2003-09-12 02:16:59 UTC
<The Times, September 11, 1978>
MR JACK L. WARNER
Venture into 'talkies'
Mr Jack L. Warner, the last survivor of the four brothers who founded
the Warner Brothers film studio, died in Los Angeles on Saturday at
the age of 86. The company was noted for inaugurating the sound era in
films with "The Jazz Singer", for the 1930s cycle of gangster films
and other melodramas "torn from the headlines", and for musicals like
the Golddiggers series. Jack Warner was the studio's creative force,
supervising many pictures and helping to build the stars.
The youngest of the brothers, Jack Leonard Warner was born in London,
Ontario, on August 2, 1892, the son of a cobbler who had emigrated
from Poland. The four boys, Sam, Harry, Albert and Jack, signalled
their intentions early; by 1912 Jack and Sam had their own production
Warner Brothers pictures was formed in 1923, with Jack in charge of
production, but despite his discovery of the dog star, Rin Tin Tin,
the company ran into finacial trouble and decided to gamble on the
introduction of sound. The first venture was "Don Juan" (1926), which
had recorded musical accompaniment, but the real advance came the
following year when a few lines of dialogue were added to Al Jolson's
songs in "The Jazz Singer". The picture made a fortune, Warner
Brothers' survival was assured and the film industry was forced to
come to terms with the "talkies."
In the development of Warners, Albert managed the finances, Harry was
the executive head and Jack ran the production side. (Sam, who had
supervised the sound campaign, died just before "The Jazz Singer"
opened.) It was Jack who largely decided what sort of film should be
made, choosing the scripts and signing up actors, directors and
cameramen. The Warner payroll included gangster stars like Edward G.
Robinson, James Cagney, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, as well as
Erroll Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis. Leading directors
contracted to the company were Michael Curtiz, Mervyn LeRoy and Raoul
Under Jack Warner, the studio developed a reputation for tightly
budgeted and fast-moving pictures often rooted in contemporary themes.
The gangster cycle began with "Little Caesar" in 1930 and continued
through "Public Enemny" and "Scarface"; in the same moulds were
socially conscious pictures like "I Am a Fugitive from A Chain Gang"
and "They Won't Forget". Other specialities of the studio were the
ornate Busby Berkeley musicals, such as the Golddiggers series, which
ran from 1933 to 1938, "42nd Street" and "Footlight Parade", and a
series of biographies of worthy figures like the Curies, Louis Pasteur
and Emile Zola. The Zola film with Paul Muni, won an Oscar for Jack
Warner in 1937.
During the Second World War Jack Warner was a colonel in the United
States Air Force, organizing its first motion picture unit, and he was
awarded an honorary CBE for services to Anglo-American relations.
With the contraction of the film industry in the 1950s, Warner
Brothers turned to television: cinema films tended to be
collaborations with independent producers. Warners were associated
with acclaimed pictures like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and
"Bonnie and Clyde". But Jack Warner continued to supervise a few
prestige productions, notably the musicals, "My Fair Lady" (1964) and
"Camelot" (1967). As soon as he saw the stage version he was
determined to bring "My Fair Lady" to the screen, paying 5 and a half
million dollars for the film rights and spending another 17 million
dollars on the production. His outlay was recovered several times
over, and the film won four Oscars.
In 1967 Warner Brothers merged with Seven Arts, a company distributing
films to television.