Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., formerly known as Warner Bros. Studios, commonly referred to as Warner Bros. (spelled Warner Brothers during the company's early years), or simply WB--is an American producer of film, television, and music entertainment.
One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank, California and New York. Warner Bros. has several subsidiary companies, including Warner Bros. Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Home Video, New Line Cinema, TheWB.com, and DC Entertainment. Warner owns half of The CW Television Network.
Warner Bros. is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The corporate name honors the four founding Warner brothers (born Wonskolaser pron. VON Sko La' Ser or Wonsal)--Harry (born Hirsz), Albert (born Aaron), Sam (born Szmul), and Jack (Itzhak or to some sources Jacob). Harry, Albert, Sam and their parents emigrated to North America from the part of Poland that had been subjugated to the Russian Empire following the eighteenth-century partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth near present-day Ostrołęka, Poland. Jack, the youngest, was born in London, Ontario, Canada. The three elder brothers began in the movie theatre business, having acquired a movie projector with which they showed films in the mining towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In the beginning, Sam and Albert Warner invested one hundred and fifty dollars to present The Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery. They opened their first theater, the Cascade, in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1903. (The site of the Cascade later became the Cascade Center, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex honoring its Warner Bros. heritage, though in late 2010 all of the businesses have closed and the complex is currently for sale.) When this original theatre building in New Castle was in danger of being demolished, the modern Warner Bros. called the modern building owners, and arranged an agreement in hopes of saving it, between the Warner Bros and the modern owners. The owners noted the fact that they were taking phone calls from all over the country in reference to the historical significance of the humble building that should be saved historically.
In 1904, the Warners founded the Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Amusement & Supply Company, to distribute films. In 1912, Harry Warner hired an auditor named Paul Ashley Chase. By the time of World War I they had begun producing films, and in 1918 the brothers opened the Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Sam and Jack Warner produced the pictures, while Harry and Albert Warner and their auditor and now controller Chase handled finance and distribution in New York City. It was during World War I and their first nationally syndicated film was My Four Years in Germany based on a popular book by former American Ambassador James W. Gerard. On April 4, 1923, with help from a loan given to Harry Warner by his banker Motley Flint, they formally incorporated as Warner Brothers Pictures, Incorporated. However, as late as the 1960s, Warner Bros. claimed 1905 as its founding date.
The first important deal for the company was the acquisition of the rights to Avery Hopwood's 1919 Broadway play, The Gold Diggers, from theatrical impresario David Belasco. However, what really put Warner Bros. on the Hollywood map was a dog, Rin Tin Tin, brought from France after World War I by an American soldier. Rin Tin Tin debuted in the feature Where the North Begins. The movie was so successful that Jack Warner agreed to sign the dog to star in more films for $1,000 per week. Rin Tin Tin became the top star at the studio. Jack Warner nicknamed him "The Mortgage Lifter" and the success boosted Darryl F. Zanuck's career. Zanuck eventually became a top producer for the studio and between 1928 and 1933 served as Jack Warner's right-hand man and executive producer, with responsibilities including the day-to-day production of films. More success came after Ernst Lubitsch was hired as head director;Harry Rapf left the studio and accepted an offer to work at MGM. Lubitsch's film The Marriage Circle was the studio's most successful film of 1924, and was on The New York Times best list for the year.
Despite the success of Rin Tin Tin and Lubitsch, Warners was still unable to achieve star power. As a result, Sam and Jack decided to offer Broadway actor John Barrymore the lead role in Beau Brummel. The film was so successful that Harry Warner agreed to sign Barrymore to a generous long-term contract; like The Marriage Circle, Beau Brummell was named one of the ten best films of the year by The New York Times. By the end of 1924, Warner Bros. was arguably the most successful independent studio in Hollywood, but it still competed with "The Big Three" Studios (First National, Paramount Pictures, and MGM). As a result, Harry Warner - while speaking at a convention of 1,500 independent exhibitors in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - was able to convince the filmmakers to spend $500,000 in newspaper advertising, and Harry saw this as an opportunity to finally be able to establish theaters in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.
As the studio prospered, it gained backing from Wall Street, and in 1924 Goldman Sachs arranged a major loan. With this new money, the Warners bought the pioneer Vitagraph Company which had a nation-wide distribution system. In 1925, Warners also experimented in radio, establishing a successful radio station, KFWB, in Los Angeles.
1925-35: Sound, Color, Style:
Warner Bros. was a pioneer of films with synchronized sound (then known as "talking pictures" or "talkies"). In 1925, at the urging of Sam, the Warners agreed to expand their operations by adding this feature to their productions. Harry, however, opposed it, famously wondering, "Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?" By February 1926, the studio suffered a reported net loss of $333,413.
After a long period of denying Sam's request for sound, Harry agreed to accept Sam's demands, as long as the studio's use of synchronized sound was for background music purposes only. The Warners signed a contract with the sound engineer company Western Electric and established Vitaphone. In 1926, Vitaphone began making films with music and effects tracks, most notably, in the feature Don Juan starring John Barrymore. The film was silent, but it featured a large number of Vitaphone shorts at the beginning. To hype Don Juan's release, Harry acquired the large Piccadilly Theater in Manhattan, New York City, and renamed it the Warner Theater.
