Friday, April 7, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Part Four

While an argument can be made that the company existed in some form before, it was on April 4 1923 that Warner Bros. Pictures Incorporated was formally organized. The studio pioneered the use of sound in movies and ushered in the era of talkies. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Warner Bros. was one of the Big Five studios. While experiencing some difficulties in the Fifties, Warner Bros. expanded into television during the decade. In 1969 Warner Bros.-Seven Arts was bought by Kinney National Company.

It was in September 1971 that Kinney National Company spun-off its non-entertainment interests (mostly  parking and property management services) into a new company, National Kinney Corporation. As to National Kinney Company, in November 1971 it bought the cable television operator Television Communications Corporation. It was in February 1972 that National Kinney Company would be renamed Warner Communications. Television Communications Corporation was then renamed Warner Cable in 1973. Warner Cable would later be sold to Charter Communications and became part of their Spectrum brand. As to Warner Communications, the conglomerate was the parent of Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Pictures, National Periodical Publications (soon to be officially named DC Comics), the Warner Music Group (WMG), Warner Books, and Warner Cable.

The Seventies would prove to be a fairly good decade for Warner Bros., with such hit films as Dirty Harry (1971), Enter the Dragon (1973), The Exorcist (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), All the President's Men (1976), and Superman (1978). The Eighties would also prove to be a fairly good decade with regards to movies for the studio, either producing and/or distributing such films as Superman II (1980), The Right Stuff (1983),  The Colour Purple (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987), Stand and Deliver (1988), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Batman (1989).

Warner Bros. also continued to expand in the Eighties. In 1989 Warner Bros. bought Lorimar-Telepictures, which had produced such television shows as The Waltons, Eight is Enough, Dallas, and ALF. The acquisition also gave Warner Bros. the Allied Artists library and Rankin/Bass's  post-September 1974 library. The acquisition gave Warner Bros. control of the old MGM lot in Culver City as well. In other words, Warner Bros. now had two studio lots: the First National/Warner Bros. lot in Burbank and the old MGM lot in Culver City.

While Warner Bros. had several successful movies in the Eighties, during the decade Warner Communications began experiencing financial difficulties. Much of this was due to the fact that Warner Communications owned Atari, Inc., and as a result took a hit from the video game crash of 1983. Warner Communications then sold off Atari. It was later in the decade that Warner Communications announced a merger with Time, Inc., publisher of such magazines as Time and Life.

The merger between Warner Communications and Time, Inc. was very nearly derailed by a rival conglomerate, Paramount Communications, who attempted a hostile takeover for Time, Inc. After Time, Inc thwarted Paramount Communications' hostile bid, Paramount Communications filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the Time, Inc./Warner Communications merger. The court ruled in favour of Time, Inc., and as a result Time, Inc. and Warner Communications merged to become Time Warner.

The Nineties would prove to be a busy decade for Warner Bros. It was in 1993 that Time Warner entered into a joint venture with  Chris-Craft Industries to launch the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN for short), a programming block of dramas targeted at the key demographic of television viewers. PTEN was launched as a potential fifth television network, although that never came to pass. Among the shows aired as part of PTEN were Babylon 5, Kung Fu, and Time Trax. The demise of PTEN would come about because of the creation of two new television networks. As early as October 1993 Chris-Craft Industries announced the formation of the United Paramount Network (UPN) as a joint venture with Paramount Television. It was in November 1993 that Time Warner announced its intention to launch its own network,. The WB, in conjunction with the Tribune Company.

The WB launched on January 11 1995, its first show being the debut episode of The Wayan Brothers. The fledgeling network began with only one night of programming and gradually added more nights over time. It was in September 1995 that The WB added a weekday and Saturday morning programming block called "Kids' WB." A few shows with roots in the history of Warner Bros. and DC Comics aired on the Kids' WB, including some shows that had originally aired elsewhere. These included the shows Animaniacs, The Sylvester  & Tweety Mysteries, Superman: The Animated Series, Bugs 'n' Daffy, and more. As to The WB itself, it would produce some memorable shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Felicity, Angel, Smallville, and Supernatural.

