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Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.—also known as Warner Bros. Pictures since 1923, formerly known as Warner Bros. Studios, commonly referred to as Warner Bros. (spelt Warner Brothers during the company's early years), or simply WB—is an American company which produces film, television, and music entertainment.
Warner Bros/Pictures Inc.
The corporate name honors the four founding Warner brothers, Jewish brothers who emigrated from Poland to London, Ontario, Canada, Harry Warner (1881–1958), Albert Warner (1883–1967), Sam Warner (1887–1927) and Jack L. Warner (1892–1978). The three elder brothers began in the exhibition business in 1903, having acquired a projector with which they showed films in the mining towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio. They opened their first theatre, the Cascade, in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1903. (The original theater is still standing, and is being renovated as the centerpiece of the ongoing downtown revitalization in New Castle, hoping to attract tourists.) In 1904, the Warners founded the Pittsburgh-based Duquesne Amusement & Supply Company (the precursor to Warner Bros. Pictures) to distribute films. Within a few years this led to the distribution of pictures across a four-state area. By the time of World War I they had begun producing films, and in 1918 the brothers opened the Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Sam and Jack Warner produced the pictures, while Harry and Albert handled finance and distribution in New York. In 1923, they formally incorporated as Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Successes and breakthroughs
The first important deal for the company was the acquisition of the rights to Avery Hopwood's 1919 Broadway play The Gold Diggers from theatrical impresario David Belasco. However, what really put Warner Bros. on the Hollywood map was a dog, Rin Tin Tin, brought from France after World War I by an American soldier. Rinty was so popular that he starred in 26 films, beginning with The Man from Hell's River in 1924, and is credited with making the fledgling studio a success.
As the studio prospered, it gained backing from Wall Street, and in 1924 Goldman Sachs arranged a major loan. With this new money Warners bought the pioneer Vitagraph Company which had a nation-wide distribution system. They also plunged into radio, establishing radio stations in several major cities, among them KFWB in Los Angeles. Warners also joined the mad race to buy and build theaters.
At the urging of Sam Warner, the company committed to develop Vitaphone, and in 1926 began making films with music and effects tracks. When this proved popular, they took the next step and offered, in October 1927 a picture with dialogue, one that would revolutionize the business, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. The movie was a sensation, launching the era of "talking pictures" and banishing silent movies. But unfortunately, the brothers missed the premiere of The Jazz Singer due to Sam's funeral.
Flush with cash thanks to the success of The Jazz Singer, in 1928 Warner bought the Stanley Company, a major theater chain. This gave them a share in rival First National Pictures, of which Stanley owned one-third. In a bidding war with William Fox, Warner bought more First National shares, and gained control in 1929. The Justice Department agreed to allow the purchase if First National was maintained as a separate company. But when the 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, Justice required Warner to produce and release a few films each year under the First National name until 1938. For thirty years, certain Warner productions would be identified (mainly for tax purposes) as 'A Warner Bros. - First National Picture.
In 1928, the Warner Brothers 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 making sound films exclusively. In 1929, the Warner Brothers released On with the Show (1929), the first all-color all-talking feature. This was followed by Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) which proved to be the most popular film of that year. (It continued to be so popular that 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). The Warner Brothers released a large number of color films in 1929-1931. In addition to these, scores of features were released with Technicolor sequences as well as a numerous variety of short subjects. The majority of these color films were musicals. Unfortunately, by 1931 the country had grown so tired of musicals that the Warner Brothers were forced to cut the numbers of many of the productions and advertise them as straight comedies. The public had begun to associate musicals with color and thus the movie studios began to abandon its use. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers had a contract with Technicolor to produce two more pictures in that process. As a result, the first mysteries in color were produced and released by the studio: Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).
Under production head Darryl F. Zanuck, Warners in the 1930s became known for gritty, 'torn from the headlines' pictures that some said glorified gangsters. Warner stars tended to be tough-talking, working-class types, among them James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck. After Zanuck was succeeded by Hal B. Wallis in 1933, the studio tried for a more sophisticated style, offering melodramas (or 'women's pictures'), swashbucklers, and expensive adaptations of best-sellers, with stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Paul Muni and Errol Flynn. 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 indecent (around 1934). As a result, the Warner Brothers turned out a number of historical pictures from around 1935 in order to avoid confrontations with the Breen office.
Warner's cartoon unit began modestly in 1930 as a free-standing company owned by Leon Schlesinger. From 1930 to 1933, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising produced a series of musical cartoons for Schlesinger. They introduced Bosko in the first Looney Tunes cartoon. In 1931, Harman and Ising introduced a new series of cartoon entitled: Merrie Melodies. Both of these series featured jazz soundtracks (recorded by such popular artists as Abe Lyman) with pre-code humor. Harman and Ising left Schlesinger's company in 1933 due to a contractual dispute. As a result, animators such as Jack King, and Friz Freleng were hired to produce a series of tame cartoons starring Buddy. The Merrie Melodies series also suffered and cartoons produced during these years are quite bland. However, with the arrival of Tex Avery and the creation of Termite Terrace, the unit developed a fast-paced, irreverently insane style that made them immensely popular world-wide. Warner bought Schlesinger's cartoon unit in 1944, and in subsequent decades characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck became central to the company's image.
World War II
The record attendance figures of the World War II years made the Warner brothers rich. The gritty Warner image of the 1930s gave way to a glossier look, especially in women's pictures starring Davis, de Havilland and Joan Crawford. The 1940s also saw the rise of Humphrey Bogart from supporting player to major star. And in the post-war years Warners continued to create new stars, like Lauren Bacall and Doris Day.
On January 5, 1948, Warner offered the first color newsreel, covering the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl.
Anti Trust Case
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 that 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. Early in 1953, the Warner theater holdings were spun off as Stanley Warner Theaters. With no more theaters to fill there was no need to produce thirty pictures a year, and no need for expensive contract-actors or for costly staff. After fifty years in the business the Warners saw the system winding down, and agreed to sell the studio to a bank-led syndicate. Only after the deal was completed in 1956 did elder brothers Harry and Albert Warner learn that the leading investor in the bank's syndicate was youngest brother Jack, who now had control of what had been a family business. Even in an argument-prone family like the Warners, this was too much, and led to a rupture in family relations. For the rest of their lives the brothers did not speak to one another. But Jack was solely in charge at Warner Bros. Pictures.
Warner Bros - Seven Arts
For a time Warner Bros. rebounded, specializing in adaptations of popular plays like The Bad Seed, No Time for Sergeants and Gypsy: A Musical Fable. There was also a successful television unit, offering popular series like 77 Sunset Strip and Maverick. Already the owner of extensive music-publishing holdings, in 1958 the studio launched Warner Bros. Records, but by the 1960s, motion picture production was in decline. There were few studio-produced films and many more co-productions (for which Warner provided facilities, money, and distribution), and pickups of independently made pictures. In 1967, Jack gave in to advancing age and the changing times, selling control of the studio and its music business for $78 million to Seven Arts Productions, run by the Canadian investors Elliot and Kenneth Hyman, whose Associated Artists Productions had once owned the pre-1948 Warner film library. The company, including the studio, was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.
Two years later the Hymans accepted a cash-and-stock offer from an odd conglomerate called Kinney National Company. Originating as a chain of funeral parlors, Kinney had grown by buying service businesses like parking lots, office cleaners, and a Hollywood talent agency, Ashley-Famous. It was Ted Ashley who led Kinney-head Steve Ross to the purchase of Warners, and Ashley became the new head of the studio, again called Warner Bros. Pictures. Although the movie-going audience had shrunk, Warner's new management believed in the drawing-power of stars, signing co-production deals with the big names of the day, among them Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, carrying the studio successfully through the 1970s and 1980s. Abandoning the mundane parking lots and funeral homes, the re-focused Kinney renamed itself in honor of its best-known holding, Warner Communications. In the 1980s Warner Communications branched out into other business, such as Atari video games, and the Six Flags theme parks.
