Family & Companions
A character lead in silent films and a character player in sound films, H.B. Warner is best recalled for three roles: Jesus Christ is Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings" (1927), Chang, assistant to the High Lama, in "Lost Horizon" (1937), and Mr. Gower the pharmacist is the perennial "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). He received a best supporting actor nomination for "Lost Horizon," and in all appeared in more than 100 films. The son of noted British stage actor Charles Warner, H. B. Warner made his stage debut at age seven in 1883, but at first chose to study medicine. But within a few years he was back on stage in both England and the U.S. Warner made his film debut in "The Lost Paradise" (1914). One of his best silent vehicles was "Zaza" (1923), in which he was the married man who falls for Gloria Swanson. Warner was almost 50 years old when he played the 30ish Christ in "King of Kings" (1927), but the result was nevertheless a resounding success. In order to play the role, Warner had to sign an agreement saying he would live an exemplary life not only during production, but for one year after the film's release he would not be involved with any scandal, not even divorce. Even before so-called "modern" acting techniques such as "The Method" permeated Hollywood, DeMille chose to isolate Warner from the rest of the cast so that he might better "feel" the role. Reportedly, Warner took to drinking because of the overwhelming nature of the part. While no "scandal" of which DeMille was so afraid (especially with Hollywood's reputation) erupted, Warner was said to have struggled with alcoholism for the rest of his life. A well-trained and well-versed stage actor, Warner thrived during the sound era. He was the chief magistrate in "Liliom" (1930), estranged from Sylvia Sidney in "Jennie Gerhardt" (1933), Gabelle in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1935), and was a favorite of Frank Capra for whom he performed in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), as the judge who listens to Gary Cooper's tale of tuba playing, "Lost Horizon" (1937), "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), as Ramsey, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) as the corrupt Senator Fuller, and, of course, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). Warner can also be seen in one of screen history's most macabre scenes: as himself, one of "the waxworks," playing cards with Anna Q. Nilsson (his leading lady from "Sorrell and Son," 1927), Buster Keaton, and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). He finished his career playing a small role in "The Ten Commandments" for his "King of Kings" director Cecil B. DeMille (1956), and in a cameo in "Darby's Rangers" (1958) for director William Wellman. In 1939, Warner published his autobiography, "Hollywood Saga."
Cast (Feature Film)
Made stage debut
Made film debut in "The Lost Paradise"
Was leading man to Gloria Swanson in "Zaza"
Had greatest screen role playing Jesus Christ in "The King of Kings"
Firmed status in sound era with "Liliom"
Nominated for an Academy Award for his work in "Lost Horizon"
Published memoir, "Hollywood Saga"
Played Mr. Gower, the druggust, in "It's A Wonderful Life"
Played himself in "Sunset Boulevard"
Appeared again for DeMille, "The Ten Commandments"
Made final film, "Darby's Rangers"