Unfortunately, The WB would not be a success. In part this was because the network failed to expand beyond an extremely young demographic (12 to 24 years old) to the key demographic desired by Madison Avenue. Much of the reason for the network's failure may also have been because there did not appear to be enough room for two fledgeling networks, UPN having only launched days after The WB. It was then on January 24 2006 that , CBS Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment announced the closures of UPN and The WB respectively At the same time they announced their plans to launch a new network, The CW, as a joint venture. The CW launched on January 24 2008. Like The WB before it, it drew heavily upon DC Comics. Among its biggest successes would be shows based on DC Comics superheroes, including Arrow, The Flash, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Unfortunately, The CW never proved to be profitable and WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS sold the network to Nexstar Media Group last year.

It was in 1996, the year after The WB launched, that Time Warner acquired the Turner Broadcasting System, which owned the successful cable channels TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, and CNN. Over the years the Turner Broadcasting System had also acquired several film libraries. In 1986 Turner bought  MGM/UA Entertainment Co. from Kirk Kerkorian. Turner sold  MGM/UA Entertainment Co. back to Kirk Kerkorian almost immediately, but kept MGM's pre-1986 library, the United States/Canadian distribution, rights to the RKO library, and the Associated Artists Productions library (which included Warner Bros. pre-1950 movies, and the Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Popeye cartoons). In buying Turner, then, Time Warner effectively returned ownership of Warner Bros.' pre-1950 movies to Warner Bros. itself. In 1991 Turner acquired  the Hanna-Barbera animation studio, so that Time Warner now owned the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons as well.

Warner Bros. would continue to be successful into the 21st Century. In 2012 it would become one of only two studios (the others being Disney and Universal) to release two movies that crossed the billion dollar mark in the same year with The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Its parent conglomerate would also undergo changes. It was in 2013 that Time, Inc. was spun off into a separate company. It was in 2018 that Time Warner was acquired by AT&T. AT&T renamed the company WarnerMedia.

It was last year that AT&T spun off Warner Media, which then merged with Discovery, Inc. to form the new company Warner Bros. Discovery. Discovery, Inc. was a company that owned such cable channels as the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Food Network, HGTV, and other cable channels centred on documentary shows and reality shows (some of them of questionable quality).

It is difficult to say where Warner Bros. Discovery will go from here, but if they wish to be successful they would best draw upon the Warner Bros. legacy. Warner Bros. is one of the most successful studios of all time. Not only were they one of the Big Five during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but they are still a major studio today. During the Golden Age, MGM's slogan was "more stars than there are in the heavens," but the slogan may have been more true of Warner Bros. Through the years such well known stars as Rin Tin Tin, John Garfield, Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall, and James Dean have all been under contract to Warner Bros.

It was with such stars that Warner Bros. produced some of the greatest movies of all time. Indeed, in AFI's list of the all time greatest movies, AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, there are no less than 10 Warner Bros. movies, more than any other studio. Many of the studio's classics from the Golden Age are still recognizable to even casual viewers today. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep (1946), Rebel without a Cause (1955), among others, are still well-known to audiences. Of course, Warner Bros. did not only produce feature films. They may actually be best known for their classic theatrical cartoons. Over the years, they developed a large roster of highly successful cartoon characters, including Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Tweety, Sylvester, and yet others. Bugs Bunny may well be the most successful animated character of all time. He has appeared in more movies than any other cartoon character, so many that according to Guinness World Records he is the ninth most portrayed character in film.

Of course, Warner Bros. expanded into television in the Fifties, and many of its classic television shows are still watched to this day. Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, F Troop, Kung Fu, Wonder Woman, Night Court, ER, and The Gilmore Girls, among others,  are still popular with television viewers.  Warner Bros. would also expand into streaming, producing such streaming television shows as The Flight Attendant, Titans (based on the DC comic book of the same name), Doom Patrol (based on the DC comic book of the same name), and others.

In its 100 years Warner Bros. has gone from being an independent studio to one of the Big Five to a multimedia giant. They produced some of the greatest feature films of all time. They produced some of the greatest theatrical animated shorts of time. They produced some of the greatest television shows of all time. With any luck Warner Bros. will last another 100 years, producing yet more classics.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Part Three

While arguably the company had existed in some form before, it was on April 4 1923 that Warner Bros. was formally organized. An independent studio throughout the Silent Era, Warner Bros. became a major studio with the advent of sound, which the studio pioneered. Throughout the Thirties and Forties, Warner Bros. remained one of the Big Five studios. It had some of the biggest stars of the era under contract, including Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and yet others.

Like the other studios, the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. dealt a severe blow to Warner Bros. Decided on May 3 1948, it forced Warner Bros. and the other studios to divest themselves of their theatres and to stop block booking (the practice of selling films to theatres in batches), among other things. The Fifties would see Warner Bros. struggling to survive.

Even so, Warner Bros. would see some successes in the Fifties. The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the return of the Warner Bros. musical. Starting with Romance on the High Seas in 1948, Warner Bros. released a series of successful musicals featuring singer Doris Day. Tea for Two (1950), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), April in Paris (1952),  and Calamity Jane (1953) all proved to be successful. The late Forties and early Fifties also saw Warner Bros. return to making swashbucklers, with such films as Adventures of Don Juan (1948), Captain Horatio Hornblower (1950), The Crimson Pirate (1952), and The Master of Ballantrae (1953). As might be expected, Warner Bros. continued to release crime dramas (many of them film noirs), including White Heat (1949), Storm Warning (1951),  Tomorrow is Another Day (1951), The Blue Gardenia (1953), and The System (1953).

In addition to dealing with the aftermath of United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., in the late Forties and early Fifties Warner Bros. also faced what they and the other studios regarded as a threat: the young medium of television. Initially, Warner Bros. sought to deal with the threat of television by diversifying into it. Warner Bros. applied for an application for television stations in Chicago and five other cities in April 1948. It was that same year that Warner Bros. sought approval from the FCC for the studio to buy Los Angeles television station KLAC and two radio stations owned by Dorothy Thackery, former publisher of The New York Post. The FCC took so long in coming to a decision that Warner Bros. dismissed its applications for television stations and Dorothy Thackery cancelled her deal with the studio.

As it was, Jack L. Warner was not particularly fond of the new medium. Not only did he forbid any Warner Bros. productions (even short subjects) from being used for television broadcasts, but he even forbid the appearance of any television sets in Warner Bros. motion pictures. Regardless, with the success of television it was inevitable that Warner Bros. would move into the new medium.

Leonard Goldstein was head of American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, Inc., the parent company of the American Broadcasting Company, better known simply as ABC. Leonard Goldstein had worked in Hollywood for twenty years and as a result had a good number of contacts in the film industry, among them Jack L. Warner. At the time ABC was struggling, so Leonard Goldstein wanted Warner Bros. to produce filmed television shows that would draw desperately needed viewers to the network. As for Warner Bros., they would receive publicity for their feature films. The negotiations between Warner Bros. and ABC did not always go smoothly. An offer from ABC to pay Warner Bros. the same amount they had paid Disney ($2 million), as well as a request to show recent Warner Bros. movies (among them Casablanca) was flatly rejected by the studio. Fortunately, ABC and Warner Bros. were eventually able to work out a deal.

Warner Bros.' initial foray into television was an umbrella title called Warner Bros. Presents. It rotated three series, two of which were based on popular Warner Bros. movies: Kings Row (based on the 1942 movie of the same name) and Casablanca (based on the 1942 movie of the same name). The third series aired under the Warner Bros. Presents umbrella was Cheyenne, which was historic as the first hour long Western television series. Unlike Kings Row and Casablanca, it was an original series not based on an existing property. Each edition of the show ended with a ten to fifteen minute segment entitled "Behind the Camera", hosted by Gig Young, that promoted such films as The Searchers (1956) and Giant (1956). Warner Bros. Presents debuted on ABC on September 20 1955.

Warner Bros. Presents  would not prove to be a success, with Kings Row cancelled at mid-season and Casablanca cancelled at the end of the season. Only Cheyenne survived. For the 1956-1957 season Cheyenne rotated with an anthology series entitled Conflict (the title having been chosen by ABC rather than Warner Brothers). Conflict proved to be a failure, but  Cheyenne continued to be a success.Conflict was cancelled at the end of the 1956-1957 season.

The success of Cheyenne would lead to Warner Bros. producing other Western television shows for ABC, including Sugarfoot, Maverick, Lawman, Colt .45, and Bronco. The most successful of the Western TV series would be Maverick, one of whose stars, James Garner, would go onto a successful film career. The Warner Bros. Western television shows all existed in the same shared universe, so that characters from Maverick might appear on Sugarfoot and so on. With 77 Sunset Strip in 1958 Warner Bros. began producing a number of detective shows as well, including Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside Six. Like their Westerns, Warner Bros.' detective shows also existed in the same shared universe.

Warner Bros. Television would continue to be successful into the early Sixties. The studio brought their animated cartoons made after 1948 to television with The Bugs Bunny Show in 1960 and produced such successful shows as F Troop and The F.B.I. There would be a lull in Warner Bros. Television's production from 1967 to 1971 when they only produced The F.B.I., but the Seventies would see the production of such shows as Kung Fu, Wonder Woman, and The Dukes of Hazzard. Since then Warner Bros. has produced several hit television shows, including Night Court, Murphy Brown, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Babylon 5, and ER.

Before their entry into television, Warner Bros. also sought ways to better compete with the new medium. Like the other studios, Warner Bros. embraced 3D, releasing their first 3D film House of Wax in 1953. The 3D fad soon faded, so that Warner Bros. had to look for other ways to compete with television. Harry Warner then made the decision to begin releasing films made in CienmaScope,

Unfortunately, 1956 saw Warner Bros.' profits decline significantly from previous years. Jack L. Warner even took the drastic measure of selling the studio's pre-1950 films to Associated Artists Productions in 1956. This angered Harry Warner, whose relationship with his brother was already tumultuous. It was then in May 1956 that the Warner brothers put Warner Bros. on the market. What the other brothers did not realize is that Jack L. Warner had organized a syndicate to buy 90% of Warner Bros.' stock. Jack L. Warner then sold his stocks, just like his brothers, only to buy them right back. In the end, Jack L. Warner was Warner Bros.' majority stockholder. He appointed himself president.

Warner Bros. would turn around in the late Fifties and early Sixties. The studio released a number of successful films based on plays, including Baby Doll (1956), The Bad Seed (1956), Damn Yankees (1958), The Music Man (1962), and Gypsy (1962). As the Sixties progressed, however, the film industry began to change. Film production was in decline by the mid-Sixties, as were the profits of Warner Bros. and the other major studios. The mid-Sixties saw the rise of New Hollywood, whereby a film's director played a more vital role than the studio producing the movie.

Warner Bros. itself would see major changes from the mid to late Sixties. Largely because of his wife persuading him to slow as well as feeling his age, Jack L. Warner sold his control of Warner Bros. to Seven Arts Productions in November 1966. The company was then renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Jack Warner remained with Warner Bros. as a vice president and an independent producer.

As it turned out Warner Bros-Seven Arts. would soon have new owners.  Eliot and Kenneth Hyman (the founders of Seven Arts Productions) quickly grew tired of having to deal with Jack L. Warner. It was then in January 1969 that they sold Warner Bros.-Seven Arts to Kinney National Company. Kinney National Company promptly changed the studio's name back to "Warner Bros." The sale did not make Jack L. Warner happy and he made the move into independent production. He was the last of the Old Hollywood moguls.

Beyond Jack L. Warner moving into independent production, the acquisition of Warner Bros. by Kinney National Company would have another effect on Warner Bros. It was in 1967 that Kinney National Company bought National Periodical Publications, the comic book company then known informally as "DC Comics." This would provide Warner Bros. with a number of well-established popular characters. Starting with the failed television pilot Wonder Woman starring Cathy Lee Crosby and the  TV series Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter in 1975, Warner Bros.would either produce and/or distribute a number of projects based on DC Comics characters, including such classic films as Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), and Batman (1989). With the acquisition, Warner Bros.' fortunes also turned around. Starting with the documentary Woodstock (1970), Warner Bros. would have a number of hits in the Seventies, including Dirty Harry (1971), Enter the Dragon (1973), The Exorcist (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), and others.