Don Juan premiered at the Warner Theater in New York on August 6, 1926. Throughout the early history of film distribution, theater owners hired orchestras to attend film showings and provide soundtracks. Through Vitaphone, Warner Bros. produced eight Vitaphone shorts (which aired at the beginning of every showing of Don Juan across the country) in 1926, and got many film production companies to question the necessity. While Don Juan was a success at the box office, it did not recoup its production cost and Lubitsch left Warner for MGM. By April 1927, the Big Five studios (First National, Paramount, MGM, Universal, and Producers Distributing) had put the Warner brothers in financial ruin, and Western Electric renewed Warner's Vitaphone contract with terms that allowed other film companies to test sound.
As a result of the financial problems the studio was having, Warner Bros. took the next step and released The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. This movie, which has very little sound dialogue but does feature sound segments of Jolson singing, was a sensation. It signaled the beginning of the era of "talking pictures" and the twilight of the silent era. However, as Sam died, the brothers were at his funeral and could not attend the premiere. Jack became sole head of production. Sam's death also had a great effect on Jack's emotional state, as Sam was arguably Jack's inspiration and favorite brother. In the years to come, Jack ran the studio with an iron fist. Firing of studio employees soon became his trademark. Among those whom Jack fired were Rin Tin Tin (in 1929) and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. -- who had served as First National's top star since the brothers acquired the studio in 1928 -- in 1933.
Thanks to the success of The Jazz Singer, the studio was cash-rich. Jolson's next film for the company, The Singing Fool was also a success. With the success of these first talkies (The Jazz Singer, Lights of New York, The Singing Fool and The Terror), Warner Bros. became one of the top studios in Hollywood and the brothers were now able to move out from the Poverty Row section of Hollywood and acquire a big studio in Burbank, California. They were also able to expand studio operations by acquiring the Stanley Corporation, a major theater chain. This gave them a share in rival First National Pictures, of which Stanley owned one-third. In a bidding war with William Fox, Warner Bros. bought more First National shares on September 13, 1928; Jack Warner also appointed producer Darryl Zanuck as the studio's manager of First National Pictures.
In 1929, Warner Bros bought the St. Louis-based theater chain Skouras Brothers. Following this take-over, Spyros Skouras, the driving force of the chain, became general manager of the Warner Brothers Theater Circuit in America. He worked successfully in that post for two years and managed to eliminate the losses and eventually increase profits.
Harry Warner was able to acquire a string of music publishers and form Warner Bros. Music. In April 1930, the Warner Bros. acquired Brunswick Records. Harry obtained a string of radio companies, foreign sound patents, and a lithograph company. After establishing Warner Bros. Music, Harry appointed his son, Lewis, to serve as the company's head manager.
In 1929, Harry produced an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical titled Fifty Million Frenchmen. Through First National, the studio's profit increased substantially. After the success of the studio's 1929 First National film Noah's Ark, Harry agreed to make Michael Curtiz a major director at the Burbank studio. Mort Blumenstock, a First National screenwriter, became a top writer at the brothers' New York headquarters.
In the third quarter of 1929, Warner Bros. gained complete control of First National, when Harry purchased the company's remaining one-third share from Fox. The Justice Department agreed to allow the purchase if First National was maintained as a separate company. When the Great Depression hit, Warner asked for and got permission to merge the two studios. Soon afterward Warner Bros. moved to the First National lot in Burbank. Though the companies merged, the Justice Department required Warner to produce and release a few films each year under the First National name until 1938. For thirty years, certain Warner productions were identified (mainly for tax purposes) as 'A Warner Bros. - First National Picture.'
In the latter part of 1929, Jack Warner hired George Arliss to star in Disraeli, which was a success. Arliss won an Academy Award for Best Actor and went on to star in nine more movies with the studio. In 1930, Harry acquired more theaters in Atlantic City, despite the beginning of the Great Depression. In July 1930, the studio's banker, Motley Flint, was murdered by a disgruntled investor in another company.
By 1931, the studio began to feel the effects of the Depression as the public became unable to afford the price of a movie ticket. In 1931, the studio reportedly suffered a net loss of $8 million, and an additional $14 million the following year. In 1931, Warner Bros. Music head Lewis Warner died from an infected wisdom tooth.
Around that time, Warner Bros. head producer Darryl Zanuck hired screenwriter Wilson Mizner. While at the studio, Mizner had hardly any respect for authority and found it difficult to work with studio boss Jack Warner, but became a valuable asset. As time went by, Warner became more tolerant of Mizner and helped invest in Mizner's Brown Derby restaurant. On April 3, 1933, Mizner died from a heart attack.
In 1928, Warner Bros. released Lights of New York, the first all-talking feature. Due to its success, the movie industry converted entirely to sound almost overnight. By the end of 1929, all the major studios were exclusively making sound films. In 1929, National Pictures released their first film with Warner Bros., Noah's Ark. Despite its expensive budget, Noah's Ark was profitable. In 1929, Warner Bros. released On with the Show, the first all-color all-talking feature. This was followed by Gold Diggers of Broadway which was so popular it played in theatres until 1939. The success of these two color pictures caused a color revolution (just as the first all-talkie had created one for talkies). Warner Bros. released a large number of color films from 1929 to 1931, including The Show of Shows (1929), Sally (1929), Bright Lights (1930), Golden Dawn (1930), Hold Everything (1930), Song of the Flame (1930), Song of the West (1930), The Life of the Party (1930), Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1930), Under A Texas Moon (1930), Bride of the Regiment (1930), Viennese Nights (1931), Woman Hungry (1931), Kiss Me Again (1931), Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931) and Manhattan Parade (1932). In addition to these, scores of features were released with Technicolor sequences, as well as numerous short subjects. The majority of these color films were musicals.
