Jack L. Warner

Jack Leonard Warner (born Jacob Warner;[1] August 2, 1892 – September 9, 1978) was a Canadian-American film executive, born in Canada, who was the president and driving force behind the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. Warner’s career spanned some 45 years, its duration surpassing that of any other of the seminal Hollywood studio moguls.[2]

Canadian-American film executive (1892–1978)

Jack L. Warner

Warner in 1955
Jacob Warner

(1892-08-02)August 2, 1892

Died September 9, 1978(1978-09-09) (aged 86)

Resting place Home of Peace Cemetery, East Los Angeles, California
Nationality Canadian, American
Other names Jack Leonard Warner
Occupation Film executive
Years active 1918–1973
Political party Republican
    Irma Claire Salomon

    (m. 1914; div. 1935)

      Ann Page

      (m. 1936)

      Children 3, including Jack M. Warner and stepdaughter Joy Page

      As co-head of production at Warner Bros. Studios, he worked with his brother, Sam Warner, to procure the technology for the film industry’s first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927).[3] After Sam’s death, Jack clashed with his surviving older brothers, Harry and Albert Warner. He assumed exclusive control of the film production company in the 1950s, when he secretly purchased his brothers’ shares in the business after convincing them to participate in a joint sale of stocks.[4]

      Although Warner was feared by many of his employees and inspired ridicule with his uneven attempts at humor, he earned respect for his shrewd instincts and tough-mindedness.[2] He recruited many of Warner Bros.’ top stars[5] and promoted the hard-edged social dramas for which the studio became known.[6] Given to decisiveness, Warner once commented, “If I’m right fifty-one percent of the time, I’m ahead of the game.”[2]

      Throughout his career, he was viewed as a contradictory and enigmatic figure.[7] Although he was a staunch Republican, Warner encouraged film projects that promoted the agenda of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal.[6] He opposed European fascism and criticized Nazi Germany well before America’s involvement in World War II.[8] An opponent of communism, after the war Warner appeared as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, voluntarily naming screenwriters who had been fired as suspected communists or sympathizers.[9] Despite his controversial public image, Warner remained a force in the motion picture industry until his retirement in the early 1970s.[10]

      . . . Jack L. Warner . . .

      Jacob Warner (as he was named at birth) was born in London, Ontario, in 1892. His parents were Polish-Jewish[11][12][13][14][15] immigrants from Congress Poland (then part of Russian Empire), who spoke mainly Yiddish. Jack was the fifth surviving son of Benjamin Warner[16] (originally “Wonsal” or “Wonskolaser”), a cobbler from Krasnosielc, and his wife, the former Pearl Leah Eichelbaum.[17][18] Following their marriage in 1876, the couple had three children in Poland, one of whom died at a young age.[19] One of the surviving children was Jack’s eldest brother, Hirsch (later Harry).[20]

      The Warner family had occupied a “hostile world” where the “night-riding of cossacks, the burning of houses, and the raping of women (during pogroms) were part of life’s burden for the Jews of the ‘shtetl‘”.[21] In 1888, in search of a better future for his family and himself, Benjamin made his way to Hamburg, Germany, and then took a ship to America. The Warner surname was perhaps originally “Wonsal” or “Wonskolaser”[22] Upon arriving in New York City, Benjamin introduced himself as “Benjamin Warner”, and the surname “Warner” remained with him for the rest of his life.[16] Pearl Warner and the couple’s two children joined him in Baltimore, Maryland, less than a year later. In Baltimore, the couple had five more children, including Abraham (later known as Albert) and Sam Warner.[23]

      Youngstown, Ohio, c.1910

      Benjamin Warner’s decision to move to Canada in the early 1890s was inspired by a friend’s advice that he could make an excellent living bartering tin wares with trappers in exchange for furs.[24] Their sons Jack and David were born in Ontario.[17][24] After two arduous years in Canada, Benjamin and Pearl Warner returned to Baltimore, bringing along their growing family.[25] Two more children, Sadie and Milton, were added to the household there.[17] In 1896, the family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, following the lead of Harry Warner, who established a shoe repair shop in the heart of the emerging industrial town.[26] Benjamin worked with his son Harry in the shoe repair shop until he secured a loan to open a meat counter and grocery store in the city’s downtown area.[27]

      Jack spent much of his youth in Youngstown. He observed in his autobiography that his experiences there molded his sensibilities. Warner wrote: “J. Edgar Hoover told me that Youngstown in those days was one of the toughest cities in America, and a gathering place for Sicilian thugs active in the Mafia. There was a murder or two almost every Saturday night in our neighborhood, and knives and brass knuckles were standard equipment for the young hotheads on the prowl.”[28] Warner claimed that he briefly belonged to a street gang based at Westlake’s Crossing, a notorious neighborhood located just west of the city’s downtown area.[29] Meanwhile, he received his first taste of show business in the burgeoning steel town, singing at local theaters and forming a brief business partnership with another aspiring “song-and-dance man”.[30] During his brief career in vaudeville, he officially changed his name to Jack Leonard Warner.[31] Jack’s older brother Sam disapproved of these youthful pursuits. “Get out front where they pay the actors,” Sam Warner advised Jack. “That’s where the money is.”[32]

      . . . Jack L. Warner . . .

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      . . . Jack L. Warner . . .