Brotherhood is a very special bond shared between male siblings within a family and between Masonic Brothers in lodge rooms all around the globe.
Today, on August 10th, the Grace Dee May Museum is celebrating the birthday of Samuel Warner who was a Freemason but also one of Hollywood’s famous brothers who founded the successful Warner Bros. Studios.
Born in Poland in 1887, Sam immigrated to America with his family as a young child. Arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, the family eventually settled in Youngstown, Ohio.
The hardworking family members pulled together to find their American dream and tried a number of ventures from peddling household goods to selling ice cream and, at various times operating everything from a bicycle store to a butcher shop.
The sons of the Warner family included the oldest son Harry followed by Sam, Albert and Jack. In the early 1890’s the family purchased a movie projector and traveled the state selling tickets to view films in tents which they set up as outdoor “theaters”. One of the earliest films they showed was “The Great Train Robbery”.
Young Sam Warner ran the hand-cranked movie projector while this brothers Albert and Harry sold tickets to folks eager to see the thrilling adventure film. The most flamboyant of the brothers, Jack Warner, would sing songs during intermissions while the boys’ sister Rose played the piano.
Within three years, they had the funds to purchase space in New Castle, Pennsylvania, to create a movie theater which they named The Cascade Movie Palace. The new theater was quickly successful and the brothers expanded into owning other theaters and were determined to expand their business into new entertainment opportunities.
Not content with simply showing movies, the brothers set their sights on making movies and moved to Southern California in 1918. They knew that there would be huge profits to gain from creating movies but also from distributing the films so they opened a production studio in Culver City, California before founding the Warner Bros. Studio in 1923.
Originally, Albert and Harry Warner focused on business management while Sam Warner and his younger brother Jack concentrated on film production. One of their coups was to employ the talented writer F. Scott Fitzgerald to adapt his novel, “the Beautiful and the Damned” as a motion picture.
Always on the forefront of the film industry, Warner Bros. had films for every audience including promoting the first animal film star, “Rin Tin Tin”. The lovable and courageous German Shepherd was so beloved by audiences that they helped put the new studio on solid financial footing. So much so that the brothers jokingly referred to their canine star as “The mortgage lifter”.
Sam and Harry Warner had learned about the concept of “talking pictures” in the offices of Bell Laboratories in New York. Sam who was an amateur mechanic realized the commercial potential of adding sound to films and recommended to his brothers that they invest in the necessary sound equipment for use in an upcoming film which turned out to be “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson.
The film would become a smash hit selling out movie theaters cross America and earning the movie a special Academy Award for outstanding technical achievement. Its success would also forever change the way movies were made.
Tragically, Sam Warner would not live long enough to bask in the glory of the rave reviews and financial success of “The Jazz Singer”. The film which had production costs of just $500,000 would make $3 million in profits for the studio.
Some felt that Sam had worked himself to the point of sheer exhaustion on production of this new talking picture. His brother Jack noticed that for several weeks his brother Sam had been complaining of headaches and occasional nosebleeds as well as having difficulty with balance and talking.
Perhaps, in his capacity as the film’s executive producer, he had simply ignored symptoms of a coming health crisis. Sam Warner was gravely ill and was admitted to the hospital. Doctors felt he may have developed an abscess from an infected tooth that was impacting his brain. The only option was to operate and to attempt to stop a raging infection. Unfortunately following four unsuccessful surgeries, Sam fell into a deep coma.
The curtain was drawn on Sam Warner’s life as he passed away on October 5, 1927, – just one day before the premier of “The Jazz Singer”.
Sam Warner’s life was honored and his death mourned by his surviving brothers but also by his Masonic brothers of Mount Olive Lodge No. 506 in Los Angeles.
In honor of his contributions and achievements in the development of sound in the film industry, Sam Warner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.