Warner Bros.

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Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Subsidiary
Industry Entertainment
Founded April 4, 1923; 91 years ago (April 4, 1923)[1]
Founder Albert Warner
Harry Warner
Sam Warner
Jack Warner
Headquarters Burbank, California, United States
Key people
Kevin Tsujihara
(Chairman and CEO)
Edward A. Romano
(Vice Chairman)
Products Motion pictures, television programs, video games
Revenue IncreaseUS$ 12.3 billion (2013)
IncreaseUS$ 1.3 billion (2013)
Number of employees
est. 8,000 (2014)[2]
Parent Time Warner
Website www.warnerbros.com

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (commonly called Warner Bros., Warners, or simply WB) is an American media company that makes film, television and music entertainment. As one of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank, California. Warner Bros. has several subsidiary companies, including Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Home Video, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment, DC Entertainment, and the former The WB Television Network. Warner Bros. owns half of The CW Television Network.

History[edit]

1903–1925: Founding[edit]

The company's name honors the four founding Warner brothers (born Wonskolaser [pron. VON Sko La' Ser] or Wonsal)[3][4]Harry (born Hirsz), Albert (born Aaron), Sam (born Szmul), and Jack (Itzhak, or to some sources, Jacob). They emigrated with their parents to North America from Krasnosielc which was located in the part of Congress Poland that had been subjugated to the Russian Empire following the eighteenth-century Partitions of Poland near present-day Ostrołęka. Jack, the youngest, was born in London, Ontario. The three elder brothers began in the movie theater business, having acquired a movie projector with which they showed films in the mining towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In the beginning,[5] Sam and Albert Warner invested $150 to present 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 later became the Cascade Center, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex honoring its Warner Bros. heritage, though as of late 2010 the empty complex was for sale.)[6] When the original building was in danger of being demolished, the modern Warner Bros. called the current building owners, and arranged to save it. The owners noted people across the country had asked them to protect it for its historical significance.[7]

In 1904, the Warners founded the Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Amusement & Supply Company,[6][8] 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. In 1918 they opened Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Sam and Jack produced the pictures, while Harry and Albert, along with their auditor and now controller Chase, handled finance and distribution in New York City. During World War I their first nationally syndicated film, My Four Years in Germany, based on a popular book by former ambassador James W. Gerard, was released. On April 4, 1923, with help from a money loaned to Harry by his banker Motley Flint,[HBTN 1] they formally incorporated as Warner Brothers Pictures, Incorporated. (As late as the 1960s, Warner Bros. claimed 1905 as its founding date.)[9]

Lobby card from The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

The first important deal was the acquisition of the rights to Avery Hopwood's 1919 Broadway play, The Gold Diggers, from theatrical impresario David Belasco. However, Rin Tin Tin,[HBTN 2] a dog brought from France after WWI by an American soldier, established their reputation.[HBTN 3] Rin Tin Tin debuted in the feature Where the North Begins. The movie was so successful that Jack signed the dog to star in more films for $1,000 per week.[HBTN 2] Rin Tin Tin became the studio's top star.[HBTN 2] Jack nicknamed him "The Mortgage Lifter"[HBTN 2] and the success boosted Darryl F. Zanuck's career.[HBTN 4] Zanuck eventually became a top producer[HBTN 5] and between 1928 and 1933 served as Jack's right-hand man and executive producer, with responsibilities including day-to-day film production.[10] More success came after Ernst Lubitsch was hired as head director;[HBTN 4] Harry Rapf left the studio to join MGM.[cph 1] 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 that year.[HBTN 4]

Despite the success of Rin Tin Tin and Lubitsch, Warner's remained a lesser studio.[HBTN 6] Sam and Jack decided to offer Broadway actor John Barrymore the lead role in Beau Brummel.[HBTN 6] The film was so successful that Harry signed Barrymore to a long-term contract;[HBTN 7] like The Marriage Circle, Beau Brummell was named one of the ten best films of the year by the Times.[HBTN 7] By the end of 1924, Warner Bros. was arguably Hollywood's most successful independent studio,[HBTN 7] where it competed with "The Big Three" Studios (First National, Paramount Pictures, and MGM).[11] 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,[HBTN 8] and Harry saw this as an opportunity to establish theaters in cities such as New York and Los Angeles.[HBTN 8]

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.[HBTN 8] In 1925, Warners also experimented in radio, establishing a successful radio station, KFWB, in Los Angeles.[HBTN 9]

1925–1935: Sound, color, style[edit]

Warner Bros. was a pioneer of films with synchronized sound (then known as "talking pictures" or "talkies"). In 1925, at Sam's urging, Warner's agreed to add this feature to their productions.[HBTN 10] By February 1926, the studio reported a net loss of $333,413.[12]

Don Juan opens Warners' Theatre

After a long period denying Sam's request for sound, Harry agreed to change, as long as the studio's use of synchronized sound was for background music purposes only.[HBTN 10] The Warners signed a contract with the sound engineer company Western Electric and established Vitaphone.[HBTN 11] 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 Warners´ Theatre.[cph 2]

Don Juan premiered at the Warners´ Theatre in New York on August 6, 1926.[cph 2] Throughout the early history of film distribution, theater owners hired orchestras to attend film showings, where they provided soundtracks. Through Vitaphone, Warner Bros. produced eight shorts (which aired at the beginning of every showing of Don Juan across the country) in 1926. Many film production companies questioned the necessity.[cph 3] Don Juan did not recoup its production cost[HBTN 12] and Lubitsch left for MGM.[HBTN 6] By April 1927, the Big Five studios (First National, Paramount, MGM, Universal, and Producers Distributing) had ruined Warner's,[cph 4] and Western Electric renewed Warner's Vitaphone contract with terms that allowed other film companies to test sound.[cph 4]

As a result of their financial problems, Warner Bros. took the next step and released The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. This movie, which has very little sound dialogue but includes 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, Sam died the night before the opening, preventing the brothers from attending the premiere. Jack became sole head of production.[13] Sam's death also had a great effect on Jack's emotional state,[14] as Sam was arguably Jack's inspiration and favorite brother.[cph 5] In the years to come, Jack kept the studio under tight control.[14] Firing employees was common.[cph 6] 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.[cph 6]

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.[HBTN 13] With the success of these first talkies (The Jazz Singer, Lights of New York, The Singing Fool and The Terror), Warner Bros. became a top studio and the brothers were now able to move out from the Poverty Row section of Hollywood and acquire a big facility in Burbank, California.[HBTN 14] They expanded by acquiring the Stanley Corporation, a major theater chain.[HBTN 15] This gave them a share in rival First National Pictures, of which Stanley owned one-third.[cph 7] In a bidding war with William Fox, Warner Bros. bought more First National shares on September 13, 1928;[HBTN 16][HBTN 16] Jack also appointed Zanuck as the manager of First National Pictures.[HBTN 16]

Warner Bros. – First National Studios, Burbank, c. 1928.

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.[HBTN 17] Despite its expensive budget, Noah's Ark was profitable.[HBTN 18] 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. color films from 1929 to 1931 included 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.

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 turned its losses into profits. Harry produced an adaptation of a Cole Porter musical titled Fifty Million Frenchmen.[HBTN 19] Through First National, the studio's profit increased substantially.[cph 8] 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.[cph 9] Mort Blumenstock, a First National screenwriter, became a top writer at the brothers' New York headquarters.[cph 10] In the third quarter, Warner Bros. gained complete control of First National, when Harry purchased the company's remaining one-third share from Fox.[HBTN 16] The Justice Department agreed to allow the purchase if First National was maintained as a separate company.[cph 11] 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 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,[cph 12] which was a success.[cph 12] Arliss won an Academy Award for Best Actor and went on to star in nine more movies for the studio.[cph 12] In 1930, Harry acquired more theaters in Atlantic City, despite the beginning of the Great Depression.[15] In July 1930, the studio's banker, Motley Flint, was murdered by a disgruntled investor in another company.[cph 13]

Harry acquired a string of music publishers to form Warner Bros. Music. In April 1930, Warner Bros. acquired Brunswick Records. Harry obtained radio companies, foreign sound patents and a lithograph company.[HBTN 16] After establishing Warner Bros. Music, Harry appointed his son, Lewis, to manage the company.[cph 14]

By 1931, the studio began to feel the effects of the Depression as the public could no longer afford the tickets. The studio reportedly lost $8 million, and an additional $14 million the following year.[HBTN 20] In 1931, Warner Bros. Music head Lewis Warner died from an infected wisdom tooth.[cph 13]

Around that time, Zanuck hired screenwriter Wilson Mizner.[cph 15] While at the studio, Mizner had hardly any respect for authority and found it difficult to work with Jack,[cph 15] but became an asset.[cph 15] As time went by, Warner became more tolerant of Mizner and helped invest in Mizner's Brown Derby restaurant.[cph 15] On April 3, 1933, Mizner died from a heart attack.[cph 16]

By 1932, audiences had grown tired of musicals, and the studio was forced to cut musical numbers from many productions and advertise them as straight comedies. The public had begun to associate musicals with color, and thus 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.[cph 17] The studio focused on making "quota quickies" for the domestic British market[16] and Irving Asher was appointed as the studio's head producer.[16] In 1934, Harry officially purchased the Teddington Studios.[cph 17]

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[17][HBTN 21] that saved the company from bankruptcy.[cph 18] In the wake of 42nd Street's success, the studio produced profitable musicals.[HBTN 22] These starred Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and were mostly directed by Busby Berkeley.[HBTN 23] In 1935, the revival suffered a major blow when Berkeley was arrested after killing three people while driving drunk.[cph 19] By the end of the year, people again tired of Warner Bros. musicals,[HBTN 22] and the studio – after the huge profits made by 1935 film Captain Blood – shifted its focus to Errol Flynn swashbucklers.[HBTN 24]

1930–1935: Pre-code realistic period[edit]

With the collapse of the market for musicals, Warner Bros., underZanuck turned to more socially realistic storylines. For its many films about gangsters;[18] Warner Bros. soon became known as a "gangster studio".[19] The studio's first gangster film, Little Caesar, was a great box office success[HBTN 25] and Edward G. Robinson starred in many of the subsequent Warner gangster films.[cph 20] The studio's next effort, The Public Enemy,[HBTN 26] made James Cagney arguably the studio's new top star,[cph 21] and Warner Bros. made more gangster films.[HBTN 26]

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,[cph 22] joining Cagney and Robinson as one the studio's top gangster stars[HBTN 27] after appearing in the successful film,[HBTN 26] which convinced audiences to question the American legal system.[20] By January 1933, the film's protagonist Robert Elliot Burns – still imprisoned in New Jersey – and other chain gang prisoners nationwide appealed and were released.[21] 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.[22] After appearing in the Warner's film The Man Who Played God, Bette Davis became a top star.[cph 23]

In 1933, relief for the studio came after Franklin D. Roosevelt became president and began the New Deal.[HBTN 28] This economic rebound allowed Warner Bros. to again became profitable.[HBTN 28] The same year, Zanuck quit. 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.[23] The studio reduced his salary as a result of losses from the Great Depression,[HBTN 29] and Harry refused to restore it as the company recovered.[24] Zanuck[25] established his own company.[24] Harry thereafter raised salaries for studio employees.[24]

In 1933, Warner was able to link up with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Films.[cph 24] Hearst had previously workedwith MGM,[cph 25] but ended the association after a dispute with head producer Irving Thalberg over the treatment of Hearst's longstanding mistress, actress Marion Davies, who was struggling for box office success.[cph 26] Through his partnership with Hearst, Warner signed Davies to a studio contract.[cph 24] Hearst's company and Davies' films, however, did not increase the studio's profits.[cph 25]

