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Harry Morris Warner Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Harry Morris Warner passes away in 1958.

Harry Morris Warner is a Polish-born American film maker.

Warner was born Hirsch Moses "Wonsal" or "Wonskolaser" in Krasnosielc, Poland just outside Warsaw. He was born on December 12th, 1881. At the age of 8 Warner moved with his family to Baltimore, Maryland. His father had moved a few years before the family to establish himself in the shoe repair trade. Life was hard for the family when Warner's father was not able to make a living. The family moved around several times, going to London, Ontario, and Youngstown, Ohio. The members of the family also began anglicizing their names. Warner's father had changed the family name to Warner when he first arrived in the United States. Hirsch would become Harry and Moses would become Morris. This may have also been due to the fact that in the early 20th century there was a large anti-semitic movement, particularly in the banking industry.

In 1903, after trying many different trades, Warner and his brothers would begin buying movie theaters in the Pennsylvania area. The would continue to expand their business until 1910 when they would sell the business due to pressures from outside companies, specifically Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company, which charged large distribution fees for their films.

After selling their theaters, the Warner brothers joined forces with an independent film maker and began to produce films. Their first was Dante's Inferno in 1912. The film made a profit, Warner and his brothers were convinced that the way to make money in the film industry was to make their own films.

The Warner brothers would continue to make films until 1923. After the success of their film Gold Diggers, they would officially form Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. Harry would be in charge of the studio.

Over the next few years, Warner Brothers Pictures would make several films. Harry's younger brother Sam would come to him with the idea of syncing sound up with the picture. Harry was reluctant at first and eventually agreed as long as it was the music only, no dialogue. After financial problems hit the studio, Harry eventually relented and agreed to allow dialogue, the first "talkie" went into production, The Jazz Singer. Ironically despite Harry's reluctance to use sound, he would in later years be called the Godfather of talkies.

During the Great Depression, the studio was little affected. In fact Warner took the opportunity to increase the company holdings of theaters, particularly in the Northeast. Eventually they would own more than 250 movie theaters. During this time they would also get into the radio business, although initially this prove unsuccessful until Warner began buying up record labels and producers.

During World War II, Warner was an anti-axis spokesperson for the movie industry. He would also occupy a central place in the Hollywood-Washington wartime propaganda effort. Despite being a lifelong Republican, Warner was close friends with President Franklin Roosevelt and even supported his 1932 campaign in California.

In 1956, the remaining Warner brothers, their brother Sam passed away in the 1920's, decided to sell the studio. It was eventually bought largely by syndicate headed by a Boston banker. Unknown to Harry Warner at the time, his brother Jack had arranged with syndicate to get the studio sold and then would buy back controlling shares in the business. Harry learned of this by reading an article in Variety, it would give Warner a heart attack and later in the hospital a stroke. No one in the Warner family would ever speak to Jack again.

Warner would pass away from a cerebral occlusion.

Warner was a member of Mount Olive Lodge No. 506 in California.

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