Warner Bros. ultimately made it out of the Golden Age of Hollywood and survived through the Fifties and Sixties. The coming years would see yet more changes at Warner Bros.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Part Two

Although it can be argued the company had existed in some form earlier, it was on April 4 1923 that Warner Bros. Pictures Incorporated was formally organized. It was that same year that their first major star emerged, a talented German Shepherd named Rin Tin Tin. In the mid to late Twenties, Warner Bros. pioneered the use of sound. After a number of short subjects with sound, they released Don Juan (1926), the first feature-length film to utilize Warner Bros.' Vitaphone sound-on-disc sound system. It was the following year that they released The Jazz Singer (1927), the first movie with a synchronized recorded music score as well as synchronous singing and speech. Warner Bros.' early films with sound not only revolutionized the film industry. They also took Warner Bros. from being an independent studio to one of the Big Five studios.
Warner Bros. was quick to take advantage of its sound technology. The introduction of sound made a genre that was popular on stage possible in film: musicals. Warner Bros.' first musical feature film, The Singing Fool, premiered on September 19 1928 in New York City. Like The Jazz Singer before it, it was only part talkie, more or less a silent movie with musical interludes. It proved enormously successful and would remain the highest grossing motion picture until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. It was largely the success of The Singing Fool that led Warner Bros. to release a number of successful musicals in the late Twenties into the Thirties. Among these were On with the Show! (1929), the first all-talking, all-colour musical; Show Girl in Hollywood (1930); Manhattan Parade (1931); 42nd Street (1933); Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933); Footlight Parade (1933); and many others.

Of course, the early era of talkies was also the Pre-Code Era. While the Production Code was adopted in 1930, enforcement of the Code was lax and the studios often pushed the boundaries with regards to what was permitted on the big screen. Warner Bros. was no different from the other studios and, in fact, may have pushed the envelope as to what was allowed in movies more than some of the others. It was in the early Thirties that Warner Bros. began releasing socially realistic films, nearly all of them sympathetic to the common man. Movies such as Lawyer Man (1932), Man Wanted (1932), Baby Face (1933), and Convention City (1933) were grounded in reality and could be risqué. And while today we associate musicals with escapism, Warner Bros.' early musical reflected the social realism of the studio's dramas and comedies of the era. Indeed, the climax of 42nd Street includes the risqué song "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and simulated scenes of violence during the title song. Like other studios Warner Bros. released horror movies in the early Thirties, and even these tended to be grittier and more provocative than those put out by other studios. Both Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) are intense by today's standards.

Among the movies grounded in social realism released by Warner Bros. during the era were their well-known gangster movies. The studio released Little Caesar on January 9 1931 and the film proved to be an enormous success. It was followed by several other gangster and crime movies, including The Public Enemy (1931) and  I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). The end of the Pre-Code Era would mark the end of the gangster movie as it existed in the early Thirties, although Warner Bros. would continue to release crime movies throughout its history.

The Pre-Code Era would come to an end on July 1 1934. Religious groups had become increasingly concerned about the content of Hollywood films. In 1933  John T. McNicholas, Archbishop of Cincinnati founded the Catholic Legion of Decency (later renamed the National Legion of Decency), an organization formed to fight the "immorality" of films. With moral watchdogs opposing the film industry in greater numbers, an amendment was added to the Production Code on June 13 1934 that required all films made after July 1 1934 to be submitted to the Production Code Administration to get a seal of approval before they could be released. The Pre-Code Era was officially over.

For Warner Bros. this meant an end to the socially realistic movies of the early Thirties, as well as the gangster movies. The popularity of musicals had gone into decline towards the middle of the decade, although the studio would continue to release musicals, albeit in fewer numbers than in the early Thirties. The mid-Thirties then saw Warner Bros. shift towards historical movies and swashbucklers. Captain Blood (1935), starring Errol Flynn, proved to be an enormous success and led to a series of hit swashbuckler movies starring the actor, including The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Of course, throughout the Thirties, Warner Bros. distributed theatrical cartoons. It was in 1930 that Leon Schlesinger signed a contract with the studio to produce cartoons. To make the cartoons he signed animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Isling. It was these two animators who introduced the Looney Tunes series in 1930 and the Merrie Melodies series in 1931. Harman and Isling had a financial dispute with Leon Schesinger in 1933 and left the producer. It was then that Leon Schlesinger formed Leon Schlesinger Productions to make cartoons for Warner Bros. Over time Leon Schlesinger Productions would introduce some of the most successful cartoon characters of all time: Porky Pig in 1935, Daffy Duck in 1937, Elmer Fudd in 1940, and Bugs Bunny in 1940. While Walt Disney dominated theatrical cartoons in the Thirties, Warner Bros. dominated the medium from the Forties onwards.

In 1944 Leon Schlesinger sold Leon Schlesinger Productions to Warner Bros., where upon it became Warner Bros. Cartoons, Inc. While Warner Bros. Cartoons were some of the studio's most successful products, Jack L. Warner did not hold them in a particularly high regard. In fact, at a rare meeting with the makers of Warner Bros. cartoons in 1953, Jack L. Warner not only admitted to not knowing where the animation studio was located, but said, "The only thing I know is that we make Mickey Mouse." Of course, Mickey Mouse was and still is a Disney character, not a Warner character. It was in 1955 that Warner Bros. sold all of its cartoons made before 1948 to Associated Artists Productions. With a few interruptions, Warner Bros. Cartoons more or less continued until 1969 when it finally closed. It was the success of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979) that led to the re-establishment of the cartoon studio as Warner Bros. Animation in 1980. Warner Bros. Animation would not only produce new theatrical cartoons, but also such television shows as Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Batman: The Animated Series, and others.

To a degree the movies Warner Bros. made in the Forties reflected what they had made in the mid to late Thirties. Warner Bros. would continue making comedies in the new decade, including such entries as The Strawberry Blonde (1941), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Princess O'Rourke (1943), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). It was during the Thirties that Warner Bros. first started making what is known as woman's pictures, movies featuring female protagonists, female-centred storylines, and meant to appeal to a female audience. From the Thirties into the Forties, Warner Bros. released such woman's pictures as Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), Now, Voyager (1942), and Mildred Pierce (1945). Although Joan Crawford fans might disagree, an argument can be made that Bette Davis was the Queen of Woman's Pictures at Warner Bros. In 1932 Bette Davis signed to Warner Bros. and she would prove to be one of their most popular stars. She ranked in the Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars for several years.

World War II would see changes at Warner Bros., even before the United States entered the war. Harry Warner oversaw the production of several anti-German films, including Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Sergeant York (1941), and You're in the Army Now (1941). Once the war began, Warner Bros. began making war movies. They also cut their film production in half. Many of the films Warner Bros. produced during the war years also served as propaganda in support of the war. Examples of these movies are Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), This is the Army (1943), and Mission to Moscow (1943).

It was shortly before World War II that one of Warner Bros.' biggest stars emerged. Humphrey Bogart proved to be a sensation in The Petrified Forest (1936) and was signed to a contract with Warner Bros. He found himself largely playing supporting roles in which he was a gangster or, at the very least, a tough guy. It was High Sierra (1941) that transformed Humphrey Bogart into a star. Mr Bogart followed it with some of Warner Bros.' most iconic films The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), The Big Sleep (1946), and others.

It was in 1943 that Warner Bros. would find itself at odds with one of its major stars. Olivia De Havilland, who had signed with the studio in 1935, sued Warner Bros. for breach of contract. She had fulfilled her seven year contract, only to be informed that six months were added to her contract to cover the times she was suspended. It was then that she filed a suit against Warner Bros, seeking a judgement that she was no longer held to the contract. It was only a little over a year after the suit had been filed that the California Court of Appeal for the Second District decided in her favour. The resulting judicial decision is still known to this day as "the De Havilland Law."

The last years of World War II would see the development of a new style of film in which Warner Bros. movies had played a role: film noir. Both High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) served as blueprints for the noir movement.  It was in 1944 that film noir really began to take shape with the release of such films as Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944), Laura (20th Century Fox, 1944), and The Woman in the Window (RKO, 1944). Warner Bros. would release its own film noirs, including Mildred Pierce (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), Her Kind of Man (1946), Whiplash (1948), White Heat (1949), and others. Warner Bros. would continue to release film noirs throughout the classic period of noir (roughly from the mid-Forties to the mid-Fifties).

Initially the years after the war would be good for Warner Bros., despite a strike by its employees in September 1946. The studio posted record profits. It had developed such new stars as Lauren Bacall. And it bought  Pathé News from RKO in 1947. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. was party to the famous antitrust case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. Despite the name of the case, it was not only against Paramount. The rest of the Big Five, as well as the Little Three (Universal, United Artists, and Columbia) were named in the suit as well. It was on May 3 1948 that the Supreme Court decided the case against the studios. Among other things, the studios had to divest themselves of their theatres and cease block booking (in which multiple films, both short subjects and features, would be sold to theatres all together). The United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. degree essentially brought an end to the studio system and dealt a major blow to the major studios.

