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Albert Warner

Aaron "Albert" Warner was a Polish-born Jewish and American film executive who was one of the founders of Warner Bros. Studios. He established the production studio with his brothers Harry, Sam, and Jack L. Warner. He served as the studio's treasurer, until he sold his stock in 1956.

Background

  • Abraham "Wonsal" or "Wonskolaser",later Abraham Warner, was born in Congress Poland, and in the village "Krasnosielc", He was the son of Benjamin "Wonsal" or "Wonskolaser," a shoe maker born in Krasnosielc, and Pearl Leah Eichelbaum. He came to Baltimore, Maryland with his mother and siblings in October 1889 on the steamship Hermann from Bremen, Germany. Their father had preceded them, immigrating to Baltimore in 1888 and following his trade in shoes and shoe repair. He changed the family name to Warner, which was used thereafter. As in many Jewish immigrant families, some of the children gradually acquired anglicized versions of their Yiddish-sounding names. Abraham and Jacob were late among the children to do so, becoming "Albert" and "Jack" after they came of age. However, his nickname was "Abe."

  • Education

    • In Baltimore, the money Benjamin Warner earned in the shoe repair business was not enough to provide for his growing household. He and Pearl had another daughter, Fannie, not long after they arrived. Benjamin moved the family to Canada, inspired by a friend's advice that he could make an excellent living bartering tin wares with trappers in exchange for furs.

      Sons Jacob and David Warner were born in London, Ontario. After two arduous years in Canada, Benjamin and Pearl Warner returned to Baltimore, bringing along their growing family. Two more children, Sadie and Milton, were added to the household there. In 1896, the family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, following the lead of Harry Warner, who established a shoe repair shop in the heart of the emerging industrial town. Benjamin worked with his son Harry in the shoe repair shop until he secured a loan to open a meat counter and grocery store in the city's downtown area.

      In the late 1890s, Albert became fascinated by the bicycle craze that swept through the USA. and his older brother Harry opened a bicycle shop in Youngstown together as well. The two also tried to open a bowling alley together, but were unsuccessful.

      Albert Warner stayed in school longer than any his three brothers. In 1900, Warner entered Youngstown's Rayen High School, where he served as quarterback for the school's football team. Warner eventually dropped out, and eventually got a job in Chicago as a salesman for the soap company Swift and Company. Warner's life would soon pursue a new direction after brother Sam was able to purchase Kinetoscope in 1903.

    Career

    • As a young man, along with his brother Sam, Albert Warner entered the nickelodeon business, and started displaying copies of The Great Train Robbery from a Kinetoscope at carnivals in Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1903; Sam ran the projector and Albert sold tickets. In 1905, Harry agreed to join his two brothers' business and sold his Youngstown bicycle shop. During this time, the three brothers purchased a building in New Castle, Pennsylvania; with their new building, the brothers established their first theater, The Cascade Movie Palace. The theater was so successful that the brothers were able to purchase a second theater in New Castle as well. This makeshift theatre, called the Bijou, was furnished with chairs borrowed from a local undertaker. In 1907, the three brothers acquired fifteen additional theaters in the state of Pennsylvania, and named their new business The Dusquesne Amusement Supply Company. The three brothers then rented an office in the Bakewell building in downtown Pittsburgh with a loan from Max Fleischer. Harry then sent Sam to New York to purchase and ship films for their Pittsburgh exchange company, while he and Albert remained in Pittsburgh to run the business.

      In 1909, the brothers sold the Cascade Theater to open a second film exchange company in Norfolk, Virginia; through this second film exchange, younger brother Jack joined his three brothers' business. Afterwards, Sam and Jack went to Norfolk, while Harry and Albert stayed in Pittsburgh. However, one serious threat to the Warners film company was the advent of Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company (also known as the Edison Trust), which charged distributors exorbitant fees. In 1910, the Warners sold the family business to the General Film Company, for "$10,000 in cash, $12,000 in preferred stock, and payments over a four-year period for a total of $52,000". After selling their business, the brothers found work distributing films for Carl Laemmle's Independent Motion Picture Company in Pittsburgh. In 1912, Sam Warner would help the brothers earn a $1,500 profit by distributing the Italian film Dante's Inferno in the United States. Harry Warner, encouraged by the success of Dante's Inferno and wary of Edison's growing monopoly, decided to leave Laemmle and establish an independent film production company for himself and his three brothers, Warner Features; Albert and Harry opened an office in New York, while Sam was sent to operate the company's new Los Angeles film exchange division, and Jack was sent to run the company's new San Francisco film exchange division. In 1918, thanks in part to a loan from Ambassador James W. Gerald, the brothers expanded operations and established a studio near Hollywood, California Sam and Jack moved to the West Coast to produce films while Albert and Harry remained on the East Coast to handle distribution.

      Between the years 1919 and 1920, the studio was not able to garnish any profits. During this time, banker Motley Flint helped the Warners pay off their debts. Shortly afterwards, the four brothers then decided to relocate their studio from Culver City to Sunset Boulevard. The studio rebounded in 1921, after the success of the studio's film Why Girls Leave Home. As a result of the financial success of the film, its director, Harry Rapf, was appointed the studio's new head producer. On April 4, 1923, following the studio's successful film The Gold Diggers, Warner Brothers, Inc. was officially established. Albert remained in New York, where he ran the company's distribution and finances.

      After establishing Warner Bros. Pictures, the studio had, unfortunately overdrawn $1,000,000.00 (the amount which Warner had loaned from Flint). At this, Albert convinced Harry not to purchase the screenrights to the hit play Rain. Harry then decided to help ease the company's financial status by acquiring forty theaters in the state of Pennsylvania.

