As the legendary film studio Warner Bros reaches its monumental centenary today, little is known about its founders, as the brilliant minds behind timeless classics like Casablanca came from a village near Pułtusk in northern Mazowsze.
The first Warner to set foot in America was the father of the tailor Benjamin Warner Brothers, who came to America with just a gold watch in his pocket and tales in his head of golden opportunities and countless riches.
Upon arrival, the family’s first name was changed by a confused clerk who either mistook the name for a foreign sounding one, or on purpose gave Warner a more American sounding surname.
Benjamin from Krasnosielc, a village in northern Mazowsze near Pułtusk, with about 1,300 inhabitants.
There is a church from the 18th century, a chapel by the way, and one of the few synagogues preserved in the area.
In September 1939, the Germans took a dozen local Jews into the synagogue and shot them dead with a machine gun.
Life in Krasnosielc in Benjamin was difficult at the time. The country was under Russian control, and the Jews were frequent victims of repression.
In Andrzej Wróblewski’s book Pollywood, Jack Warner describes how his father finally decided to leave the country and move to America.
He said: “In a nearby pub in Krasnosielc, my father ran into a friend, also a tailor. His name is Waleski. Everyone thought he was a local idiot. Waleski confided to him that he had had enough of the Cossacks, hungry and empty pockets, and wanted to get a job in the transport bound for America. My father thought that maybe this Waleski wasn’t so stupid after all.
Once, Benjamin received a letter across the ocean from Waleski: “The letter ends with a sentence: You must come to Baltimore, he wears all the shoes here. America is a rich country, and the streets flow with gold.
When Benjamin came to the United States, he did not find the streets paved with gold, so he prostrated himself and did what he did best, mending shoes in Baltimore.
He was soon able to send the money back to Krasnosielc, and a few months later his wife Pnina and children Anna and Hirsch joined him.
Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Harry’s oldest brother, wrote that he was born only in Krasnosielc, while other sources say that Aaron and Szmul were also born there and that Itzak was born either in London or in America.
Hirsch, Aaron, Szmul and Itzak became Harry, Albert, Samuel and Jack. In the early years in the US, the family was involved in a lot. After Baltimore they lived for a time in Canada, then Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The brothers were desperate to sign and earn good money, but they had no capital. The only valuables in the family were Banjamin’s golden wallet which he took with him from Krasnosielc and a horse named Bob.
In 1903, the brothers pawned their watches and bought a kinetoscope, a projector patented by Thomas Edison, for USD $1,000.
Entering small towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they set up a badly damaged copy of Edwin S. Porter’s famous man The Great Train Robbery to charm audiences and soon returned their investment.
With the money saved, Warner rented a room where, borrowing chairs from the owner of a local funeral parlor, they set up a movie theater.
The business soon proved unprofitable, and Edison began to demand licenses for fees to use the camera and films in the machines he had designed.
To avoid these fees, the brothers, like many Hollywood pirates, moved west to California, where the brothers planned not only to show movies but to produce them themselves.
“They were pioneers. They were great risk takers and innovators and often gambled everything on their goals and dreams,” wrote Cass Warner.
In 1918, they made their first film “My Four Years in Germany”, which was a huge success.
The brothers decided to use the distribution profits to buy their first studio in Hollywood and on April 4, 1923, the film studio Warner Brothers Pictures was incorporated.
Each brother is assigned a place in the order commensurate with his skills.
The company was led by Harry, the most famous leader, with Albert in charge of distribution, Sam in charge of production and technology, and Jack in charge of long-term operations.
The new company found immediate success with a series of hugely popular films starring Rin Tin Tin the dog, who is often called “the first four-legged superstar”.
The greater part of them was done in an eruption, but still with a sound. Other filmmakers have experimented with the idea. Harry also commented “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
The brothers eventually spent USD 7 million to adapt the Vitaphone, which allowed them to record and then broadcast the film’s sound.
So in 1927 the brothers released The Jazz Singer, the first full-length film, full of songs and music.
Audiences went crazy for the movie, which grossed more than $3 million, and the company won an Oscar for turning the movie industry around. Unfortunately, Sam died the day before the premiere of the film.
He must have studied the salad days in the 1930s and 1940s, following Humphrey Bogart himself with Casablanca.
Warner Bros. has maintained its leading position in the Hollywood studio over the decades, producing Harry Potter, Batman and the Hobbit series, as well as The Matrix, The Inception and The Hangover.
The movie studio is now part of the media conglomerate WarnerMedia, the third-largest media company in the world.
Meanwhile, Krasnosielc remains asleep. The synagogue where the massacre of the Jews took place in 1939 is now a plaque and dangerous film fanatics sometimes arrive to see the humble origins of the Hollywood legend with their own eyes.