cover image The Warner Brothers

The Warner Brothers

Chris Yogerst. Univ. of Kentucky, $34.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8131-9801-9

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee film historian Yogerst (Hollywood Hates Hitler!) delivers a thorough biography of brothers Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner, who together founded the film production company Warner Bros. Tracing their evolution from Jewish Polish immigrants to scrappy entrepreneurs to industry titans, Yogerst discusses how the brothers’ foray into film distribution in the early 1910s was thwarted by Thomas Edison’s monopoly of the sector, pushing the Warners to explore film production instead. They scored box office successes with the war drama My Four Years in Germany (1918) and the spy thriller The Kaiser’s Finish (1918), and the “technologically savvy” Sam was an early proponent of new sound synchronization technology, leading Warner Bros. to put out Hollywood’s first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, in 1927. Yogerst provides insightful psychological portraits of each brother, depicting Harry as an idealist who “believed that spreading knowledge through talking pictures would be a great way to educate the masses” and Jack as a conniving wheeler-dealer who replaced Harry as president in 1956 after convincing his brothers to sell the company to a straw-man third party that, to their surprise and consternation, appointed Jack as studio head. Richly researched and enhanced by some juicy family drama, this astute look at Hollywood’s early days entertains. Photos. (Sept.)