Friday, October 31, 2008

From the PBS website!

The Brothers Warner
About the Film

The Brothers Warner, an AMERICAN MASTERS presentation premiering nationally Thursday, September 25, 2008 on PBS (check local listings), is an intimate portrait and epic saga of the four film pioneers who founded and ran the Warner Bros. studio for over 50 years.

Narrated by family member Cass Warner Sperling (Harry Warner’s granddaughter), the 60-minute film gives an insider look at these original Hollywood independent filmmakers and their varied personalities and business sense: the little-known major player, Harry Warner; Albert or “Honest Abe”; visionary Sam; and volatile Jack. Rare archival footage, family photos, and documents trace their scrappy rise from nothing, along with the personal tragedies and professional battles they overcame along the way.

From opening their first storefront theater by hanging a sheet on the wall and borrowing chairs from a funeral parlor to creating one of the top studios in America, these four brothers built an empire on a dream and revolutionized Hollywood, and were the first to use mass media to “educate, entertain, and enlighten.”

Visit Warner Sisters online to learn about Cass Warner Sperling’s production company.

To order The Brothers Warner on DVD, call 1-800-336-1917.

Filmmaker interview:

Go here to see clips from the film:

This article is from:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PBS's "American Masters" puts a spotlight on Hollywood history

Spotlighting the Warner brothers

Submitted by SHNS on Fri, 09/19/2008 - 13:23.

PBS's "American Masters" puts a spotlight on Hollywood history next week, specifically the Warner Bros. studio and its 85-year legacy.

"You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story" (9 p.m. EDT Tuesday through Thursday) offers a five-hour chronicle of the studio and its films.

At a July PBS news conference in Beverly Hills, "American Masters" executive producer Susan Lacy called Warner Bros. "a media dynasty that would come to reflect and critique America's cultural and social trajectory through the 20th century and beyond."

In addition to "You Must Remember This," written and directed by Richard Schickel ("The Men Who Made the Movies") and featuring studio stars such as Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson and George Clooney, a more intimate second program looks back at the Warner brothers themselves.

Airing as a one-hour version of her 90-minute documentary, Cass Warner Sperling's "The Brothers Warner" (10 p.m. Thursday, PBS) tells the story of the brothers from Youngstown, Ohio.

Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner, doesn't dwell on the brothers' origins, instead focusing on the studio they built and the clashes between figurehead Jack Warner and older brother Harry. Brother Albert is the family peacekeeper and Sam served as a producer on Warner Bros. films, including Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer."

"I was fortunate enough to have my grandfather in my life for the first 10 years of my life," Sperling said last month during a conversation at the WQED station in Pittsburgh. "There's always somebody in your life who you don't just forget and who creates some kind of impression on you, and he was that for me."

Sperling's father, Milton, worked on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., as a writer/producer and he'd share stories around the dinner table about the brothers' battles. At the time, filmmaking went on six days a week, and Sperling would go to the lot with her father on Saturdays.

"I would see this incredibly booming, creative empire going on," she said. "How is it that two guys -- Jack and Harry, who really appear not to like each other very much -- are running this business? It always fascinated me."

Sperling said no one else in the family made a point of chronicling the family history.

Documentaries about individual Warners have been made in the past, including Sperling cousin Gregory Orr's 1983 doc "Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul," but Sperling said this is the first film to look at the family.

In "The Brothers Warner," Sperling even uncovers their real last name, which was simplified to "Warner" when the family immigrated to America.

Sperling, 60, first wrote a book, now titled "The Brothers Warner," that was first published in 1993 as "Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story." Now she's made this documentary -- the full 90-minute version is available for purchase at -- and is developing a dramatic film based on this family tale of clashing personalities and betrayal.

(Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen(at)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Friday, October 24, 2008

BROTHERS WARNER - Washington Times

Tuning In

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 Washington Times

Legacy explored

PBS' "American Masters" puts a spotlight on Hollywood history this week with an in-depth look at the Warner Bros. studio and its 85-year legacy.

"You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story" (at 9 tonight through Thursday, WETA-Channel 26 and WMPT-Channel 22) offers a five-hour chronicle of the studio and its films. Oscar winner Clint Eastwood narrates tonight's opening installment, titled "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet (1923-35)," about the movie studio's first years, when its top star was a dog named Rin Tin Tin, and its gradual move into gritty fare.

In addition to "You Must Remember This," written and directed by Richard Schickel ("The Men Who Made the Movies"), PBS also will air Cass Warner Sperling's "The Brothers Warner" (10 p.m. Thursday), an intimate 90-minute look at the four brothers from Youngstown, Ohio.

Miss Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner, doesn't dwell on the brothers' origins, instead focusing on the studio they built and the clashes between figurehead Jack Warner and older brother Harry. Brother Albert — who was born in Baltimore — is the family peacekeeper, and Sam served as a producer on Warner Bros. films, including Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer." Sam Warner was the first brother to die, at age 40, the day before the landmark film was released.

"I was fortunate enough to have my grandfather in my life for the first 10 years of my life," Miss Sperling told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

• Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From Ohio to Hollywood

COLUMBUS DISPATCH feature/interview with Cass

Warner Bros. studio rooted in plan hatched in Youngstown

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 3:18 AM By Jeffrey Sheban


The vindicator (youngstown)

The entrance to the opulent Warner Theatre in Youngstown, shortly after it opened in 1931
Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar
Inside the Edward W. Powers Auditorium in Youngstown

For the Warner brothers, the road to Hollywood was paved more than a century ago in Youngstown.

Around the family dinner table back in 1903, three of the boys tried to persuade their immigrant parents, Ben and Pearl Warner, to help them buy a used "moving picture" projector and a grainy print of The Great Train Robbery.

Harry, Sam and Albert (later joined by Jack) saw silent films as potentially more profitable than the market, bicycle store and shoe-repair shop that the Warners operated in the booming steel town.

Harry, the eldest son, and Sam, a mechanical wizard, had fallen in love with picture shows at a small nickelodeon theater (admission: 5 cents) in nearby Pittsburgh.

They hoped to get a secondhand Kinetoscope projector, invented by Thomas Edison, and show short films in tents and storefronts in Youngstown and neighboring communities.

Their father, a Polish Jew who had arrived in America in 1883, agreed to pawn a gold watch and the family horse to help his sons raise the $950 they needed.

"As long as you stand together, you will be strong," he told his ambitious offspring.

Soon, the Warner brothers were showing movies in Ohio (Youngstown, Niles and Warren) and western Pennsylvania (New Castle, Erie and Sharon).

Two new documentaries from the American Masters series on PBS tell the story of the brothers (who ultimately didn't heed their father's advice) and their influential movie studio -- which made household names of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Bette Davis, not to mention Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

One of the documentaries, The Brothers Warner, is based on a 1994 book by Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry.

The writer-producer penned Hollywood Be Thy Name (reissued this year as The Brothers Warner) in part to preserve the legacy of her grandfather, who in later years lost a power struggle to Jack.

"I was very close to my grandfather for the first 10 years of my life," said Sperling, 60, of Santa Barbara, Calif. "For me, I felt something was passed to me to carry on."

Sperling hadn't seen Youngstown before she wrote the book, which is based on family stories and her research, but she made a short visit before filming the documentary.

She met the mayor and toured the Edward W. Powers Auditorium, which opened in 1931 as one of the more opulent Warner theaters built in cities nationwide.

Her great-grandfather Ben remained a grocer in town and died across the street from the theater while playing cards; he was buried in Los Angeles.

"Anywhere my family has been, I feel something," Sperling said. "Powers Auditorium really moved me."

Armed with their used projector, the Warner boys traveled the trolley lines connecting Youngstown and other communities to screen short films.

Then, in 1905 or so, they opened the Cascade Theatre in a former penny arcade just across the Ohio-Pennsylvania border in New Castle. A sheet was hung on the wall and chairs were borrowed from a funeral parlor nearby.

The book and documentary describe the transition from traveling nickelodeon shows to film distribution and production, then to movie- theater construction, starting with the first permanent Warner Theatre -- built in 1922 in Niles, about 10 miles northwest of Youngstown.

The famous Warner Bros. Studios, still in operation as a division of Time Warner, was established in 1918 in a little-developed part of Los Angeles called Hollywood.

Movies from the studio's early days focused on working-class struggles and mobsters with heart -- two themes that pretty much described their hometown, which was filling up fast with Irish, Italian and eastern European immigrants plus Southern blacks in search of factory jobs.

"There was discrimination and tension, and absolutely they were influenced by the whole cultural milieu," said John Russo, co-author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work & Memory in Youngstown. "Their films reflected that."

The decision to leave Youngstown for Hollywood resulted in part because of pressure from Edison, who wanted to enforce his patents on the Kinetoscope and limit the number of film exhibitors east of the Mississippi River.

Although the so-called Edison Trust almost succeeded in driving the Warner brothers out of business, it also opened doors.

Real success for the studio came in 1927 with the release of The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson -- credited as the first feature film with synchronized dialogue. (The death of Sam the day before the premiere kept Harry, Albert and Jack from attending.)

