By John M. Milner
The next time you watch a Warner Brothers film or catch a show on the CW Network, you can thank Jack Warner, a former Londoner, who was born in London, Ontario and who would later become the president of Warner Brothers Studios. (There is some discrepancy over Warner’s birth name. Some say he was born John Eichelbaum, and that the family name was originally Varna.)
In 1883, Warner’s father, a cobbler named Benjamin left their home in Krasnosielc, Poland and made his way to Hamburg, Germany and traveled to the United States by ship. Less than a year later, his wife Pearl Leah, son Hirsh (later Harry) and sister, Anna, joined him in Baltimore. The Warners would live for two years in Canada, where Jack was born on August 2nd 1892. After living in Baltimore, the Warner family, which would eventually number twelve children, relocated to Youngstown, Ohio where Harry Warner had established a shoe repair business.
Jack Warner, who had only a fourth grade education, performed in vaudeville as a teenager, under the stage name Leon Zuardo. Indeed, throughout his life he would gain a reputation for telling jokes, although mostly bad ones. Sam Warner was the first of the Warner family to become a part of the movie industry, although that first step saw Sam working as a projectionist at a local amusement park. However, Sam saw the potential and purchased a Model B Kinetoscope and a copy of the Great Train Robbery, which he and three other brothers (Harry, Albert and Jack) screened throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.
After Sam’s death in 1927 (the same year, Warner Brothers launched the era of talking pictures with the Jazz Singer), Jack became the sole head of production. Even as Warner Bros was cashing in on the success of the Jazz Singer, Jack would often clash with producers, writers and stars such as Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney. Although he was largely responsible for the studio’s success, Jack Warner found himself unpopular due to his coarse behaviour and obsession with thriftiness. After his marriage to Irma Solomon (which began in 1916 and produced a son, Jack Warner, Jr.) ended, Warner married Ann Boyar, former wife of actor Don Alvarado and the mother of actress Joy Page, in 1936 in what would be a marriage that would last 42 years, produce a daughter, Barbara, and would last until his death in 1978.
During World War II, Warner again served his country, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In 1956 Jack and his brothers Harry and Al announced that they were putting Warner Bros. on the market, only for Harry and Al to discover that Jack had put together a syndicate that bought control of the company. Harry and Al, upset over Jack’s maneuver to trick them into selling off their shares of the company, never spoke to their brother again.
In 1967, two years after publishing his autobiography, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood, the 74-year-old Warner sold the company for $32 million to Seven Arts Productions, although he remained active as an independent producer until he retired after bringing the musical 1776 and Dirty Little Billy, a biopic on Billy the Kid, both disappointments, to the big screen in 1972.
In 1974, he fell on a tennis court, leaving him with an injury from which he suffered for the rest of his life and in 1977, he suffered from the first of two strokes.
On September 9th, 1978, Jack Warner, the last surviving Warner brother, died from edema, in Los Angeles, California. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.
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