While United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. dealt a serious blow to Warner Bros. and the other studios, Warner Bros. would hardly be down for the count. While there would be lean years and good years ahead, the years following the Forties would see the studio expand into new media and continue to release classic films.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Part One

It was 100 years ago today, on April 4 1923, that Warner Bros. was formally organized. The would pioneer the use of sound in movies, releasing both the first movie with both synchronized recorded music score as well as lip-synchronous singing and speech (The Jazz Singer in 1927) and the first all talking feature (Lights of New York in 1928). They also pioneered the use of colour in film, with the first all-colour, all-talking feature (On With the Show! in 1929). Warner Bros. would go onto become one of the Big Five studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood, known for such stars as James Cagney, Bette Davis,  and Humphrey Bogart, their animated cartoons, and much more.

Of course, while Warner Bros. was formally organized in 1923, an argument can be made that the company existed in some form well before that. In fact, it was largely because of second youngest Warner brother Sam that they entered into the movie business. Sam worked as a movie projectionist at Idora Park, an amusement park in Youngstown, Pennsylvania. He saw the possibilities of the medium and as a result persuaded his family to back him in buying a used projector. His two older brothers, Harry and Albert, then joined him in showing movies in the mining towns around Pennsylvania and Ohio in 1903. The venture proved successful enough that they opened a movie theatre, the Cascade, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. It was in 1904 that they founded the Duquesne Amusement & Supply Company to distribute movies. It was in 1909 that the name most associated with Warner Bros, youngest brother Jack, was brought into the family business.

It would not be long before the Warner brothers would go from exhibiting and distributing films to actually producing them. It was in 1918 that hey opened the first Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The first movie ever produced by the Warner brothers was My Four Years in Germany, released in 1918. It was based on the book of the same name by former United States Ambassador to Germany James W. Gerard. The Warner brothers would release several films before the studio was formally organized in 1923. Sadly, most of those films are lost.

While the Warner brothers had been releasing movies for a few years, it was on April 4 1923 that Warner Bros. Pictures, Incorporated was formally organized. The first movie released by the formally organized Warner Bros. Pictures, Incorporated was Main Street (1923), now considered a lost film. It was that same year that Warner Bros.' first major star emerged. Rin Tin Tin had appeared as a wolf in  The Man from Hell's River (1922) and the family dog in My Dad (1922), but with Where the North Begins (1923) he had a starring role. Where the North Begins became Warner Bros.' first major hit and turned Rin Tin Tin into a star. He appeared in 24 more movies.

Warner Bros. began to grow not long after it was formally organized. It was in 1924 that Goldman Sachs provided financing for Waner Bros. to open two theatres in New York and Hollywood. The next year, in 1925, that Goldman Sachs arranged for a loan so that Warner Bros. could purchase Vitagraph Studios. This not only gave Warner Bros. control of Vitagraph's Brooklyn studio, but ten theatres as well.

Another acquisition, this one made in 1926, would be historic for Warner Bros. and film history in general. Since the 1910s Western Electric's Bell Laboratories had been been developing sound-on-disc and sound-on-film technologies for movies. Sam Warner visited Bell Laboratories where their sound-on-disc system made an impression on It was in 1926, then, that Warner Bros. bought the sound-on-disc system from Wester Electric. Warner Bros. formed Vitaphone Corporation to advance this new sound technology. Over the next five years, Warner Bros. would release over 1000 short subjects with sound.

Warner Bros.' first feature film to use the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system was Don Juan (1926), which featured a synchronized film score and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue. The film proved to be a success at the box office and was, at the time, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had made. Unfortunately, it was so expensive that it failed to recoup its rather hefty budget. That could have been the end of Warner Bros.' experiments with film, but Sam Warner persisted and even threatened to leave the company unless they produced more sound on film. It was then that on October 6 1927 that The Jazz Singer premiered in New York City. It was the first first movie with both synchronized recorded music score as well as synchronous singing and speech. The Jazz Singer (1927) proved enormously successful and changed movie history forever. It would be followed by The Lights of New York, the first all talking feature film, which premiered on July 6 1928. The Silent Era had ended and the age of the Talkies had begun.