Three years later, audiences had grown tired of musicals, and the studio was forced to cut the musical numbers of many of the productions and advertise them as straight comedies. The public had begun to associate musicals with color, and thus the studios began to abandon its use. Warner Bros. had a contract with Technicolor to produce two more pictures in that process. As a result, the first horror films in color were produced and released by the studio: Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). In the latter part of 1931, Harry Warner rented the Teddington Studios in London, England. The studio focused on making 'quota quickies' for the domestic British market and Irving Asher was appointed as the studio's head producer. In 1934, Harry Warner officially purchased the Teddington Studios.
In February 1933, Warner Bros. produced 42nd Street, a very successful musical under the direction of Loyd Bacon. Warner assigned Bacon to "more expensive productions including Footlight Parade, Wonder Bar, Broadway Gondolier" (which he also starred in), and Gold Diggers (Meyer, William R. Warner Brothers Directors: The Hard-Boiled, the Comic, and the Weepers. New York: Arlington House, 1978. Print. Pg 19-20) that saved the company from bankruptcy. In the wake of 42nd Street's success, the studio produced profitable musicals. These starred Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and were mostly directed by Busby Berkeley. In 1935, the revival suffered a major blow when Berkeley was arrested after killing three people while driving drunk. By the end of the year, people again tired of Warner Bros. musicals, and the studio - after the huge profits made by the 1935 film Captain Blood - shifted its focus on producing Errol Flynn swashbucklers.
1930-1935: Pre-code realistic period:
With the collapse of the market for musicals, Warner Bros., under production head Darryl F. Zanuck, turned to more socially realistic storylines, "torn from the headlines" pictures many in the media said glorified gangsters; Warner Bros. soon became known as a "gangster studio". The studio's first gangster film, Little Caesar, was a great box office success and Edward G. Robinson was a star in many of the subsequent wave of Warner gangster films. The studio's next gangster film, The Public Enemy, made James Cagney arguably the studio's new top star, and Warner Bros. was now convinced to make more gangster films.
Another gangster film the studio produced was the critically acclaimed I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, based on a true story and starring Paul Muni. In addition to Cagney and Robinson, Muni was also given a big push as one the studio's top gangster stars after appearing in the successful film, which got audiences to question the legal system in the United States. By January 1933, the film's protagonist Robert Elliot Burns - who was still imprisoned in New Jersey - and a number of different chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States were able to appeal and were released. In January 1933, Georgia chain gang warden J. Harold Hardy - who was also made into a character in the film - sued the studio for displaying "vicious, untrue and false attacks" against him in the film. After appearing in the film The Man Who Played God, Bette Davis became a top star for the studio.
In 1933, relief for the studio came after Franklin D. Roosevelt became president and was able to stimulate the economy with the New Deal; because of this economic rebound, Warner Bros. again became profitable. The same year, longtime head producer Darryl F. Zanuck quit. One reason was Harry Warner's relationship with Zanuck had become strained after Harry strongly opposed allowing Zanuck's film Baby Face to step outside Hays Code boundaries. Also, the studio reduced Zanuck's salary as a result of the losses as a result of the Great Depression, and Harry continued to refuse to restore it in the wake of the New Deal's rebound. Zanuck resigned and established his own company. In the wake of Zanuck's resignation, Harry Warner agreed to again raise the salary for studio employees.
In 1933, Warner was able to bring newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Films into the Warner Bros. fold. Hearst had previously been signed with MGM, but ended the association after a dispute with the company's head producer Irving Thalberg over the treatment of Hearst's long standing mistress, actress Marion Davies, who was struggling for box office success. Through his partnership with Hearst, Warner was able to sign Davies to a studio contract. Hearst's company and Davies' films, however, could not increase the studio's profits.
In 1934, the studio lost over $2.5 million, of which $500,000 was the result of a fire at the Burbank studio at the end of 1934, destroying 20 years worth of early Vitagraph, Warner Bros., and First National films. The following year, Hearst's film adaption of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) failed at the box office and the studio's net loss increased. During this time, Warner Bros. President Harry Warner and six other movie studio figures were indicted of conspiracy to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act, through an attempt to gain a monopoly over theaters in the St Louis area. In 1935, Harry was put on trial; after a mistrial, Harry sold the company's movie theaters, at least for a short time, and the case was never reopened. 1935 also saw the studio rebound with a net profit of $674,158.00.
By 1936, contracts of musical and silent stars were not renewed and new talent, tough-talking, working-class types, were hired who more suitably fit in with these sort of pictures. Stars such as Dorothy Mackaill, Bebe Daniels, Frank Fay, Winnie Lightner, Bernice Claire, Alexander Gray, Alice White, and Jack Mulhall that had characterized the urban, modern, and sophisticated attitude of the 1920s gave way to stars such as James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Edward G. Robinson, Warren William, and Barbara Stanwyck who would be more acceptable to the common man. The studio was one of the most prolific producers of Pre-Code pictures and had a lot of trouble with the censors once they started clamping down on what they considered indecency (around 1934). As a result, Warner Bros. turned out a number of historical pictures from around 1935 in order to avoid confrontations with the Breen office. In 1936, following the success of The Petrified Forest, Jack Warner also signed Humphrey Bogart to a studio contract. Warner, however, did not think Bogart was star material, and decided to only cast Bogart in infrequent roles as a villain opposite either James Cagney or Edward Robinson over the next five years.
