< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
< Return to Famous Jews
The Religious Affiliation of Movie Producer
From: Luke Ford, "Hollywood Jews", on LukeFord.net website (http://www.lukeford.net/essays/contents/Hollywood_Jews.htm; viewed 8 September 2005):
Jews invented Hollywood. While Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, immigrant Jewish entrepreneurs (like Sam Goldwyn, Jack and Harry Warner, Louis B. Mayer) created Hollywood.
From: Bob Thomas, Clown Prince of Hollywood: The Antic Life and Times of Jack L. Warner, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company: New York (1990), pages 9-11:
...Jack Warner... was born in London, Ontario, in 1892... The family originated in czarist Poland, near the border of Germany. In 1857 in the village of Krasnashiltz, Benjamin Warner [Jack Warner's father] (the original family name has remained obscure) was born into a hostile world. The night-riding cossacks, the burning of houses, the raping of women were part of life's burdens for the Jews of the stetl. They were now allowed education, so their learning came in secret from the village rabbi... Benjamin... chose Pearl Eichelbaum [as a wife]... Ben and Pearl were both nineteen years old when they married in 1876. Their first child, Cecilia, died when she was four. Anna was born in 1979, and Hirsch (later Harry) in 1881... Ben... left his young family and departed for America in 1883... The family grew, babies arriving at regular two-year intervals: Abraham in 1884, followed by Henry, Samuel, Rose and Fannie.
The Warner family, while the boys were still young, moved from Canada to Youngstown, Ohio. Thomas, pages 13-14:
[page 11] The next escape from shoe repair sent Ben Warner to Canada... He found a large, run-down house in London, Ontario, and sent for Pearl and the children... The only Jews in a strange city, they had never felt more isolated... Another son was born in London, and he was named Jacob. Later he would call himself Jack L. Warner; the L stood for Leonard, he explained, but it appears to have been invented... A fifth Warner son, David, arrived in Hamilton, Ontario, the following year.
There was a small Jewish community in Youngstown, and the Warners joined the temple but were not notably devout. Ben [Jack Warner's father] maintained a kosher section of his meat counter, though he recognized that his main customers were goyim. He observed the High holidays and enrolled his sons in Hebrew school.
The Warner Brothers start their famed business empire. From: Thomas, page 23:
Jack was a poor student. He enjoyed recounting the story of how the long-bearded rabbi repeatedly berated him for failing to understand Hebrew. Whenever the boy made an error, he received a jab in the leg with a hat pin.
"You are stupid," the rabbi ranted. "If I give you the pin enough, perhaps you won't be so stupid. Your brother Harry speaks Hebrew like English, and he does not need the pin."
Jack continued making mistakes and getting jabbed in the leg. Finally, he wrned that he would yank the rabbis' beard if the jabbing didn't stop. The rabbi jabbed; Jack yanked. It was the end of Jack's Hebrew studies...
With the grocery store thriving and the older boys contributing to their earnings... to the family coffers, the Warners at last could celebrate their emergence from poverty. The occasion was the marriage of Anna [Jack Warner's sister] to a local boy, Dave Robbins... It as the event of the year in Polish-Jewish society.
Now the four brothers were joined in their lifelong partnership. Harry was unquestionably the leader, not merely by primogeniture but by his self-assumed role as the keeper of family morality. He remained a steadfast Jew, while his three brothers [including Jack Warner] edged into the goyim world. A business enterprise, even one so freewheeling as the movies, Harry believed, could still be conducted without abusing the tenets of the Torah. With his lean, ascetic face, tight lips and severe nose, harry looked the part of the God-fearing patriarch.
Thomas, pages 35-36:
Gerard sat in a theater box at the New York premiere on March 21, 1918, and accepted the thunderous applause at the conclusion. My Four Years in Germany inflamed audiences wherever it played, contributing immeasurably to the war fever... For the Warner brothers, the triumph meant more than money. They had made a significant, patriotic contribution to their country, which they revered. For the rest of their lives and careers, they would make similar contributions, more so than any other film company. Americanism to the Warners, and especially to the foreign-born Harry and Jack, became a religion, something to be duly honored and devoutly proclaimed.
Thomas, page 48:
...Harry [Warner] continued to preach the unlimited future of the motion picture business... He strove to ingratiate himself to the moneymen who were willing to take chances on movie ventures--at a handsome rate of interest, of course. The major banking houses were closed to him; they were operated by conservative gentiles who held the immigrant, movie-making Jews in low regard.
...Lena Baskette... and Sam [Warner] were married in 1925 at the home of Dr. Nathan Krass, rabbi of the Reform Temple Emanu-El in New York.
Thomas, page 54:
...Pearl and Ben [Jack Warner, Harry Warner and Sam Warner's parents] were desolated by the marriage. The fact that the wedding had been solemnized by a rabbi did not erase the shame that a Warner had married a non-Jew. Harry and Albert sided with their parents, and the two brothers and their wives would have nothing to do with Sam's shiksa child bride. Jack was more tolerant. Religion meant little to him; besides, he believed Sam could do no wrong.
