Wednesday, October 1, 2008

TV Preview: PBS show spotlights Warner Bros. dynasty

Sunday, September 21, 2008
By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

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

"You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story" (9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, WQED) 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.

'American Masters:You Must RememberThis -- The Warner Brothers Story'
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, WQED.
Narrator: Clint Eastwood.
'American Masters:The Brothers'
When: 10 p.m. Thursday, WQED.
Narrator: Cass Warner Sperling.
Airing as a one-hour version of her 90-minute documentary, Cass Warner Sperling's "The Brothers Warner" (10 p.m. Thursday, WQED) tells the story of the brothers fromYoungstown, Ohio, who opened their first movie theater in New Castle.

Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner, made "The Brothers Warner."

Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner, doesn't dwell on the brothers' origins in Western Pennsylvania, 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."

Because of the Warner Bros. connection to Western Pennsylvania -- Harry once worked at the Kaufmann's Downtown -- Sperling developed a connection with WQED when she created a film festival at Slippery Rock University in 2000. She brought "The Brothers Warner" to WQED before "American Masters" picked up the documentary for national airing last month.

"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 WQED in Oakland. "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, including Sperling cousin Gregory Orr's 1983 "Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul," but Sperling said this is the first film to look at the family.

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

Sperling, 60, 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 or 412-263-1112.
First published on September 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

No comments: