Born August 2, 1892 in London, Ontario, Jack L. Warner was the youngest of 12 children in a Polish immigrant family. The fact that he was born in Canada seems more an accident of timing. His father, a cobbler, had originally settled in Baltimore, Maryland, before moving his family to Canada and then back again to Baltimore. Jack first worked in his brother Harry’s shoe repair store in Baltimore. Eventually the family moved to Youngstown, Ohio.
In 1905 Jack had entered the movie business but as an entertainer. He sang illustrated song slides to audiences in nickelodeons. That same year he and his brothers opened Le Bijou nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A year later they started the Duquesne Amusement Supply Company and went on to open production studios in St. Louis and Santa Paula, California. By 1910 they were producing their own films.
In 1918 they formed Warner Bros., with their head office in New York City and with Harry as president. Sam Warner served as chief executive, Albert Warner was treasurer, and Jack became head of production at their studios in Burbank, California. Warner Bros. took a huge gamble in 1927 when it launched the sound era with the release of The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. The film proved to be a great success and Warner Bros. became one of Hollywood’s major studios with a stable of contract players including stars like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland.
The 1930s, often referred to as Hollywood’s Golden Age, brought a long, unbroken string of hits from the studio. Important historical dramas like The Story of Louis Pasteur in 1936 and The Life of Emile Zola one year later. Remarkable entertainment films like Gold Diggers if 1933, and the launching of the career of Ruby Keeler in 1933’s 42nd Street.
In 1942, Warner’s released the wartime drama Casablanca with Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, viewed by fans and critics alike as a classic example of Hollywood studio moviemaking at its very best. The decade also gave us films like The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) which featured fellow Canadians Raymond Massey and Jack Carson, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre which brought Academy Awards for Director and Adapted Screenplay for director John Huston, and an Oscar® for his Canadian-born father Walter Huston for Best Supporting Actor.
Sam Warner had passed away shortly after the release of The Jazz Singer. In 1956, Harry and Albert sold their interest in the company, but Jack stayed on as studio chief. He would occasionally produce himself and is credited as the producer on My Fair Lady, which won the Oscar for best picture in 1964. In 1965 he published his autobiography, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood. Two years later, Jack Warner was 74 and in November of 1966 he sold control of the studio and Warners Bros. Music that had started in 1958 to Seven Arts Productions for $32 million. Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, as the company was then renamed, was run by Canadian investors Elliot and Kenneth Hyman. Warner remained president until the following year, but continued to work as an independent producer. He was 86-years-old when he died of heart disease in Los Angeles, California on September 9, 1978.
Also see: Jack Warner’s filmography.
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