Waddill Catchings, who was more enthused than Harry, agreed to seek financing for the venture into sound. The next step was to reach an agreement with Western Electric. That was not easy, because the higher-ups in the corporation were anti-Semitic.
Thomas, pages 72-73:
Lina Basquette recalled accommpanying [her husband] Sam [Warner] to a dinner with Western Electric executives at the old-line Manhattan club which banned Jews from the premises. Sam asked her to wear a gold cross so that they would be acceptable. That night an agreement was reached between Western Electric, which was a subsidiary of AT & T, and Warner Bros.
Among the few things that brought joy to Harry's life was watching his son Lewis grow up into a stalwart, intelligent man... On a vacation to Havana in 1931, the twenty-three-year-old Lewis had fallen ill with infected gums. The infection poisoned his blood... On April 5, Lews died of septicemia and double pneumonia.
Thomas, pages 94-95:
Harry was inconsolable. He railed against God for robbing him of his greatest treasure. All his dreams of Lewis leading a second generation of Warners into a new era were shattered forever. Harry and his wife Rea still had two daughters, Doris Ruth and Betty May, but daughters were not the same as sons.
Actually the Warners had three daughters. The third was Lita Basquette Warner, their adopted daughter and niece. The adoption was a curious aftermath of the death of Sam Warner.
Harry made no effort to conceal his distaste for the Ziegfeld dancer Sam [Warner] had married, despite Sam's obvious love for Lina and his delight in their daughter Lita. Immediately after Sam's death, Harry moved swiftly to wrest the girl from Lina, then twenty and in Harry's eyes too wild to be a fit mother. Sam and Lina had agreed that if they had a son, he would be circumcised and raised a Jew; a daughter would be baptized and become a Catholic, Lita's faith. Harry could not countenance Sam's daughter as a Christian.
The wrangling began soon after the funeral. Harry was backed by Albert in arguing that Lita deserved a more stable upbringing than Lina could provide. Sam had left a $100,000 trust fund for the baby, but it provided an income of only $85 a week. Harry and Albert offered a $300,000 trust fund if Lina would give up custody of Lita.
Lina was confused and grief-stricken. Because of legal maneuverings, she had been denied her share of Sam's estate, now worth millions. She would need towork, and indeed, she wanted to continue performing. That meant Broadway and Hollywood and on the road in vaudeville--not the best circumstances to raise a young daughter. The Warner's proposal would assure Lita's future. With heavy heart, Lina agreed.
The marriage of Jack and Irma Warner had withered into a charade of formality and custom. After Harry's outrage over the Marilyn Miller affair, Jack became more discreet about his liaisons. Unlike Louis Mayer, Harry Cohn, Darryl Zanuck and other libidinous studio bosses, he no longer demanded sex from actresses under contract. It was bad studio policy, he concluded, and impossible to keep secret.
From: Lynn Haney, Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY (2003), page 148:
Irma was resigned to the traditional role of the Jewish wife. She maintained the home, cared for young Jack [Jack L. Warner and Irma's son], did work for her favorite charities--and waited for her husband to return. Those times were rare in the 1930s. Jack Warner had tremendous responsiblities as studio head and community leader, and his limited leisure did not include Irma.
Jack found a convenient way to hide his romantic adventures. Sam and Pearl Warner regularly invited the family to share the Sabbath on Friday evenings. Irma didn't attend because she'd never felt welcome by Jack's mother and father. Jack went reluctantly--he had never showed his parents' devoutness. He discovered that he could sneak out after dinner and call on one of his mistresses. "Cover forme," he instructed Milton Sperling, a junior studio executive who had married Harry's daughter, Betty.
At last Jack's roving eye landed on someone who beguiled him. She was Ann Page, a ravishingly beautiful brunet who had appeared in a few movies. With her raven hair and slender figure, she had the bearing of an Egyptian princess. She had come from New Orleans, where she'd had a Catholic upbringing and had been, according to publicity, a "society belle." To Jack's inconvenience, she had a husband...
Jack was determined to possess Ann despite their two marriages. Harry [Warner] learned of the infatuation and preached against it. Jack would not be dissuaded. Unwilling to wait the year between divorce and final decree in California, he persuaded Ann in 1932 to divorce [her husband] Don in Chihuahua, Mexico, where the decree woul be immediate and the ground secret. On September 15, 1933, he separated from Irma. Everyone at the studio was aware that Warner and Ann were living under the same roof.
Darryl Zanuck harbored a burning desire to make a breakthrough film. In the case of a movie about anti-Semitism, he had a personal reason to hand over $75,000 for the rights to Laura Z Hobson's best-selling novel on which the film was based. Although one of the few movie moguls who was not Jewish (insiders referred to Fox as the goy studio), he had an experience as a young man starting out in Hollywood in which he was the target of just the kind of anti-Semitism portrayed in the novel [that Zanuck made into the movie A Gentleman's Agreement].
When one works in the film industry, assumptions are made. How could Zanuck be in the same business as Zukor, Mayer, Cohn and Warner and not be Jewish? Yet, he clearly wasn't.
Webpage created 8 September 2005. Last modified 8 September 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.