After Hal B. Wallis succeeded Zanuck in 1933 and the Hays Code began to be enforced in 1935, the studio was forced to abandon this realistic approach in order to produce more moralistic, idealized pictures. The studio naturally turned to historical dramas which would not cause any problems with the censors. Other offerings included melodramas (or "women's pictures"), swashbucklers, and adaptations of best-sellers, with stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Paul Muni, and Errol Flynn. In 1936, Bette Davis, by now arguably the studio's top star, was unhappy with the roles Warner was giving her. She fled to England and tried to break her contract with Warner Bros. Davis lost the lawsuit and soon returned to America. Although many of the studio's employees had problems with Jack Warner, they considered Albert and Harry fair.
This period also saw the disappearance of a large number of actors and actresses who had characterized the realistic pre-Code era but who were not suited to the new trend into moral and idealized pictures. Warner Bros. remained a top studio in Hollywood since the dawn of talkies, but this changed after 1935 as other studios, notably MGM, quickly overshadowed the prestige and glamor that previously characterized Warner Bros. However, in the late 1930s, Bette Davis became the studio's top draw and was even dubbed as "The Fifth Warner Brother."
In 1935, Cagney sued Jack Warner for breach of contract. Cagney claimed Warner had forced him to star in more films than his contract required. Cagney eventually dropped his lawsuit after a cash settlement. Nevertheless, Cagney left the studio to establish an independent film company with his brother Bill. The Cagneys released their films though Grand National Films, however they were not able to get good financing for their productions and ran out of money after their third film. Cagney then agreed to return to Warner Bros., after Jack Warner agreed to a contract guaranteeing Cagney would be treated to his own terms. After the success of Yankee Doodle Dandy at the box office, Cagney again questioned if the studio would meet his salary demand and again quit to form his own film production and distribution company with his brother Bill.
Another employee with whom Warner had troubles was studio producer Bryan Foy. In 1936, Wallis hired Foy as a producer for the studio's low budget B-films leading to his nickname "the keeper of the B's". Foy was able to garnish arguably more profits than any other B-film producer at the time. During Foy's time at the studio, however, Warner fired him seven different times.
During 1936, the studio's film The Story of Louis Pasteur proved a box office success and Paul Muni, the film's star, won the Oscar for Best Actor in March 1937. The studio's 1937 film The Life of Emile Zola gave the studio its first Best Picture Oscar.
In 1937, the studio hired Midwestern radio announcer Ronald Reagan. Although Reagan was initially a small-time B-film actor, Warner Bros. was impressed by his performance in the final scene of Knute Rockne, All American, and agreed to pair him with Errol Flynn in their film Santa Fe Trail (1940). Reagan then returned to B-films. After his performance in the studio's 1942 Kings Row, Warner decided to make Reagan a top star and signed him to a new contract, tripling his salary.
In 1936, Harry Warner's daughter Doris read a copy of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and was interested in making a film adaptation. Doris then offered Mitchell $50,000 for the book's screen rights. Jack, however, refused to allow the deal to take place, realizing it would be an expensive production.
Another studio actor who proved to be a problem for Jack Warner was George Raft. Warner had signed Raft in 1939, hoping he could substitute in gangster pictures when either Robinson or Cagney were on suspension. Raft had difficulty working with Bogart and refused to co-star in any film with him. Eventually, Jack Warner agreed to release Raft from his contract. Following Raft's departure, the studio gave Bogart the role of Roy Earl in the 1941 film High Sierra, which helped establish him as one of the studio's top stars; following High Sierra, Bogart was also given a role in John Huston's successful 1941 remake of the studio's 1931 failure, The Maltese Falcon.
1930: Birth of Warner's cartoons:
Warner's cartoon unit had its roots in the independent Harman and Ising studio. From 1930 to 1933, Disney alumni Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising produced a series of musical cartoons for Leon Schlesinger, who sold the shorts to Warner. Harman and Ising introduced their character Bosko in the first Looney Tunes cartoon, Sinkin' in the Bathtub, and created a sister series, Merrie Melodies, in 1931.
Harman and Ising broke away from Schlesinger in 1933 due to a contractual dispute, taking Bosko with them to MGM. As a result, Schlesinger started his own studio, Leon Schlesinger Productions, which continued with Merrie Melodies while starting production on Looney Tunes starring Buddy, a Bosko clone. By the end of the decade, a new Schlesinger production team, including directors Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Robert Clampett, and Chuck Jones was formed. Schlesinger's staff developed a fast-paced, irreverent style that made their cartoons immensely popular worldwide.
In 1936, Avery directed a string of cartoons, starring Porky Pig, which established the character as the studio's first bona fide star. In addition to Porky Pig, Warner Bros. cartoon characters Daffy Duck (who debuted in the 1937 short Porky's Duck Hunt) and Bugs Bunny (who debuted in the 1940 short A Wild Hare) also achieved star power. By 1942, the Schlesinger studio had surpassed Walt Disney Studios as the most successful producer of animated shorts in the United States.
Warner Bros eventually bought Schlesinger's cartoon unit in 1944 as a division, renamed it as Warner Bros. Cartoons. Unfortunately, the unit was indifferently treated by senior management, beginning with the installation of Edward Selzer as senior producer, whom the creative staff considered an interfering incompetent. Furthermore, Jack Warner, who had little regard for his company's short film product, reputedly was so ignorant of his animation division that he was mistakenly convinced that the unit produced cartoons of Mickey Mouse, rival company Walt Disney Pictures' flagship character. Furthermore, he sold off the unit's pre-August 1948 library for a mere $3000 each, which proved a short sighted transaction in light of the considerable long term value that the company's animation product proved to have.
Warner Brothers Cartoons continued, with intermittent interruptions, until 1969 when it was dissolved when the parent company ceased film short production entirely. Regardless of this treatment, its characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, and Porky Pig became central to the company's image in subsequent decades. Bugs in particular remains a mascot to Warner Bros.' various divisions and Six Flags (which Time Warner previously owned). In fact, it was the success of the compilation film, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie in 1980, featuring the archived film of these characters that prompted Warner Brothers to organize Warner Brothers Animation as a new production division to restart production of original material.
World War II:
According to Jack Warner in his autobiography, prior to the United States entering World War II, the head of Warner Bros. sales in Germany, Philip Kauffman, was murdered by the Nazis in Berlin in 1936.Harry Warner produced the successful anti-German film The Life of Emile Zola (1937). After that, Harry supervised the production of several more anti-German films, including Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939),The Sea Hawk (1940), which made King Phillip II an equivalent of Hitler,Sergeant York, and You're In The Army Now (1941). After the United States officially entered World War II, Harry Warner decided to focus on producing war films. Also, one-fourth of the studio's employees, including Jack Warner and his son Jack Jr., were drafted or enlisted.
Among the films the studio made during the war were Casablanca, Now, Voyager, Yankee Doodle Dandy (all 1942), This Is the Army, and Mission to Moscow (both 1943); the latter became controversial a few years afterwards. At the premieres of Yankee Doodle Dandy (in Los Angeles, New York, and London), audiences purchased $15.6 million in war bonds for the governments of England and the United States. By the middle of 1943, however, it became clear audiences were tired of war films. Despite the growing pressure to abandon production of war films, Warner continued to produce them, losing money in the process. Eventually, in honor of the studio's contributions to the war cause, the United States Government named a Liberty ship after the brothers' father, Benjamin Warner, and Harry Warner was given the honor of christening the ship. By the time the war ended, $20 million in war bonds were purchased through the studio, the Red Cross collected 5,200 pints of plasma from studio employees, and 763 of the studio's employees served in the armed forces, including Harry Warner's son-in-law Milton Sperling and Jack's son Jack Warner, Jr. Following a dispute over ownership of Casablanca's Oscar for Best Picture, head producer Hal B. Wallis broke with Warner and resigned. After Casablanca made Bogart one of the studio's top stars, Bogart found his relationship with Jack Warner deteriorating. In 1943, Olivia de Haviland (whom Warner was now loaning to different companies) sued Warner for breach of contract.
Warners cut its film production in half during the war, eliminating its B Pictures unit in 1941. Bryan Foy was quickly snapped up by Twentieth Century Fox.
De Haviland had refused to accept an offer to portray famed abolitionist Elizabeth Blackwell in an upcoming film for Columbia Pictures. Warner responded by sending 150 telegrams to different film production companies, warning them not to hire her for any role. Afterwards, de Haviland discovered employment contracts in the United States could only serve a duration of seven years; de Haviland had been under contract with the studio since 1935. The court ruled in de Haviland's favor and she left the studio. Through de Haviland's victory, many of the studio's longtime actors were now freed from their contracts, and Harry Warner decided to terminate the studio's suspension policy.
The same year, Jack Warner also signed newly released MGM actress Joan Crawford, a former top star who found her career fading. Crawford's first role with the studio was 1944's Hollywood Canteen. Her first starring role at the studio, in the title role as Mildred Pierce (1945), revived her career and earned her an Oscar for Best Actress.
After World War II: changing hands:
The record attendance figures of the World War II years made the Warner brothers rich. The gritty Warner image of the 1930s gave way to a glossier look, especially in women's pictures starring Davis, de Havilland, and Crawford. The 1940s also saw the rise of Bogart. In the post-war years, Warner Bros. continued to create new stars, like Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. The studio prospered greatly after the war. By 1946, company payroll reached $600,000 a week and net profit $19.4 million.
One problem for Warner Bros., however, was Jack Warner's refusal to meet Screen Actors Guild salary demands. In September 1946, the employees engaged in a month-long strike. In retaliation, Warner - during his 1947 testimony before Congress, for making the 1942 Russian propaganda film Mission to Moscow - accused a number of studio employees of having ties to Communists. By the end of 1947, the studio reached a record net profit of $22 million. This dropped 50% the following year.
On January 5, 1948, Warner offered the first color newsreel, covering the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl Game. In 1948, Bette Davis, still the studio's top actress and now fed up with Jack Warner, was a big problem for Harry after she and a number of her colleagues left the studio after completing the film Beyond the Forest.
Warner was a party to the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust case of the 1940s. This action, brought by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, claimed the five integrated studio-theater chain combinations restrained competition. The Supreme Court heard the case in 1948, and ruled in favor of the government. As a result, Warner and four other major studios were forced to separate production from exhibition. In 1949, the studio's net profit was only $10 million.
Warner Bros. set up two semi-independent production units that made films for the studio. One of these was Harry Warner's son-in-law Milton Sperling's United States Pictures.
In the early 1950s, the threat of television had grown greatly, and in 1953, Jack Warner decided to take a new approach to compete with the rising threat. In the wake of United Artists successful 3D film Bwana Devil, he decided to expand into 3D films with the studio's 1953 film House of Wax. Unfortunately, despite the success of House of Wax, 3D films soon lost their appeal among moviegoers.
In 1952, Warner Bros. made their first film (Carson City) in "Warnercolor", the studio's name for Eastmancolor.
3D almost caused the demise of the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. Having completed a 3D Bugs Bunny cartoon, Lumber Jack-Rabbit, Jack Warner ordered the animation unit to be shut down, erroneously believing that all cartoons hence would be produced in the 3D process. Several months later, Warner relented and reopened the cartoon studio. Fortunately, Warner Bros. had enough of a backlog of cartoons and a healthy reissue program so that there was no noticeable interruption in the release schedule.
After the downfall of 3D films, Harry Warner decided to use CinemaScope in future Warner Bros. films. One of the studio's first CinemaScope films, The High and the Mighty (now owned by John Wayne's company Batjac), enabled the studio to show a profit.
Early in 1953, the Warner theater holdings were spun off as Stanley Warner Theaters; Stanley Warner's non-theater holdings were sold to Simon Fabian Enterprises, and its theaters merged with RKO Theatres to become RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres. By 1956, however, the studio was losing money. By the end of 1953, the studio's net profit was $2.9 million and ranged between $2 and $4 million for the next two years. In February 1956, Jack Warner sold the rights to all of the studio's pre-1950 films to Associated Artists Productions (which merged with United Artists Television in 1958, and was subsequently acquired by Turner Broadcasting System in early 1986 as part of a failed takeover of MGM/UA by Ted Turner).
In May 1956, the brothers announced they were putting Warner Bros. on the market. Jack, however, secretly organized a syndicate - headed by Boston banker Serge Semenenko- to purchase 800,000 shares, 90% of the company's stock. After the three brothers sold, Jack - through his under-the-table deal - joined Semenenko's syndicate and bought back all his stock, 200,000 shares. Shortly after the deal was completed in July, Jack - now the company's largest stockholder - appointed himself new president. By the time Harry and Albert learned of their brother's dealings, it was too late. Shortly after the deal was closed, Jack Warner announced the company and its subsidiaries would be "directed more vigorously to the acquisition of the most important story properties, talents, and to the production of the finest motion pictures possible."
Warner Bros. Television:
By 1949, with the success of television threatening the film industry more and more, Harry Warner decided to shift his focus towards television production. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would not permit it. After an unsuccessful attempt to convince other movie studio bosses to switch their focus to television, Harry abandoned his television efforts.
The other Warner brother, Jack, began his hatred of television with problems with Milton Berle being hired by the studio to make an unsuccessful film Always Leave Them Laughing during the peak of his television popularity. Warner felt that Berle was not strong enough as a lead to carry a film and that people would not pay to see the man they could see on television for free. However Jack Warner was pressured into using Berle, even replacing Danny Kaye with him. Berle's outrageous behaviour on the set and the film's massive failure proving Jack Warner right led to Jack Warner forbidding television sets appearing in the studio's film sets.
On March 21, 1955, the studio was finally able engage in television through the successful Warner Bros. Television unit run by William T. Orr, Jack Warner's son-in-law. Warner Bros. Television provided the ABC with a weekly show, Warner Bros. Presents; the show featured a rotating series of shows based on three of the studio's film successes, Kings Row, Casablanca and Cheyenne, followed by a promotion for one of Warner's big screen films. It was not a success. The studio's next effort would be making a weekly series out of Cheyenne.Cheyenne was television's first one hour Western, with two episodes placed together for feature film release outside the United States. In the tradition of their B pictures, the studio followed up with a series of rapidly produced popular Westerns, such as writer/producer Roy Huggins' critically lauded Maverick as well as Sugarfoot, Bronco, Lawman, The Alaskans and Colt .45. The success of these series helped to make up for the losses on the film side. As a result, Jack Warner decided to emphasize television production. Warners then produced a series of popular private detective shows beginning with 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64) followed by Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963), Bourbon Street Beat (1960) and Surfside Six (1960-1962).
Within a few years, the studio, in a matter reminiscent of their problems with James Cagney and Bette Davis, provoked hostility among their emerging contract TV stars like Clint Walker and James Garner, who sued over a contract dispute and won. Edd Byrnes was not so lucky and bought himself out of his contract. Jack Warner was angered by the perceived ingratitude of television actors, who evidently showed more independence than film actors, and this deepened his contempt for the new medium. Many of Warners television stars appeared in the casts of Warner's cinema releases of the time. In 1963 as a result of a court decision Warners has to cease their contracts with their television stars, engaging them for specific series or film roles. In the same year Jack Webb took over the television unit and did not have any successes.