      More success would also come for the studio after the brothers hired German director Ernst Lubitsch as the head director for the studio as well; Rapf had departed the studio and accepted an offer to work at MGM. Lubitsch's first film at the studio, The Marriage Circle, became the studio's most successful film of 1924, and was also on the New York Times Best list for the year as well. The studio's 1924 film Beau Brummel also made John Barrymore a top star at the studio as well. Despite the success the brothers now had, they still could not compete with the Big Three studios (First National, Paramount, and MGM)

      In 1925, Albert's older brother Harry and a large group of independent film-makers assembled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to challenge the monopoly the Big Three had over the film industry. Harry and the other independent film-makers at the Milwaukee convention agreed to spend $500,000.00 in newspaper advertisements; this action would help benefit Warner Bros. profits. With help from a loan supplied by Goldman, Sachs head banker Waddill Catchings, Warner would find a way to successfully respond to the growing concern the Big Three Studios further induced to Warner Bros., and expanded the company's operations further by purchasing the Brooklyn theater company Vitagraph. Through this purchase, the Warners now had theaters in the New York area.

      With the Wall Street Crash of 1929 officially marking the beginning of The Great Depression, Albert saw that the studio was in need of additional star power in order to survive. Following Albert's advice, Jack and Harry Warner acquired three Paramount stars (William Powell, Kay Francis, and Ruth Chatterton) for studio salaries doubled from their previous ones. This move proved to be a success, and stockholders maintained confident in the Warners. In late 1929, Jack Warner would hire sixty-one-year-old actor George Arliss to star in the studio's film Disraeli. To everybody's surprise, the film Disraeli was a success, and Arliss would win an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the film and star in nine more films with the studio as well.

      With the collapse of the market for musicals, Warner Bros., under production head Darryl F. Zanuck, turned to more realistic and gritty storylines, 'torn from the headlines' pictures that some said glorified gangsters; Warner Bros. soon became known as "gangster studio. The studio's first gangster film Little Caesar was a great success at the box office. And Edward Robinson was cast a star in many of the wave of gangster films the studio produced after Little Caesar. The studio's next gangster film, The Public Enemy, would also make James Cagney arguably the studio's new top star, and the Warners were now further convinced to make more gangster films as well.

      Another gangster film the studio produced was the critically acclaimed I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, starring Paul Muni. In addition to Cagney and Robinson, Paul Muni was also given a big push as one the studio's top gangster stars after appearing in the successful film I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. The film got audiences in the United States to question the legal system in the United States. and by January 1933, the film's protagonist Robert Elliott Burns - who was still imprisoned in New Jersey - and a number of different chain gang prisoners nationwide in the United States were able to appeal and were released. In January 1933, Georgia chain gang warden J Harold Hardy - who was also made into a character in the film - sued the studio for displaying "vicious, brutual and false attacks" against him in the film. After appearing in the film The Man Who Played God, Bette Davis would also become a top star for the studio as well. In 1933, the studio's very successful film 42nd Street would revive the studio's musicals Most these new musicals featured Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell as the stars, and were mostly directed by Busby Berkeley.

      By 1931, however, the studio would begin to feel the effects of the Depression as the general public became unable to afford the price for movie tickets. In 1931, the studio would reportedly suffer a net loss of $8,000,000.00. The following year, the studio would suffer an additional $14,000,000.00 net loss as well.

      On November 25, 1947, Albert Warner and other executives in the motion picture industry issued the Waldorf Statement, first promulgating the Hollywood Blacklist. Around this time, Albert also bought a second mansion in Miami Beach, Florida, where he lived for most of the remaining years of his life. By 1956, the studio was losing money and Albert wanted to retire and live full-time in his Miami Beach house.

      In May 1956, the brothers announced they were putting Warner Bros. on the market. Jack, however, secretly organized a syndicate headed by Boston banker Serge Semenenko that purchased 90% (800,000 shares) of the company's stock. After the three brothers sold their stock, in an under-the-table deal with Semenenko, Jack officially joined Semenenko's syndicate and bought back all his stock, which consisted of 200,000 shares. The deal officially completed in July. Now the company's largest stockholder, Jack appointed himself as the new company president. By the time Harry and Albert learned of their brother's subterfuge, it was too late.

      Albert read about Jack's dealings while spending time in New York City. He never spoke to Jack again, but he did later rejoin the company's board of directors to stop Jack "from stealing the stockholders blind".

      Albert Warner died in 1967 in Miami Beach. A funeral service was held in Los Angeles. Warner was then interred in Brooklyn, next to his first wife Bessie Krieger. After Albert's second wife Bessie Warner died in 1970 she was interred with him as well in Brooklyn.

    Connections

    • In 1908, Warner married Bessie Krieger, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Krieger died in 1923 from influenza. On April 23, 1925, Warner married Bessie Siegal, the widow of his friend, Jonas Siegal. The couple remained married until Warner's death in 1967.Through his marriage to Bessie Siegel, Warner had a stepson, Arthur Jack Steel, who married Ruth Mandel, and had sons John and Lewis Steel (named after Harry Warner's son Lewis Warner). Warner was noted to never adapt the upper class lifestyle, remaining unrefined throughout his life.
    • spouses: Bessie Krieger
    • Bessie Siegal
    Albert Warner
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    Born July 23, 1884
    Died November 26, 1967
    (aged 83)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1903 - 1905
      Film executive Co-founder of Warner Brothers
      United States