To the surprise of many, flashy, star-driven Warner Communications merged in 1989 with the white-shoe publishing company Time, Inc. Though Time and its magazines claimed a higher tone, it was the Warner Bros. film and music units which provided the profits. In 1997 Time Warner sold the Six Flags unit. 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 name was banished from the corporate nameplate.
In the late 1990s, Warners obtained rights to the Harry Potter novels, and released feature film adaptations of the first in 2001, the second in 2002, the third in 2004, and the fourth in November 2005. The fifth is slated for June 2007.
Over the years, Warners has had distribution and/or co-production deals with a number of small companies. These include (but are not limited to) Amblin Entertainment, Morgan Creek Productions (now working with Universal Studios), Regency Enterprises (now working with 20th Century Fox), Village Roadshow Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Silver Pictures, The Ladd Company, and The Geffen Film Company.
Over the years, a series of mergers and acquisitions have helped Warners (the present-day Time-Warner subsidiary) to accumulate a diverse collection of movies, cartoons, and television programs.
In the aftermath of the 1948 anti-trust suit, uncertain times led Warners in 1956 to sell its 650 of its pre-1948 films and cartoons to a holding company which became Associated Artists Productions (AAP). Two years later AAP sold its holdings to United Artists (UA), which held them until 1981, when MGM bought UA. Three years later Turner Broadcasting System, having failed to buy MGM, settled for ownership of the MGM/UA library. This included all pre-1986 MGM features as well as the pre-1948 Warner material. Ownership of the classic Warner films came full-circle when Time Warner bought Turner, although technically they are held by Turner Entertainment while Warner is responsible for sales and distribution.
These acquisitions, among others, mean that Warner owns almost every film they've made since inception (excepting certain films Warner merely distributed, such as the United States Pictures catalog, except for Battle of the Bulge, which WB still owns). Certain of John Wayne's Warner films are owned by Batjac, Wayne's company. Seven years after its 1964 release, rights to My Fair Lady reverted to CBS, which had backed the theatrical production, although Warner now owns the DVD rights under license from CBS. (Interestingly, 35 years after that, CBS and Warner Bros. will form The CW Television Network, as mentioned above.)
As noted, Warner owns all pre-1986 MGM titles and cartoons; the US/Canadian and Australian rights to a majority of the RKO Radio Pictures library; the 1933-1957 Popeye theatrical animated shorts; and a portion of United Artists material (most of this under its Turner subsidiary). In addition Warner has acquired most of the Hanna-Barbera Productions television cartoons (as well as Heidi's Song, but not including cartoons based off Marvel Comics properties which are owned by the Walt Disney Company, as well as shows based off Happy Days, Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley which are owned by CBS Paramount Television; among other licensed properties); most of Lorimar's television and film holdings (including most of the Allied Artists / Monogram and post-1974 Rankin/Bass libraries, as well as several films made by Lorimar themselves which were released originally by Paramount Pictures, among other studios); the National General Pictures library (except those produced with Cinema Center Films, which are owned by CBS and Paramount Pictures); most ancillary rights to Castle Hill Productions library (which includes early UA material); and a few films released by others, such as the 1956 version of Around the World in Eighty Days; the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory; most of the pre-1991 Morgan Creek Productions library; most of the pre-1990 Saul Zaentz film library; the 1978-1981 Orion Pictures library; the non-Japan rights to the first three Pokémon films; and Castle Rock Entertainment films made after Turner acquired Castle Rock (except the Region 1 rights to The Story of Us and The Last Days of Disco, as well as the international rights to The American President, all owned by Universal).
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.
UA donated pre-1949 Warner Bros. nitrates to the Library of Congress and post-1951 negatives to UCLA's film library. Most of the company's legal files, scripts and production materials were donated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.