The Warner Theatre in Youngstown, built as a memorial to Sam, was heralded as "the finest theater ever built."

The 114-room movie house with five levels cost $1.5 million; it opened May 14, 1931. Decorative touches included marble, Carpathian elm, Italian olive wood, Australian and African cherry, Madagascar ebony and burled English walnut.

It closed as a movie theater in 1968 with a final showing of Bonnie and Clyde.

In the wake of a yearlong refurbishing, it has since housed the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

Faring less well is the old Warner neighborhood, north of downtown, where many of the houses have been torn down or abandoned.

No marker tells passers-by that Hollywood history was made inside 1351 1/2 Elm St.

Sperling hopes someday to visit the street where the brothers lived -- something for which she didn't have time during her first trip.

"I'd really like to come back," she said. "This whole journey has been about discovering my roots."

On television
The Brothers Warner -- premiering at 10 p.m. Thursday on WOSU-DT1, a digital cable channel -- provides a more personal look at the family and its Youngstown roots as told by writer-producer Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner.>

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


FYI, here's Frazier Moore's AP column which leads off with THE BROTHERS WARNER. This runs in papers and on websites nationwide:

TV Lookout: highlights for Sept. 21-Sept. 27By FRAZIER MOORE-AP Television WriterThursday, September 18, 2008 7:23 AM
Nowadays, the name "Warner" emblazoning that media conglomerate means plenty. Affixed to movie and TV productions, "Warner Bros." is a powerful brand.
But who were those Warner brothers anyway? And what role did they play in the history of entertainment, beyond that as an enduring label?
PBS' "American Masters" presents a tidy crash course in Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack in "The Brothers Warner," a one-hour documentary airing 10 p.m. EDT Thursday (check local listings).
This informative film -- narrated by filmmaker-author Cass Warner Sperling (Harry Warner's granddaughter) -- serves as a useful coda to a more expansive look at the Warner Bros. Studio and the progressive vision it epitomized: the five-hour "American Masters" miniseries "You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story."
Filmmaker and film critic Richard Schickel is the director-writer-producer, and Clint Eastwood the executive producer and narrator of this epic look at cinema and four remarkable young men from Youngstown, Ohio, who moved to Hollywood and helped re-create it.
Prepare to be amazed at the Warners' world-class chutzpah, and dazzled by the canon of timeless films that bear their name.

(Warner Sisters has an "In Association" credit and Cass was a "Consulting Producer" on this project.)
On the Net:
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)
From: Santa Barbara Visitor's Bureau and Film Commission Newsletter

September 2008

After what could be considered the journey of a lifetime, local resident Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Harry Warner, one of the four brothers who founded the legendary Warner Brothers Studios, has cast a new light on her family's history. Her recently completed documentary, "The Brothers Warner" is an intimate portrait of a band of brothers that built an empire on a dream and revolutionized Hollywood. In Cass' words, "They did this with no education, a lot of chutzpah and the belief that if they were told they couldn't do something, they knew they were on the right track."

The story of the four Warner brothers is a classic immigrant tale. From opening their first storefront theater by hanging a sheet on the wall and borrowing chairs from a local funeral parlor to their willingness to embrace innovation when they became the first movie studio to release a "talkie", they were always ready to take a chance. This willingness to take risks served them well, as in the case of Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer", the aforementioned talkie which was famously declared a "failed experiment" by Irving Thalberg on opening night and went on to become one of the top grossing films of all time.

Their legendary scrappy rise from nothing, their overcoming of personal tragedies, and their battles are all woven together by Cass' narration as well as family home movies and photos, news footage, and archival footage from the Warner vaults. This close-knit band of brothers proved in their pioneering efforts to be the first to use film to "educate, entertain and enlighten". (The original company motto.) Their films were often produced from stories ripped from news headlines and it was Harry's belief that, "Those who make a nation's entertainment have obligations above and beyond their primary commercial objective, which is the box office."

The development of "The Brothers Warner" has been literally a thirty-year process beginning with Cass' book formerly known as "Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story" now titled "The Brothers Warner." It's the completion of a promise made to herself and her grandfather Harry, to tell this inspirational tale. Shortly after Cass completed the documentary, it was acquired for domestic television broadcast to be aired as a one-hour by American Masters—a PBS series. "The Brothers Warner" is scheduled to begin airing on PBS via KCET at 9:00 p.m., on September 29th.

