skip navigation
Overview for Jack L. Warner
Jack L. Warner

Jack L. Warner



TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here


TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (1)

Recent DVDs

Also Known As: Jack Warner,Jack Leonard Warner Died: September 9, 1978
Born: August 2, 1892 Cause of Death: Heart Inflammation
Birth Place: London, Ontario, CA Profession: Producer ... executive producer author


rceived as thinly veiled criticisms of the Vietnam War. Without consulting director Peter Hunt, Warner removed the numbers, as well as nearly 20 minutes of the film itself. The film was subsequently dismissed by audiences who were too embroiled in national and world politics to embrace a picture with a positive view of the government. Warner attempted to take to the airwaves to publicize the film, but frequently did more harm than good, with comments about "pinkos" underscoring his obsolescence.

However, such comments may have been borne out of physical impairment than outdated politics. By 1973, Warner was showing signs of encroaching senility, including an incident where he lost his way in his own office building. The following year, he suffered a stroke that left him blind and precipitated a slow decline over the next few years. On Sept. 9, 1978, Warner died of heart edema, prompting tributes throughout the Hollywood community. The University of Southern California hosted a tribute that saw many of his old employees and adversaries pay their respects; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame soon followed. However, Warner remained stubborn and impassable even in death; his will bequeathed most of his $15 million estate to Ann Page, while son Jack Jr. received $200,000.

By Paul Gaita In later years, Warner would also carry on a series of affairs with other women while still involved with Page. His most combative relationship, however, remained with his brother Harry. Their decades-long animosity came to a head in 1956 when Jack Warner sold the rights to the studio¿s entire library of films made before 1950 to Associated Artists Production for a modest sum of $21 million. Two years later, when the Warners decided to put the studio on the market, Jack secretly organized a syndicate with Boston banker Serge Semenenko to purchase 90 percent of the company¿s stock. Once the purchase was completed, Jack re-purchased the stock he had sold, which effectively made him the studio¿s largest stockholder. He quickly appointed himself president, which enraged Harry and Albert Warner. Employees reported that after learning about Jack¿s involvement in the sale, Harry allegedly chased him through the studio, threatening to kill him. Whatever the case, Harry and Jack Warner never spoke again, and Jack refused to attend his brother¿s funeral in 1958.

Despite his reputation, Warner still had his supporters. He elevated Errol Flynn from relative obscurity to stardom with "Captain Blood" (1935) and a series of popular adventures including "The Sea Hawk" (1940), "They Died with Their Boots On" (1941) and "Objective, Burma!" (1945). They even stood by their swashbuckling star after Flynn was accused of statutory rape in the early 1940s (he was subsequently acquitted). Warner also rescued Joan Crawford ¿ after the aging star was kicked to the curb by her longtime studio MGM ¿ by making her the lead in the Warner production of "Mildred Pierce" (1945), which not only earned her an Oscar but resuscitated her career. And in addition to discovering Cagney and making Bogart one of his top stars of the 1940s, he championed or supported such performers as William Powell, Lauren Bacall, Ann Sheridan, Doris Day and Joan Blondell.

And though he ruled his studio with ham-fisted and antagonistic business techniques, Warner understood audience trends and tastes, and oversaw some of the most critically acclaimed and popular films of the 1940s and 1950s. In addition to the immortal "Casablanca," a casual list of Warner titles from these decades included William Wyler¿s "The Letter" (1940); Frank Capra¿s "Meet John Doe" (1941) and "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944); John Huston¿s ""High Sierra" (1941), The Maltese Falcon" (1941) and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948); "The Glass Menagerie" (1950); Alfred Hitchcock¿s "Strangers on a Train" (1951) and "Dial M for Murder" (1954); the pioneering 3-D film "House of Wax" (1953); Howard Hawks¿ "Rio Bravo" (1959); and "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) and "Giant" (1956), both of which established the legend of James Dean. Warner also struck box office gold by distributing the earliest efforts from England¿s Hammer Films like "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957) and Japan¿s Toho Studios, which gave the world "Godzilla Raids Again" (1959).

Warner entered the 1950s with a skeptical eye on the growing medium of television. He initially resisted participation, but eventually caved in 1954 by appointing his son-in-law, William T. Orr, as head of Warner Bros. Television. The new division soon struck gold with Westerns like "Cheyenne" (ABC, 1955-1963), which was the first one-hour Western on television, as well as "Maverick" (ABC, 1957-1962) and youth-oriented programs like "77 Sunset Strip" (ABC, 1958-1964) and "Hawaiian Eye" (ABC, 1959-1963). However, as before, Warner¿s dismissive nature generated dissention among his television stars, whom Warner disliked even more than movie actors. A series of well-publicized legal battles with James Garner, Clint Walker and Edd Byrnes soon forced Warner Bros. to abandon their style of television contracts.

While other studios struggled to keep afloat as television grew in influence and popularity, Warner¿s decisions helped to buoy his feature film department in the 1950s and 1960s. He waged winning battles to secure the rights to two Broadway smashes: the musical "My Fair Lady" (1964) and Edward Albee¿s devastating drama "Who¿s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). Industry insiders regarded both efforts as dismal failures in the making; Warner gave CBS director William Paley 50 percent of the distributor¿s gross profits on "Lady," as well as the rights to the original negative. And "Woolf" offered a direct assault on the Hollywood Production Code with stark language and themes, while director Mike Nichols appeared to defy common sense by presenting the film in black and white. Warner defended all of these choices ¿ all of which helped earned both films Best Picture Oscars, as well as considerable box office rewards.

The twin victories would be the last significant successes of Warner¿s career as a studio executive. Advancing age, a sharp decline in studio productions, and pressure from his wife to curtail his duties contributed to Warner selling control of his studio and its music business, which included Warner Bros. Records, to Seven Arts Productions, a Canadian production company which promptly named the new entity Warner Bros-Seven Arts. He remained as studio president while pocketing a cool $24 million for his share of studio stock. However, his tenure as Warner¿s leader emeritus was short-lived. By 1969, Warner was largely considered by his new bosses to be a dinosaur, part of a dying breed of old moguls that included Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, and who had all been pushed out by the 1950s or early `60s. The death knell for Warner came with a series of failed maneuvers, including an attempt to block the release of "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) and the inability to land Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, who starred in the Broadway run of "Camelot," for his 1967 screen version. The former was a massive hit that signaled the beginning of the new, independent Hollywood vision, while the latter was a resounding failure. A defeated Warner officially retired from the studio he helped to create in 1969.

Warner remained active, though peripherally, with Warner Bros. in the early part of the 1970s, working largely as an independent producer and assisting with distribution and exhibition. One of his final film efforts was a screen adaptation of the popular Revolutionary War musical "1776" (1972). Among the first to see the film prior to release was then-President Richard Nixon, whom Warner supported in his run for the Oval Office in 1960. The two men had remained friendly in the ensuing decades, and after watching the film, Nixon suggested that Warner remove two songs from the production, which he pe

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute