Woodhaven police officer’s attempted heroics became a Hollywood film: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

Officer Charles Glasco was writing traffic tickets and looking forward to the end of a long day and getting back to his home on 87th Street in Woodhaven.

At Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, he found hook-and-ladder trucks, ambulances and crowds lining the streets pointing up to the top of the Hotel Gotham. There, on a ledge 17 floors above the sidewalk, stood a young man clearly in distress. There was a woman at the window, trying to coax him inside and the sergeant on the scene told Glasco that it was his sister.

The sergeant also said that he had threatened to jump if he saw any police officers. It was a deadly situation, but Officer Glasco had an idea.

A friendly Irishman with a gift for speaking and making friends, Glasco suggested that he pose as a civilian to try and win the young man over. Minutes later, Glasco entered Room 1714 to try and save a young man’s life.

The man on the ledge was 26-year-old John William Warde, of Southampton, Long Island, a slender young man with a troubled past. A bank teller with a reputation for being moody or peculiar, Warde had survived two recent attempts at taking his own life, and had spent several months in a State Hospital.

Officer Glasco, now wearing a jacket he borrowed off a bellboy in the lobby, came to the window and began to engage John William Warde in conversation. He told him that he’d been out of work for as long as he could remember and that this was his first day on his new job.

Glasco’s engaging personality got the young man speaking and over the next few hours, they would discuss the merits of night versus day picnics, their favorite baseball teams, physical fitness and more.

Glasco brought him glasses of water and gave him cigarettes, hoping to get close enough to grab the young man and pull him to safety, but Warde was careful to stay more than an arm’s length away. It was a heroic effort under difficult circumstances, and the longer Glasco could keep Warde speaking, the greater chance there was he’d come back inside.

On the street below the crowds lined the sidewalk, three and four deep, into the evening hours, gasping each and every time Warde moved or looked like he was going to jump.

Nets were rigged a few floors below in hopes of whipping them up over his head to entrap him, but the plan failed as they got tangled on the ledges below. Finally, just after 10:30 p.m., 11 hours after the drama began, with Officer Glasco inside the hotel room, John William Warde stepped off the ledge and into eternity.

The dramatic and very public suicide made headlines all around the world. Ten years later, the story was the subject of a long article in the New Yorker called “The Man on the Ledge.” And two years later, the story got the Hollywood treatment.

“Fourteen Hours,” a 1951 film noir from Twentieth Century Fox starred Paul Douglas as “Office Charlie Dunnigan” and Richard Basehart as the young man on the ledge, “Robert Cosick.” The film also stars Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie from “Dallas”) as an estranged fiancé and Agnes Moorehead (Endora from “Bewitched”) as an overwrought, hysterical mother.

The movie also featured a few secondary stories, one featuring Jeffrey Hunter (who would play Jesus in King of Kings, and the Captain in the first pilot for Star Trek) and another featuring the film debut of Grace Kelly. It was on the set of this movie that the future Princess of Monaco would be noticed by Gary Cooper, who cast her as his bride in the western he was getting ready to shoot, the classic High Noon.

The Hollywood version follows the real-life drama fairly close, but deviates in several key areas. We won’t spoil that for you here; it’s a terrific film that shows up pretty frequently on TCM.

As for Officer Glasco, he was lauded for his valiant attempt to save this troubled young man’s life. He would be promoted to Sergeant, but didn’t speak much to his family about the incident. He lived the rest of his life in Woodhaven, just down the block from St. Thomas the Apostle, and passed away on Feb. 3, 1976.