Birthday: December 12, 1881
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Harry Morris Warner, Hirsz Mojżesz Wonsal
Born in: Krasnosielc
Famous as: Executive
Spouse/Ex-: Rea Levinson
father: Benjamin Warner
mother: Pearl Leah Eichelbaum
siblings: Albert Warner, Anna Warner, David Warner, Fannie Warner, Henry Warner, Jack L Warner, Jack Warner, Milton Warner, Rose Warner, Sadie Warner, Sam Warner
children: Betty Warner, Doris Warner, Lewis Warner
Died on: December 27, 1958
place of death: Los Angeles
Founder/Co-Founder: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Warner Leisure Hotels
Who was Harry Warner?
Harry Warner, co-founder of Warner Bros. Pictures, was among the most innovative and influential figures in the history of films. The son of poor Jewish immigrants, he steered his company through the Great Depression and World War II to lay the foundation for the thriving empire Warner Bros. is today. He had a keen eye for new technology and how it could influence filmmaking. The man is remembered not only for his success in business but for his patriotism, impeccable ethics and sensitivity to religious discrimination. Early on, he battled anti-Semitism from bankers and rival studios. To show his support during the war, he devoted himself the making of war movies. Later, he refused to cooperate with the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’, defending his movie stars as non-threats. He was admired as a deeply devoted husband and father, but sadly, his career was marked by an irreparable rift with his brother. His fledgling company is now a global leader, operating in 30 countries. The movies and their star players have won countless Oscars. The studio’s present day collection of 6,800 films, the largest in the world, attests to his talent, tenacity and high character. To know more about his life and works read on the following biography
Childhood & Early Life
Harry Morris Warnerwas born Hirsch Moses Wonsal, Dec 12, 1881, near Warsaw, Poland. His father, Benjamin, was a shoemaker, and his mother’s name was Pearl. There were 13 children, though several of them died in childhood. The family immigrated to the U.S. when Harry was 8 years old.
His first venture into the movie business was in 1905, when he sold his bicycle shop and purchased a theater. To furnish the second theater he bought, called the ‘Bijou’, he borrowed chairs from a local undertaker.
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With his brothers Albert, Sam and Jack, he soon owned 15 theatres across Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as a film distribution company. Due to patent laws, the high cost of securing the films persuaded the brothers they’d be better off producing their own movies. They began doing so in 1912.
‘Warner Bros. Pictures’ was established following the success of ‘The Gold Diggers’ in 1923. Around this time, Harry discovered the trained German shepherd who would become ‘Rin Tin Tin’. The dog was the studio’s most valuable asset.
The first talking picture produced by the studio, ‘The Jazz Singer’, was released in 1927. There were only two minutes of speech in the movie, but “talkies” were the new film frontier.
The studio survived the Great Depression by wooing a number of top stars from rival companies. Throughout the 1930s, gangster movies like ‘Little Caesar’ and ‘The Public Enemy’ were its bread and butter.
In 1933, a separate animation unit was created. While Harry and his brothers didn’t actually produce the movies, they released the cartoons to theaters. ‘Merrie Melodies’ and ‘Looney Tunes’ brought enduring fame to ‘Porky Pig’, ‘Sylvester’ and ‘Tweety Bird’, ‘Bugs Bunny’, and ‘Wile E. Coyote’ and ‘Road Runner’.
Contracted actor, for their production house, Paul Muni won ‘Best Actor’ in 1937 Oscar Awards. That same year, ‘The Story of Emile Zola’ won the ‘Oscar for Best Picture’.
During WWII, while releasing war films like ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and ‘This Is the Army’, he spurred audiences to spend $20 million in war bonds. By 1945, his employees had donated 5,200 pints of plasma to the Red Cross.
In 1947, disgusted by the shady business practices of his brother Jack, he began to devote more time to his racehorses. He further withdrew when the studio branched into television.
‘Little Caesar’ was one of the first films to spark the interest of audiences in the U.S. criminal justice system. It was released in 1931 and starred Edward G. Robinson.
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Warner was initially criticized for removing the word “Jew” from the script of ‘The Life of Emile Zola,’ 1937. But his decision made the film’s condemnation of prejudice universal, and the movie won the ‘Oscar for Best Picture’.
Released in 1942, ‘Casablanca’ is the tale of two men vying for the same woman. Set against the backdrop of WWII, it is one of best-loved films of all time.
Awards & Achievements
For revolutionizing the film industry, ‘The Jazz Singer’ earned a special Oscar at the first ‘Academy Awards’ ceremony in 1929. Ten years later, Harry was again honored by the Academy, receiving a certificate for patriotic short films.
He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. It’s on the north side of the 6400 block of Hollywood Blvd.
Personal Life & Legacy
Harry was married to Rea Levinson from 1907 until his death. The couple had three children, Lewis, Doris and Betty.
A man of high morals, he was incensed by his brother Jack’s marital infidelities and lack of family loyalty. He was devastated when Jack sold their film library for $21 million in 1956.
After the four siblings sold the studio to a syndicate of investors, Jack underhandedly bought back all his own shares and named himself president. The brothers never spoke again. Rea Warner blamed Jack's treachery for her husband’s eventual stroke and death on July 25, 1958 in Los Angeles.
’Slippery Rock University’ of Pennsylvania holds an annual ‘Harry Warner Film Festival’ in the institution dedicated to his name. It opened in 2004.
In the late ‘20s, ‘The Jazz Singer’ and ‘Gold Diggers of Broadway’ succeeded with the new Vidaphone sound technology. Journalists nicknamed him “the godfather of the talking screen”.
This famous film producer insisted that films like ‘The Public Enemy,’ 1931, reinforce that crime never pays. “The motion picture presents right and wrong, as the Bible does,” he once said. “By showing both right and wrong, we teach the right.”
As a teenager, the future film executive was a jack-of-all-trades. His ventures through the early 1900s included a shoe repair shop, meat counter, bicycle shop and bowling alley