Warner Sisters, Cass' production company is proud to have this as its first presentation. For more information, please visit:


New documentary aims to 'educate, entertain and enlighten'

By Jim Reed

MOST SATURDAYS AS A CHILD, Cass Warner accompanied her Oscar-nominated writer/producer father to the famed Warner Bros. studio lot. Now, decades later, she helps run her own film production company (Warner Sisters) and hosts the Starz cable network’s Conversations With Cass, a one-on-one interview show focusing on well-known actors and personalities.
Her latest project to comemmorate the cultural legacy of the Warners’ Hollywood dynasty (after a 1993 book that has been called “definitive”) is The Brothers Warner, a just-completed 90-minute documentary she wrote, directed and produced. It’s one of four featured docs at this year’s Savannah Film Festival.
Cass will accompany her film to the event, and we spoke in advance of her trip.

As a child, you were afforded an almost unimaginably cool perk: free reign of the Warner Bros. lot. Looking back at such a strange and fanciful opportunity, are you surprised you wound up working in the film industry, or are you more surprised that you did not?
Cass Warner: Growing up on the Warner Bros. lot was like being surrounded by a family of great musicians I heard the music being played all the time so to not partake in the joy of creating is hard to imagine. My father often worked out of the house. Seeing my interest, he would hand me a script to hold in his story meetings, even before I could read. Fortunately for me, people who worked at Warner Bros. worked on Saturdays, so I often went with my father to the lot and got to wander into any sound stage that didn’t have a red light flashing. It was better than going to the circus and I found it difficult not to marvel at the magic of this cooperative art form and the family feeling that happens on a set.
I experienced being an actress in the mid-’70s and realized the roles for women were not my cup of tea. I was motivated to write screenplays and had the good fortune of mentoring under my father and the master, Howard Koch of Casablanca fame. Writing led me to developing projects with friends and my independent production company, Warner Sisters, was born.

You’ve spearheaded the celebration and documentation of the legacy of the Warner brothers and their studio through both books and film. In doing this, have you found that by and large, people in the business are excited and happy to reminisce about their experiences working with Warners, or have you encountered any trepidation or outright refusals to participate in your efforts?
Cass Warner: Interviewing people has been one of my greatest pleasures. Folks who experienced working at Warner Bros. have been joyful about sharing their stories.

I understand that PBS will be airing a truncated version of this film as part of their American Masters series. Was it tough to decide what to leave out of the TV version?
Cass Warner: Yes, American Masters is now airing a 53-minute version of The Brothers Warner, I’m honored to say. I have the good fortune of working with the most wonderful Oscar-winning editor and fine human being a film maker could ever wish for. Kate Amend and I worked so well together that editing was not a chore but a pleasure.

How exactly does one go about cutting down a film that I assume they have slaved over to whittle down to just as they’d like it to be seen?
Cass Warner: Decisions, decisions, decisions — and not being afraid to make them and trusting one’s artistry. When you have a great editor like I did, making the decisions are a lot easier. I love the editing process as it’s like having a wonderful lump of clay that already has the form of your vision in it that you now get to put the finishing touches on.

How many times to date has the finished, full-length version of the film been seen by a public audience?
Cass Warner: About ten times.

What have the reactions been to the film?
Cass Warner: Fabulous! Getting the responses I am has made this whole journey so worthwhile. It’s inspirational!

Have you been involved in the Savannah Film Festival before?
Cass Warner: I have not been involved before, but am very much looking forward to having this opportunity. The festival has a great reputation, which is why I submitted my film to it.

How did you come to be involved?
Cass Warner: I heard about it at a festival seminar in Los Angeles. It got five stars as a festival.

Was there any particular revelation or insight which emerged in the process of making The Brothers Warner that had eluded your previous efforts to document the history and impact of the studio and your family?
Cass Warner: In the last 30 years of my research, there have been so many revelations that have emerged while discovering who these brothers were. My fascination with them as characters and my wish to understand their inner workings and reasons for doing what they did has led me into wonderful worlds of detail and insights.

Have those insights made a significant impact on the way you view the studio and its legacy?
Cass Warner: Because of the number of insights, I’d prefer people read my book or see my film, as there are really too many to isolate here. I am very proud to be from a family of filmmakers who loved their art form, and truly knew the value and power of using this medium to “educate, entertain and enlighten,” which was the original motto for their company.

Have you ever been to Savannah before?
Cass Warner: This will be my first time and I’m very much looking forward to it.

The Brothers Warner When: Mon., 9:30 am, Trustees Theater & Thurs., Oct. 30, 2:30 pm, Lucas Theatre Cost: $5 gen. public / $3 students, seniors & military / Free to SCAD students, faculty & staff w/ID