It was in 1928 that Warner Bros. bought Stanley Theatres, one of the biggest theatre chains in the United States. Stanley Theatres owned one-third of rival studio First National, which Stanley Theatres had shares in. This would result in a bidding war with William Fox of Fox Film Corporation in which Warner Bros. wound up buying even more shares of First National. Warner Bros. would entirely take over First National in 1929, when they bought the one third of the studio owned by William Fox. Warner Bros. them moved from its Sunset Boulevard address to First National's lot in Burbank, essentially the modern day Warner Bros. lot. Although owned by Warner Bros. movies would continue to be released under First National through 1934. It was in 1936 that the stockholders of First National voted to dissolve the studio.

The success of  their sound movies would transform Warner Bros. from an independent to a major studio. Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, Warner Bros. would be one of the Big Five studios. And while the studio had achieved a good deal during the Silent Era, its best years were yet to come.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Godspeed Comic Book Writer Steve Skeates

Comic book writer Steve Skeates, best known for co-creating Hawk and Dove, as well as a long run on Aquaman, died on March 30 2023 at the age of 80.

Steve Skeates was born on January 29 1943 in Rochester, New York. Growing up he was a fan of both humour magazines and comic books (although he preferred funny animals to superheroes). He attended Alfred University in Alfred, New York. It was as he was nearing graduation that Steve Skeates applied to the four major comic book companies. It was then in 1965 that he was hired as Stan Lee's assistant editor at Marvel Comics. He only lasted two weeks, as he was not particularly good at proofreading. Fortunately, while he was no longer an assistant editor, Stan Lee did give him some freelance writing assignments, including work on the Marvel Western titles Kid Colt Outlaw and Two-Gun Kid.

Steve Skeates then picked up work at Tower Comics, writing issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Noman, and Undersea Agent. The late Sixties saw Mr. Skeates do considerable work at DC Comics, including his run on Aquaman as well as work on Date with Debbi, Debbi's Dates, and Spectre. He co-created Hawk and Dove with Steve Ditko and wrote four issues of their title. He also wrote for Charlton, writing on the titles Abbott & Costello, a back-up story featuring The Question in Blue Beetle, Charlton Premiere, The Gunfighters, the Thane of Bagarth back-up stories in Hercules, a Sarge Steel back-up in Judomaster, The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves, Outlaws of the West, Fightin' 5 backup stories in Peacemaker, Secret Agent, and Timmy the Ghost.

The Seventies saw Steve Skeates also writing for multiple comic book companies. At DC Comics he wrote Adventure Comics, Blackhawk, DC Super Stars, The Flash, Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Mighty Isis, Phantom Stranger, Plastic Man, Plop!, Secrets of Haunted House, Star Spangled War Stories, Super-Team Family, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Teen Titans, Unknown Soldier, Weird Mystery Tales, Weird War Tales, Weird Western Tales, The Witching Hour, and World's Finest. He also worked on Marvel on the titles Chamber of Chills, Crazy Magazine, Journey into Mystery, Monsters Unleashed, Sub-Mariner, and What If...?. At Gold Key he wrote issues of The Twilight Zone, Underdog, and Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny. At Archie Comics he wrote on Red Circle Sorcery. He also did work at Warren Publishing (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella) and Star Reach (Star Reach and Quack!).

Steve Skeates's work on comic books slowed in the Eighties, and late in the decade he took up bartending. He still did some work during the decade, including writing for DC (DC Graphic Novel, House of Mystery, Secrets of Haunted House) and Marvel (Bizarre Adventures, Crazy Magazine, Howard the Duck, Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham, Savage Sword of Conan, and Savage Tales). In the mid-Eighties he wrote episodes of the animated TV shows Transformers, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and Jem.  In the late Eighties he also did a locally oriented newspaper strip in Upstate New York titled The Adventures of Stew Ben and Alec Gainey.

Since the Nineties Steven Skeates wrote for various companies. He wrote very nearly until his death.

One of the first comic books I ever read was one of the issues of Aquaman authored by Steve Skeates. To this day I don't think anyone wrote Aquaman as well as he did. Quite simply, he was one of the best writers to emerge from the Silver Age of comics. He was certainly versatile. While his first love was humour, during his career he wrote superhero comics, horror comics, Western comics, war comics, and more. There didn't seem to be a genre he could not write. What is more, he was able to take a character and do things with that character that no one else had ever considered. Indeed, Aquaman had spent most of his history as a back-up character in various titles before getting his own title in the Sixties. Steve Skeates took the character places he had never been before. Few comic book writers were ever as gifted as Steve Skeates.