From Polish village to Hollywood fame: The Polish movie mogul behind Warner Bros. Pictures

The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Harry Warner drove his company through the Great Depression and World War II to lay the foundations for the Hollywood giant of today. Wikipedia

Harry Warner, co-founder of Warner Bros., was one of the most forward-thinking and influential figures in the history of cinema.

Born Hirsz Mojżesz (in English: Moses) Wonsal in the tiny village of Krasnosielc, in central-east Poland in 1881, Harry (as he was later known) was the son of local Polish-Jewish shoemaker, Benjamin, who, when Harry was only 2-3 years old, emigrated to the United States, in search of a better life.

In 1889 his wife Pearl and their children ( Harry, Abraham-Albert and Samuel-Sam) arrived on the steamship Hermann from Bremen, Germany.

Among the first to recognise the potential of the nascent film industry, after a turbulent family start which involved several moves around the country, Harry and his brothers began buying movie theatres.

They soon owned 15 as well as a film distribution company but due to strict patent laws and the high cost of securing the films they decided to start producing their own.

Following the success of ‘The Gold Diggers’ they set up Warner Bros. Pictures in 1923 but it took four years before they produced their first talking film The Jazz Singer.

Although only having two minutes of talking, the ‘Godfather of the Talkies’ as Harry became known, was breaking new ground.

In 1929 The Jazz Singer earned a special Oscar at the first Academy Awards for revolutionising the film industry.

A decade later, Harry won his own award for his short patriotic films.

But Harry is remembered not only for his success in the movies, but for his patriotism, ethics and awareness of racial discrimination too.

In the early stages of his career, he fought against anti-Semitism with bankers and rival studios. During WWII he devoted himself to making patriotic war films and later, during the McCarthy communist witch hunts sweeping Hollywood, he fiercely defended his actors.

A falling out with his brothers in the 50s led to a family riff which never healed and on July 25, 1958, aged 76, he died.

In 1960 he was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame.