundation to work from and gave me confidence to do everything I've been doing. She never beat around the bush, but immediately and always insisted on working with very difficult material.’"
Biff’s first film role was in a rather unusual film entitled Chatterbox, which came out in February 1977. The movie is about a woman who suddenly finds that she has a rather vocal body part (you can likely deduce from the title exactly which part we mean.) Considered by some as a silly, bawdy exploitation film and by others as one of the worst movies ever made (the boom mikes dropping down into the shots on a fairly regular basis does nothing to dispel the latter notion), this was an interesting project for Biff to do following C.A.P.E.R., but then he was probably safe in assuming not many pre-teens would ever hear of the film, let alone see it! And, it should be noted that the film is actually rather tame by today’s standards (it would probably barely garner an 'R' rating these days!) Biff's comedic appearance as an outside member of a boy's basketball team (he carries the balls, drives the bus and sports the not-so-subtle number 69 on his shirt) is extremely brief and he doesn't even have any lines, although he does get to perform a rather notable double-take.
Biff was becoming part of the Hollywood scene and found he had interesting connections with some fellow actors. One Teen Super Star article (November 1976) talked about a visit by the C.A.P.E.R. Kids to their offices and reported, "Biff grew up in the same area ‘Ode to Billy Joe’ was filmed, and left home just four and a half years ago, so he was comparing notes with Robby (Benson) on the area!" Another Hollywood story reported in a Tiger Beat article (February 1977) said, "Biff Warren, a Kid from C.A.P.E.R., recently met Wesley Eure at a personal appearance for the celebration of Arco’s new high rise building in downtown Los Angeles. The two discovered they grew up ten miles from each other in Jackson, Mississippi."
And past friends
were not forgotten. Childhood friend Frank McNeely recalled: "I
got in contact with him and he invited me
Around this time Biff seemed to become more interested in music and starting composing his own songs. He reportedly signed a record contract and one article states that he even released a solo album, which according to Biff's friend Steve Malone was titled "Mississippi Blue Jean Rocker." Steve Malone explained, "Biff also loved Elton John (whom I dated in 1973 for 6 months). I was the first to hear the album 'Yellow Brick Road.' Elton played it for me on a reel-to-reel tape and explained each song to me. He had just completed recording when I met him. Biff's 21st Birthday cake had an image of Biff walking down the yellow brick road." Some of the intriguing song titles attributed to Biff around this time are "Patches," "Poor Boy" and "Rodeo Rider."
It was also reported that Biff went to the Cannes Film Festival during a two-week vacation to France with some friends. References were made to the fact that Biff was a vegetarian and that one of his favorite foods was popcorn. When asked "Can you cook?" for 16 Magazine (May 1977), he is quoted as saying, "I’m into health foods for the most part -- not much cooking there -- but, I make terrific popcorn!" He was extremely athletic and loved all manner of outdoor sports.
One of the burning topics for the teen magazines when it came to Biff was his love for horses and horseback riding. One article in an issue of Teen Beat Special (circa 1977), they explained, "Biff Warren has known how to ride horses for a few years now, but just ‘kidding around.’ He could stay on, and have a good time, but he figured it was time to really learn how to ride! So while C.A.P.E.R. is still in hiatus, Biff went to a local stable near his new Westwood home and signed up for private riding lessons. He goes to the stable once a week and is really learning a lot! His instructess says that he’s doing very well! Biff’s learned how to saddle his own horse (he’s been using a beautiful black Appaloosa -- he doesn’t have his own horse, yet!), brush him and take care of him. Part of the time, Biff learns riding in the ring, learning how to do ‘figure 8's’ and change ‘leads’ and all the other equestrian skills. The rest of the time, Biff’s out on the trails, learning how to control his horse in ‘wide open spaces.’ Right now, Biff’s learning on a Western saddle (the kind with a horn in front), but eventually he’d like to learn English (using a smaller saddle) and even jumping! He’s only had five or six lessons up till now, and there’s only been one major (and puzzling!) hazard: Every time he’s had a lesson, the wind has been really blowing! It’s the time of year in California when the windy conditions makes the sky bright and clear, but it also spooks horses! Many people at Biff’s stable have fallen off their horses because of the wind, but not Biff! That just shows what a fine horseman he’ll be."
Some time later it was reported that he had finally purchased a two-year old gelding horse named Charizmo. Biff was quoted as saying, "He’s got a lot of spirit -- just like me!" But Biff would end up having to set aside his new equestrian interests when he landed his longest running television role to date, as Mark Lewis on the CBS soap opera As the World Turns after he turned in a successful screen test with Marie Masters (who played Dr. Susan Stewart.) Tiger Beat Star (November 1977) reported that Biff played a young man who has an affair with an older woman. From other articles it appears his character started out confined to a hospital bed, but later became ambulatory.
fan Bill (or rather his sister) seemed to recall that Biff's character,
Mark Lewis, was suffering from leukemia. She was kind enough to pull
out her copy of the February 1978 issue of Soap Opera Digest so Bill could
share the following excerpt with us: "Susan (Marie Masters) is the
sunshine in Mark's life. She seems to be the main reason why he is
fighting for his very existence. Her visits give him strength to
continue battling his illness. [Dr. Alexander Keith, played by John
Cypher] observes this, and wanting to do anything he can to help his young
friend and patient, he goes to Susan. He asks Susan to give Mark his
desire. Pretend that she is in love with him. If that's what
Mark needs to get well, that's what he wants to give him."
Later in the issue it also says, "Mark admires, respects, and loves
Susan very deeply. Her continuing bout with the bottle is what
inspires him to do battle with his illness. If Susan can do it, so
can he! Alex realizes Mark's improvement is due to Susan . . . and
he's very grateful."
Leaving behind his horse, Charizmo, couldn’t have been easy for Biff, but apparently they came up with a solution so the horse wouldn't miss him too much. As reported in the Ocala Star-Banner (February 5, 1978), "Jackson, Mississippi born Biff Warren moved so quickly from his Los Angeles home to New York when he was cast on ‘As the World Turns’ as Mark Lewis that he had to leave all of his belongings on the West Coast. One of Biff’s prized possessions is a horse, that Biff swears watches him on "ATWT," just to keep in transcontinental touch with his owner. Well, that’s what Biff boasts." According to Biff's friend, Steve Malone, he never lost his love of horses. As Steve explained, "Biff came to a horse show in the early eighties in Scottsdale and stayed with me . . . yes, he loved horses."
While feeling a bit out of place at first, Biff warmed up to New York and tried to make the most from his time there. Afternoon TV (July 1978) reported that he rented an attractive brownstone apartment on the west side and started jogging in Central Park, regardless of the weather. "I love New York," Biff was quoted as saying in the magazine. "It drives me crazy sometimes, but I love it! The coldness of the people disturbed me when I first got here and I just wasn't use to so much go-go energy all the time. But now I'm caught up with it. I'm enjoying working on 'As the World Turns' very much. It's giving me the wonderful experience of working at developing a role and yet give me the free time I need. I'm still studying - I take voice lessons, acting, and exercise and write my music. I'm trying to get as much out of New York as I can while I'm here."
In the same article, Biff shared a bit of his philosophy about his life and career and the balance between both: "I think there's much more to life than being successful in a career situation. I could be tops as a singer and actor and get ten awards in one year and not be a successful person. I want to know that I have taken the responsibilities that have come into my life and handled them in a positive and good way. I want to be a good friend and take the time to help people. I want to feel good about myself - and act so that I don't have any guilt or bad feelings about anything I've done. I hope I'm in this business for some other reason than self-gratification and my ego. I hope I'm doing it because I have something to give people. There are so many young people my own age in the world who have the feelings that they're the only ones who have problems. So when they see Mark Lewis, they can say, 'Hey, look at this guy - he's got lots of problems and he's getting over them.' And through my music, I'd like to make people happy. I hope I'm not just taking the money and running. I hope my career benefits someone in some way."
After his run on As the World Turns ended sometime in 1978, Biff returned to Los Angeles and enjoyed a notable role in the Suzanne Somers made-for-TV movie, Zuma Beach, which also co-starred Rosanna Arquette and Timothy Hutton. Biff again displayed his range by playing a sensitive, poetic teen named Norman who gradually blossoms into a stronger, more confident and self-assured young man during the course of the movie. An interesting fact told to us by Biff's friend, Steve Malone, is that after filming the movie together Timothy Hutton became Biff's roommate in Manhattan Beach for a short time. Biff later made an appearance in a 1979 episode of Fantasy Island entitled "Tattoo the Love God / Magnolia Blossoms," playing a wounded soldier from the Civil War era.
Biff’s last known credited role was a brief one, playing a collegiate kid in the 1980 Bill Murray film Where the Buffalo Roam, which was based on the writings of Hunter S. Thompson. As serious as Biff was about his career and his acting, he seemed to just disappear after that, with no known acting or music credits to his name to be found.
But this doesn't mean Biff dropped out of the acting business altogether! Biff's close friend Steve Malone has confirmed for us that Biff became a talent agent and worked out of New York for some time. As Steve explained, "He was a talent agent in New York when I visited him there in 1981. He represented Miss Piggy! And among the other talents he represented were three-time Tony winning tap dancer and actor, Hinton Battle, Academy-award winning actor Kevin Spacey, and Al Corley who played Steven Carrington on Dynasty. Al was also a bartender at Studio 54. Biff and I met Al there one night in New York."
Apparently Biff was still well-known and loved in New York circles. His friend Steve Malone explained, "One night we went to Studio 54. When we got out of the cab, the doorman yelled 'Biff!' and we went right past hundreds of people waiting in line for hours."
Steve was very generous in sharing both memories and photos of Biff with us. "Friends called us "Dos Rubios" (the two blondes,)" Steve explained. "He loved David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. Biff's all time favorite movie was Gone With The Wind. He would often say in a thick southern accent; 'Fiddle Dee Dee' and 'I won't worry about that now, I will think about it tomorrow. Because tomorrow is another day!'
We only know bits and pieces about Biff's later life after leaving New York and, apparently, show business altogether. He worked for some time as a contractor in and around Madison County, Mississippi, New Orleans and possible even Florida. Frank McNeely recalls, "He had been living in New Orleans, had married his wife named Phyllis. I know that at the time of his passing he was a real estate developer serving three terms as chairman of the National Association of Homebuilders Sales and Marketing Council."
Sadly Biff died far too young, on September 26, 1993 at the age of 37 (according, to various sources, of AIDS.) We hope that the sentiments he shared with writer Dorothy Vine of Afternoon TV at the end of his July 1978 interview somehow held true for most of his life: "I'm very happy now. My life is terrific! Everything's evolved for me and things just fell into place and I've enjoyed everything I've done. I've been really lucky and that's why I can't help but believe that someone up there is looking out for me." Steve Malone sums up what is probably the most common sentiment amongst Biff's friends and family by stating simply, "I miss him very much."
thanks to 70's
for posting the articles from
thanks, also, to Steve Malone, who was so generous with his
thanks to Frank McNeely for sharing his
thanks must also go out to Kevin for his assistance
Go to Biff's NBC Biography Page
Go to Biff's Fast Facts Page
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