One of the longest lived of the legendary Hollywood moguls, Canadian-born Jack Warner (of Polish-Jewish extraction) was the youngest of the four Warner brothers (there were 12 children in all) to venture into the movie business in 1905. In 1912 they went into actual film production, and the studio called Warner Bros. was established in the mid 1920s; its initial success was assured two years later with The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture. The studio developed a reputation during the 1930s as the most "street smart" of the Hollywood organizations, with its gangster films--sparked by a new young discovery named James Cagney and, later, Humphrey Bogart--and dazzling (yet surprisingly gritty) musicals, most notably 42nd Street (1933) and its various follow-ups, driven by the choreography of Busby Berkeley. Warner Bros. was also responsible for several more ambitious films, including the controversial social drama I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and the Shakespearean adaptation A Midsummer Night's Dream (1934). By the middle and late 1930s, it had a star roster, the envy of other studios, that included Errol Flynn, Bogart, Cagney, Bette Davis, Paul Muni, John Garfield, a powerhouse producer in the guise of Hal Wallis, and a directorial staff--led by Michael Curtiz and John Huston--capable of handling virtually any type of film well. Even the studio's B-level stars, such as Ronald Reagan, were among the best of their kind and superior to the leading men of several of the other studios. Warner kept his share in the studio long after the others sold out their interests, and was still making good deals well into the 1950s, most notably when he secured the film rights--in partnership with CBS, which had financed the play--forMy Fair Lady (1960) As late as 1972, he was active as an independent producer, bringing the musical 1776 to the screen, ironically the same year that he also produced Dirty Little Billy, an all-but-forgotten account of Billy the Kid's life and career.
Biography by Bruce Eder
- Parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants.
- Co-founded Warner Brothers, along with siblings Harry, Sam and Albert, in 1918.
- Along with brother Sam, pioneered the talking film with The Jazz Singer (1927), the first movie to combine dialog with music.
- Known for his volatile personality, Warner fired son Jack M. Warner from the studio in 1958, and later became estranged from brothers Harry and Albert.
- Reluctantly cast his stepdaughter, Joy Page, in Casablanca (1942), but refused to sign her to a contract with Warner Bros.
- Great-niece Cass Warner Sperling founded the Warner Sisters production company, which produced the 2008 documentary The Brothers Warner.