Warner Bros. Records:
Warner Bros. was already the owner of extensive music-publishing holdings, whose tunes had appeared in countless Warners cartoons (arranged by Carl Stalling) and television shows (arranged by Max Steiner).
In 1958, the studio launched Warner Bros. Records. Initially the label released recordings made by their television stars whether they could sing or not and records based on the soundtracks of favourite Warner Bros. Television shows.
In 1963, Jack Warner agreed to a "rescue takeover" of Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records. The deal gave Sinatra US$1.5 million and part ownership of Warner Bros. Records, with Reprise becoming a sub-label; most significantly for Warner Bros.'s future music operations, the deal also brought Reprise manager Morris "Mo" Ostin into the company. In 1964, upon seeing the profits record companies made from Warner film music, Jack Warner decided to claim ownership of the studio's film soundtracks and focus on making profits through Warner Bros. Records. In its first eighteen months, Warner Bros. Records lost around $2 million.
Warner Bros. rebounded in the late 1950s, specializing in adaptations of popular plays like The Bad Seed (1956), No Time for Sergeants (1958), and Gypsy (1962).
With his health slowly recovering from a car accident whilst on holiday to France in 1958, Jack returned to the studio and made sure his name was featured in studio press releases. In each of the first three years of the 1960s, the studio's net profit was a little over $7 million. Warner paid an unprecedented $5.5 million for the film rights to the Broadway musical My Fair Lady in February 1962. The previous owner, CBS director William S. Paley, set terms including half the distributor's gross profits "plus ownership of the negative at the end of the contract." In 1963, the net profit dropped to $3.7 million. By the mid-1960s, motion picture production was in decline. There were few studio-produced films and many more co-productions (for which Warner provided facilities, money, and distribution), and pickups of independently made pictures.
With the success of the studio's 1965 Broadway play The Great Race, as well as its soundtrack, Warner Bros. Records became a profitable subsidiary. The studio's 1966 film Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? was a huge success at the box office.
In November 1966, Jack gave in to advancing age and the changing times, selling control of the studio and its music business to Seven Arts Productions, run by the Canadian investors Elliot and Kenneth Hyman, for $32 million. The company, including the studio, was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Jack Warner did, however, remain studio president until the summer of 1967, when Camelot failed at the box office and Warner gave up his position to the studio's longtime publicity director, Ben Kalmenson; Warner did, however, remain on board as an independent producer and vice-president. With the success of the studio's 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, Warner Bros was making profits once again.
Two years later, the Hymans, now fed up with Jack Warner, accepted a cash-and-stock offer from an odd conglomerate called Kinney National Company for more than $64 million. Kinney owned a Hollywood talent agency, Ashley-Famous, and it was Ted Ashley who led Kinney head Steve Ross to purchase Warner Bros. Ashley became the new head of the studio, and the name was changed to Warner Bros., Inc. once again. Jack Warner, however, was outraged by the Hymans' sale, and decided to retire.
Although movie audiences had shrunk, Warner's new management believed in the drawing power of stars, signing co-production deals with several of the biggest names of the day, among them Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, and Clint Eastwood, carrying the studio successfully through the 1970s and 1980s. Warner Bros. also made major profits on films built around the characters of Superman and Batman, owned by Warner Bros. subsidiary DC Comics.
Abandoning the mundane parking lots and funeral homes, the refocused Kinney renamed itself in honor of its best-known holding, Warner Communications. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Warner Communications branched out into other business, such as its acquiring of video game company Atari, Inc. in 1976, and later the Six Flags theme parks.
From 1971 until the end of 1987, Warner's international distribution operations were a joint venture with Columbia Pictures, and in some countries, this joint venture also distributed films from other companies (like EMI Films and Cannon Films in the UK). Warner ended the venture in 1988 and joined up with Walt Disney Pictures; this joint venture lasted until 1993, when Disney created Buena Vista International.
In 1972, in a cost-cutting move, Warner and Columbia Pictures formed a partnership called The Burbank Studios in which they would share production facilities utilitizing the Warner lot in Burbank. The partnership ended in 1990 when Columbia moved into the former MGM studio lot in Culver City.
To the surprise of many, flashy, star-driven Warner Communications merged in 1989 with the white-shoe publishing company Time Inc. Though Time and its magazines claimed a higher tone, it was the Warner Bros. film and music units which provided the profits. The Time Warner merger was almost derailed when Paramount Communications (Formerly Gulf+Western, later sold to Viacom), launched a $12.2 billion hostile takeover bid for Time Inc., forcing Time to acquire Warner for $14.9 billion cash/stock offer. Paramount responded with a lawsuit filed in Delaware court to break up the merger. Paramount lost and the merger proceeded.
In 1992, the division Warner Bros. Family Entertainment was established to produce various family-oriented films.
In 1997, Time Warner sold the Six Flags unit. The takeover of Time Warner in 2000 by then-high-flying AOL did not prove a good match, and following the collapse in "dot-com" stocks, the AOL name was banished from the corporate nameplate.
In 1995, Warner and station owner Tribune Company of Chicago launched The WB Network, finding a niche market in teenagers. The WB's early programming included an abundance of teenage fare like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Dawson's Creek, and One Tree Hill. Two dramas produced by Spelling Television, 7th Heaven and Charmed also helped bring The WB into the spotlight, with "Charmed" lasting eight seasons and being the longest running drama with female leads and "7th Heaven" surviving eleven seasons and being the longest running family drama and longest running show for The WB. In 2006, Warner and CBS Paramount Television decided to close The WB and CBS's UPN and jointly launch The CW Television Network. In 1999, Terry Semels and Robert Daly resigned as heads of the studio after a career of 13 Oscar nominated films. Many of Warner's top stars were considering quitting because of their absence. Daly and Semels were said to popularize the modern model of partner financing and profit sharing for film production.
In the late 1990s, Warner obtained rights to the Harry Potter novels, and released feature film adaptations of the first in 2001, the second in 2002, the third in June 2004, the fourth in November 2005, and the fifth on July 11, 2007. The sixth was slated for November 2008, but Warner moved it to July 2009 only three months before the movie was supposed to come out, citing the lack of summer blockbusters in 2009 (due to the Writer's Strike) as the reason. The decision was purely financial, and Alan Horn said, "There were no delays. I've seen the movie. It is fabulous. We would have been perfectly able to have it out in November." This resulted in a massive fan backlash. The seventh and final adaptation was released in two parts: Part 1 in November 2010 and Part 2 in July 2011.
Warner Bros. played a large part in the discontinuation of the HD DVD format. On January 4, 2008, Warner Bros. announced that they would drop support of HD DVD in favor of Blu-ray Disc. HD DVDs would continue to be released through May 2008 (when their contract with the HD DVD promotion group expired), but only following Blu-ray and DVD releases. This started a chain of events which resulted in HD DVD development and production being halted by Toshiba on February 16, 2008, ending the format war.
In 2009, Warner Bros. became the first studio in history to gross more than $2 billion domestically in a single year.
Warner Bros. is responsible for the Harry Potter film series, the highest grossing film series of all time, both domestic and international without inflation adjustment and Batman film series, one of the only two film series to have two of its films earn more than $1 billion worldwide. It is also responsible for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 as Warner Bros.' highest grossing movie ever (the former was The Dark Knight). However, the Harry Potter movies have produced a net loss due to accounting tricks.IMAX Corp. has finalized a pact with Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Pictures unit to release as many as 20 giant-format films through 2013.
Since 2006, Warner Bros operated a joint venture with China Film Group Corporation and HG to form Warner China Film HG to produce films in Hong Kong and China, including Connected, which is a remake of the 2004 thriller film Cellular, they have co-produced many other Chinese films as well.
Over the years, a series of mergers and acquisitions have helped Warner Bros. (the present-day Time Warner subsidiary) to accumulate a diverse collection of movies, cartoons, and television programs.
In the aftermath of the 1948 antitrust suit, uncertain times led Warner Bros. in 1956 to sell most of its pre-1950 films and cartoons to a holding company called Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.). a.a.p. also got the Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios Popeye cartoons originally from Paramount. Two years later, a.a.p. was sold to United Artists (UA), which held them until 1981, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought UA.
Five years later, Turner Broadcasting System, having failed to buy MGM, settled for ownership of the MGM/UA library. This included almost all the pre-May 1986 MGM film and television library with the exception of those owned by United Artists (i.e. James Bond franchise), although some UA material were included such as the a.a.p. library, the U.S. rights to a majority of the RKO Radio Pictures library, and the television series Gilligan's Island.
In 1991, Turner Broadcasting System bought animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions, and much of the back catalog of both Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears Enterprises from Great American Broadcasting, and years later, Turner bought Castle Rock Entertainment on December 25, 1993 and New Line Cinema on January 28, 1994. In 1996, Time Warner bought Turner Broadcasting System, and as a result, the pre-1950 sound films and the pre-August 1948 cartoon library (excluding the B&W Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies which WB bought back as it merged with Seven Arts but including the Harman-Ising Merrie Melodies, save Lady, Play Your Mandolin! which was bought back by WB when merging with 7A) returned to WB ownership. WB tried to buy back the pre-1950 sound films and pre-August 1948 cartoons from MGM/UA in 1982, but the deal fell through.
In 2007, Warner Bros. added the Peanuts/Charlie Brown library to its collection (this includes all the television specials and series outside of the theatrical library, which continues to be owned by CBS and Paramount through Peanuts Worldwide, LLC, licensor and owner of the Peanuts material).
In 2008, Warner Bros. closed New Line Cinema as an independent mini-major studio, as a result, Warner added the New Line Cinema film and television library to its collection. On October 15, 2009, Warner Bros. acquired the home entertainment rights to the Sesame Street library, in conjunction with Sesame Workshop.
The Warner Bros. Archives:
The University of Southern California Warner Bros. Archives is the largest single studio collection in the world. Donated in 1977 to USC's School of Cinema-Television by Warner Communications, the WBA houses departmental records that detail Warner Bros. activities from the studio's first major feature, My Four Years in Germany (1918), to its sale to Seven Arts in 1968. It presents a complete view of the production process during the Golden Age of Hollywood and has been invaluable to research. UA donated pre-1950 Warner Bros. nitrate negatives to the Library of Congress and post-1951 negatives to the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Most of the company's legal files, scripts, and production materials were donated to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license