In 1934, the studio lost over $2.5 million,[HBTN 30] of which $500,000 was the result of a 1934 fire at the Burbank studio, destroying 20 years worth of early Vitagraph, Warner Bros. and First National films.[HBTN 30] 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.[cph 27] During this time, Harry and six other movie studio figures were indicted for conspiracy to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act,[HBTN 30] through an attempt to gain a monopoly over St Louis movie theaters.[26] In 1935, Harry was put on trial;[HBTN 30] after a mistrial, Harry sold the company's movie theaters and the case was never reopened.[HBTN 30] 1935 also saw the studio make a net profit of $674,158.00.[HBTN 30]

The studio as seen in the trailer for The Petrified Forest (1936)

By 1936, contracts of musical and silent stars were not renewed replaced by tough-talking, working-class types who better fit these pictures. Dorothy Mackaill, Dolores del Río, 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 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).[HBTN 31] As a result, Warner Bros. turned to historical pictures from around 1935 to avoid confrontations with the Breen office. In 1936, following the success of The Petrified Forest, Jack signed Humphrey Bogart to a studio contract.[cph 28] Warner, however, did not think Bogart was star material,[cph 29] and cast Bogart in infrequent roles as a villain opposite either James Cagney or Edward Robinson over the next five years.[cph 28]

After Hal B. Wallis succeeded Zanuck in 1933,[cph 30] 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's historical dramas, melodramas (or "women's pictures"), swashbucklers, and adaptations of best-sellers, with stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Paul Muni, and Errol Flynn avoided the censors. In 1936, Bette Davis, by now arguably the studio's top star,[HBTN 32] was unhappy with her roles. She traveled to England and tried to break her contract.[HBTN 32] Davis lost the lawsuit and returned to America.[HBTN 33] Although many of the studio's employees had problems with Jack Warner, they considered Albert and Harry fair.[cph 31]

Code era[edit]

In the 1930s many actors and actresses disappeared 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, 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."[27]

In 1935, Cagney sued Jack Warner for breach of contract.[cph 32] Cagney claimed Warner had forced him to star in more films than his contract required.[cph 32] Cagney eventually dropped his lawsuit after a cash settlement.[cph 33] Nevertheless, Cagney left the studio to establish an independent film company with his brother Bill.[cph 34] The Cagneys released their films though Grand National Films, however they were not able to get good financing[cph 34] and ran out of money after their third film.[cph 34] Cagney then agreed to return to Warner Bros., after Jack agreed to a contract guaranteeing Cagney would be treated to his own terms.[cph 34] After the success of Yankee Doodle Dandy at the box office, Cagney again questioned if the studio would meet his salary demand[cph 35] and again quit to form his own film production and distribution company with Bill.[cph 36]

Another employee with whom Warner had troubles was studio producer Bryan Foy.[cph 37] 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".[cph 31] Foy was able to garnish arguably more profits than any other B-film producer at the time.[cph 31] During Foy's time at the studio, however, Warner fired him seven different times.[cph 37]

During 1936, The Story of Louis Pasteur proved a box office success[cph 38] and star Paul Muni won the Oscar for Best Actor in March 1937.[cph 38] The studio's 1937 film The Life of Emile Zola gave the studio its first Best Picture Oscar.[cph 38]

In 1937, the studio hired Midwestern radio announcer Ronald Reagan. Although Reagan was initially a 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 Flynn in Santa Fe Trail (1940). Reagan then returned to B-films.[cph 39] 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.[cph 40]

In 1936, Harry's daughter Doris read a copy of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and was interested in making a film adaptation.[HBTN 34] Doris offered Mitchell $50,000 for screen rights. Jack, vetoed the deal, realizing it would be an expensive production.[HBTN 34]

George Raft also proved to be a problem for Jack.[cph 41] Warner had signed him in 1939, hoping he could substitute in gangster pictures when either Robinson or Cagney were on suspension.[cph 41] Raft had difficulty working with Bogart and refused to co-star with him.[cph 42] Eventually, Warner agreed to release Raft from his contract.[cph 43] Following Raft's departure, the studio gave Bogart the role of Roy Earl in the 1941 film High Sierra,[cph 43] which helped establish him as a top star.[cph 44] Following High Sierra, Bogart was given a role in John Huston's successful 1941 remake of the studio's 1931 failure, The Maltese Falcon.[cph 45]

Cartoons[edit]

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 musical cartoons for Leon Schlesinger, who sold them 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.[HBTN 35]

Merrie Melodies with Foxy (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 globally popular.

In 1936, Avery directed cartoons starring Porky Pig, which established the character as the studio's first animated star.[28] In addition to Porky, 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) achieved star power.[29] By 1942, the Schlesinger studio had surpassed Walt Disney Studios as the most successful producer of animated shorts.[30]

Warner Bros eventually bought Schlesinger's cartoon unit in 1944 and renamed it 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. Warner had little regard for his company's short film product and reputedly was so ignorant about his animation division that he was mistakenly convinced that the unit produced cartoons of Mickey Mouse, rival company Walt Disney Pictures' flagship character.[cph 46] He sold off the unit's pre-August 1948 library for $3,000 each, which proved a shortsighted transaction in light of its eventual value.[cph 46]

Warner Brothers Cartoons continued, with intermittent interruptions, until 1969 when it was dissolved as the parent company ceased film shorts entirely. 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., its various divisions and Six Flags (which Time Warner once owned). The success of the compilation film, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie in 1980, featuring the archived film of these characters prompted Warner Brothers to organize Warner Bros. Animation as a new production division to restart production of original material.

World War II[edit]

According to Warner's autobiography, prior to US entry in World War II, Philip Kauffman, Warner Bros. German sales head, was murdered by the Nazis in Berlin in 1936.[31][32][33] Harry produced the successful anti-German film The Life of Emile Zola (1937).[HBTN 36] After that, Harry supervised the production of more anti-German films, including Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939),[HBTN 37] The Sea Hawk (1940), which made King Phillip II an equivalent of Hitler,[HBTN 38] Sergeant York,[HBTN 39] and You're In The Army Now (1941).[HBTN 39] Harry then decided to focus on producing war films.[HBTN 40] Warners cut its film production in half during the war, eliminating its B Pictures unit in 1941. Bryan Foy joined Twentieth Century Fox.[34]

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (1942)

During the war era, the studio made Casablanca, Now, Voyager, Yankee Doodle Dandy (all 1942), This Is the Army, and Mission to Moscow (both 1943);[HBTN 41] 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, audiences had tired of war films, but Warner continued to produce them, losing money. In honor of the studio's contributions to the cause, the Navy named a Liberty ship after the brothers' father, Benjamin Warner. Harry christened 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[HBTN 41] 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.[HBTN 40] Following a dispute over ownership of Casablanca's Oscar for Best Picture, Wallis resigned. After Casablanca made Bogart a top star, Bogart's relationship with Jack deteriorated.[cph 36]

In 1943, Olivia de Haviland (whom Warner was loaning to different studios) sued Warner for breach of contract.[cph 47] De Haviland had refused to portray famed abolitionist Elizabeth Blackwell in an upcoming film for Columbia Pictures.[cph 47] Warner responded by sending 150 telegrams to different film production companies, warning them not to hire her for any role.[cph 47] Afterwards, de Haviland discovered employment contracts in the United States could only last seven years; de Haviland had been under contract with the studio since 1935.[cph 48] The court ruled in de Haviland's favor[cph 47] and she left the studio.[cph 47] Through de Haviland's victory, many of the studio's longtime actors were now freed from their contracts,[cph 47] and Harry decided to terminate the studio's suspension policy.[cph 49]

The same year, Jack signed newly released MGM actress Joan Crawford, a former top star who found her career fading.[cph 50] Crawford's first role with the studio was 1944's Hollywood Canteen.[cph 51] Her first starring role at the studio, in the title role as Mildred Pierce (1945), revived her career[cph 51] and earned her an Oscar for Best Actress.[cph 52]

After World War II — changing hands[edit]

In the post-war years, Warner Bros. continued to create new stars, including Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. The studio prospered greatly after the war.[HBTN 42] By 1946, company payroll reached $600,000 a week[HBTN 42] and net profit topped $19.4 million.

Jack Warner continued to refuse to meet Screen Actors Guild salary demands.[cph 53] In September 1946, employees engaged in a month-long strike.[cph 53] In retaliation, Warner — during his 1947 testimony before Congress about Mission to Moscow – accused multiple employees of ties to Communists.[cph 54] By the end of 1947, the studio reached a record net profit of $22 million.[HBTN 43]

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 their top actress and now hostile to Jack, was a big problem for Harry after she and others left the studio after completing the film Beyond the Forest.[cph 55]

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 for 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.[HBTN 43]

Warner Bros. had two semi-independent production companies that released films through the studio.[citation needed] One of these was Sperling's United States Pictures.[35]

In the early 1950s, the threat of television emerged. In 1953, Jack decided to copy.[HBTN 44] United Artists successful 3D film Bwana Devil, releasing his own 3D films beginning with House of Wax.[HBTN 45] However, 3D films soon lost their appeal among moviegoers.[cph 56]

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.

In 1952, Warner Bros. made their first film (Carson City) in "Warnercolor", the studio's name for Eastmancolor.

After the downfall of 3D films, Harry Warner decided to use CinemaScope in future Warner Bros. films.[HBTN 46] One of the studio's first CinemaScope films, The High and the Mighty (owned by John Wayne's company Batjac), enabled the studio to show a profit.[HBTN 47]

Early in 1953, Warner's theater holdings were spun off as Stanley Warner Theaters; Stanley Warner's non-theater holdings were sold to Simon Fabian Enterprises,[36] and its theaters merged with RKO Theatres to become RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres.[37]

By 1956 the studio was losing money,[HBTN 48] declining from 1953's net profit of $2.9 million[cph 57] and the next two years of between $2 and $4 million.[cph 58] In February 1956, Jack Warner sold the rights to all of his pre-December 1949 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).[38][39]

In May 1956, the brothers announced they were putting Warner Bros. on the market.[40] Jack secretly organized a syndicate – headed by Boston banker Serge Semenenko[HBTN 48]– to purchase 90% of the stock.[HBTN 48] After the three brothers sold, Jack – through his under-the-table deal – joined Semenenko's syndicate[HBTN 49] and bought back all his stock.[HBTN 49] Shortly after the deal was completed in July,[cph 59] Jack – now the company's largest stockholder – appointed himself its new president.[HBTN 50][cph 59] Shortly after the deal closed, Jack 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."[41]

Warner Bros. Television and Warner Bros. Records[edit]

By 1949, with the success of television threatening the film industry more and more, Harry Warner decided to emphasize television production.[HBTN 44] However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would not permit it.[HBTN 44] After an unsuccessful attempt to convince other movie studio bosses to switch, Harry abandoned his television efforts.[HBTN 51]

Jack had problems with Milton Berle's an unsuccessful film Always Leave Them Laughing during the peak of Berle's television popularity. Warner felt that Berle was not strong enough to carry a film and that people would not pay to see the man they could see on television for free. However Jack was pressured into using Berle, replacing Danny Kaye with him.[42] Berle's outrageous behaviour on the set and the film's massive failure led to Jack banning television sets from film sets.[43]

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 ABC with a weekly show, Warner Bros. Presents. The show featured rotating shows based on three film successes, Kings Row, Casablanca and Cheyenne, followed by a promotion for a new film.[44][cph 60] It was not a success.[cph 61] The studio's next effort was to make a weekly series out of Cheyenne.[cph 62] Cheyenne was television's first hour-long Western. Two episodes were 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.[cph 62] The success of these series helped to make up for losses in the film business.[cph 62] As a result, Jack decided to emphasize television production.[cph 63] Warner's produced a series of popular private detective shows beginning with 77 Sunset Strip (1958–1964) followed by Hawaiian Eye (1959–1963), Bourbon Street Beat (1960) and Surfside Six (1960–1962).

Within a few years, the studio provoked hostility among their TV stars such as Clint Walker and James Garner, who sued over a contract dispute[cph 64] and won. Edd Byrnes was not so lucky and bought himself out of his contract. Jack was angered by their perceived ingratitude, who evidently showed more independence than film actors, deepening his contempt for the new medium.[cph 65] Many of Warner's television stars appeared in the casts of Warner's cinema releases. In 1963 a court decision forced Warner's to end contracts with their television stars, engaging them for specific series or film roles.[citation needed] In the same year Jack Webb took over the television unit without success.

Warner Bros. was already the owner of extensive music-publishing holdings, whose tunes had appeared in countless cartoons (arranged by Carl Stalling) and television shows (arranged by Max Steiner[45]).

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 television soundtracks.

In 1963, Warner agreed to a "rescue takeover" of Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records.[cph 66] The deal gave Sinatra US$1.5 million and part ownership of Warner Bros. Records, making Reprise a sub-label.[cph 66] Most significantly the deal brought Reprise manager Morris "Mo" Ostin into the company. In 1964, upon seeing the profits record companies made from Warner film music, Warner decided to claim ownership of the studio's film soundtracks.[cph 67] In its first eighteen months, Warner Bros. Records lost around $2 million.[cph 68]

New owners[edit]

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).

While he slowly recovered from a car crash that occurred while vacationing in France in 1958, Jack returned to the studio and made sure his name was featured in studio press releases. From 1961-63, the studio's annual net profit was a little over $7 million.[HBTN 52] 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."[cph 69] In 1963, the studio's net profit dropped to $3.7 million.[HBTN 52] By the mid-1960s, motion picture production was in decline, as the industry was in the midst of a painful transition from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the era now known as New Hollywood. Few studio films were made in favor of co-productions (for which Warner provided facilities, money and distribution), and pickups of independent pictures.

With the success of the studio's 1965 film of Broadway play The Great Race,[cph 68] as well as its soundtrack,[cph 68] Warner Bros. Records became a profitable subsidiary. The 1966 film Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? was a huge success.[cph 70]

In November 1966, Jack gave in to advancing age and changing times,[cph 71] selling control of the studio and music business to Seven Arts Productions, run by Canadian investors Elliot and Kenneth Hyman, for $32 million.[cph 72] The company, including the studio, was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Warner remained president until the summer of 1967, when Camelot failed at the box office and Warner gave up his position to his longtime publicity director, Ben Kalmenson;[cph 73] Warner remained on board as an independent producer and vice-president.[cph 72] With the 1967 success of Bonnie and Clyde, Warner Bros. was again profitable.[cph 74]

Two years later the Hymans had tired of Jack Warner.[cph 74] They accepted a cash-and-stock offer from an Kinney National Company for more than $64 million.[cph 74] Kinney owned a Hollywood talent agency, Ashley-Famous,[46] whose founder Ted Ashley led Kinney head Steve Ross to purchase Warner Bros. Ashley became the studio head and changed the name to Warner Bros., Inc. once again. Warner was outraged by the Hymans' sale,[cph 74] and decided to retire.[cph 74]

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, including 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 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 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. In some countries, this joint venture distributed films from other companies (such as EMI Films and Cannon Films in the UK). Warner ended the venture in 1988 and partnered 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 formed a partnership called The Burbank Studios. They would share the Warner lot in Burbank. Both studios technically became production entities, giving the partnership entity day-to-day responsibility for studio grounds and upkeep. The Columbia Ranch (about a mile north of Warner's lot) was part of the deal. The partnership was acrimonious, but the reluctance of both studios to spend money that might only help the other did have the unintended consequence of preserving the Warner lot's primary function as a filmmaking facility while it produced little during the 1970s and 1980s. Warner retained a significant portion of its backlot, while Fox sold its backlot to create Century City, Universal turned part of its backlot into a theme park and shopping center, and Disney replaced its backlot with office buildings and exiled its animation department to an industrial park in Glendale. In 1989, a solution to the situation became evident when Warner Bros. acquired Lorimar-Telepictures and gained control of the former MGM studio lot in Culver City, and that same year, Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Sony was flush with cash and Warner Bros. now had two studio lots. In 1990, the Burbank Studios partnership ended when Sony bought the MGM lot from Warner and moved Columbia to Culver City. However, Warner kept the Columbia Ranch, now known as the Warner Bros. Ranch.

Warner Communications merged in 1989 with white-shoe publishing company Time Inc. Time claimed a higher level of prestige, while Warner Bros. 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 with a $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 Warner Bros. Family Entertainment was established to produce various family-oriented films.

In 1997 Time Warner sold Six Flags. 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 element was banished from the corporate name.

Since 1995[edit]

A panoramic view over today's studio premises.

In 1995, Warner and station owner Tribune Company of Chicago launched The WB Network, seeking 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 helped bring The WB into the spotlight .Charmed lasted eight seasons, becoming the longest running drama with female leads. 7th Heaven ran for eleven seasons and was the longest running family drama and longest running show for the network. In 1998, Warner Bros. celebrated its 75th anniversary. 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 studio heads after a career 13 Oscar nominated films. Daly and Semels were said to have popularized 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 came in July 2009.[47] The seventh and final was released in two parts: Part 1 in November 2010 and Part 2 in July 2011.

From 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, a remake of the 2004 thriller film Cellular. They co-produced many other Chinese films.[citation needed]

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.[48] HD DVDs continued to be released through May 2008, but only following Blu-ray and DVD releases.

In 2009, Warner Bros. became the first studio in history to gross more than $2 billion domestically in a single year.[citation needed]

Warner Bros. Harry Potter film series was the worldwide highest grossing film series of all time without inflation adjustment. Its Batman film series was one of only two series to have two entries earn more than $1 billion worldwide. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was Warner Bros.' highest grossing movie ever (surpassing The Dark Knight).[citation needed] However, the Harry Potter movies have produced a net loss due to Hollywood accounting.[49] IMAX Corp.signed with Warner Bros. Pictures in April 2010 to release as many as 20 giant-format films through 2013.[50]

Warner Bros. formed a short form digital unit, Blue Ribbon Content, under its Warner Bros. Animation & Warner Digital Series president.[51]

Production deals[edit]

Film library[edit]

Gate 4, Warner Bros. Studios, looking south towards the water tower.

Mergers and acquisitions have helped Warner Bros. 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[38][39] 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.[citation needed]

In 1982 Turner Broadcasting System acquired Brut Productions, the film production subsidiary of the then struggling personal-care company Faberge Inc.[57]

in 1986, 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.[citation needed]

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 22, 1993[58][59] and New Line Cinema on January 28, 1994.[60][61] In 1996, Time Warner bought Turner Broadcasting System, and brought the pre-1950 sound films and the pre-August 1948 cartoon library back home.

On October 4, 2007, Warner Bros. added the Peanuts/Charlie Brown library to its collection from Peanuts Worldwide, LLC, licensor and owner of the Peanuts material; this includes all the television specials and series outside of the theatrical library, which continues to be owned by CBS and Paramount.[62][63]

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.

Highest-grossing films[edit]

Highest-grossing films
Rank Title Year Domestic gross Notes
1 The Dark Knight* 2008 $534,858,444
2 The Dark Knight Rises 2012 $448,139,099
3 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 2011 $381,011,219
4 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 2001 $317,575,550 Titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in most international territories.
5 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2012 $303,003,568 Co-owned by New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (the film's producers).
6 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 2009 $301,959,197
7 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 2010 $295,983,305
8 Inception 2010 $292,576,195
9 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 2007 $292,004,738
10 Man of Steel 2013 $291,045,518
11 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2005 $290,013,036
12 The Matrix Reloaded 2003 $281,576,461
13 The Hangover 2008 $277,322,503
14 Gravity 2013 $274,092,705
15 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2002 $261,988,482
16 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 2013 $258,366,855 Co-owned by New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (the film's producers).
17 The Lego Movie 2014 $257,760,692
18 I Am Legend 2007 $256,393,010
19 The Blind Side 2009 $255,959,475
20 The Hangover Part II 2011 $254,464,305
21 Batman 1989 $251,188,924
22 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 2004 $249,541,069
23 Twister 1996 $241,721,524 Distributed by Universal Studios internationally.
24 300 2007 $210,614,939
25 Sherlock Holmes 2009 $209,028,679
  • Includes theatrical reissue(s).

The Warner Bros. Archives[edit]

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. 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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