They are phrases that have become part of America’s lexicon: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” “Go ahead, make my day.” “I don’t have to show no stinkin’ badges.” “He-e-e-re’s Johnny!” “Made it, Ma! Top of the world.” “What we got here is a failure to communicate.” “We rob banks.” “Win just one for the Gipper.”
All those quotes we hold dear share one thing in common: They originated in movies from Warner Bros. The little studio that began in 1923 by four brothers, the sons of Polish Jews who immigrated to the United States, is still producing hit TV shows and movies.
The oldest Warner brother was born in Poland, while two of the younger boys were born in the U.S. and Jack — the baby of the family — was born in Canada. The quartet, which had only a grade-school education, first established a nickelodeon in Philadelphia and gradually expanded the business.
But Los Angeles’ 284 days of sunshine a year average beckoned the fledgling filmmakers, and they first built a little studio in Culver City, Calif., later moving 20 miles north to Burbank, where the studio sits to this day.
To celebrate the 95th year of Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood is offering a special “Classics Made Here” tour. Here you can view Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat from “Casablanca,” the street corner where gangsters like James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson met their match and the theater façade where Busby Berkeley put his hoofers through their geometric paces.
The special champagne tour (you must be 21 to imbibe) takes you through the 110-acre lot where shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Mom” and “The Fosters” are still produced.
A savvy tour guide leads the way of the 3 1/2-hour trek, which transports visitors from the little café in Paris where Rick, Ilsa and Sam await the arrival of German troops in “Casablanca” to the high school in Iowa where Harold Hill tries to con the townsfolk in “The Music Man.”
It wasn’t exactly green acres when the Warner brothers first started their studio. They struggled mightily at first. But four years later, they scaled new heights with the very first movie to feature synchronized sound and dialogue. It was “The Jazz Singer,” starring vaudeville star Al Jolson.
But Jolson didn’t turn out to be the studio’s biggest star. No, that was a four-legged German shepherd who’d been rescued from a German trench during World War I and brought to America by his savior, Capt. Lee Duncan.
The furry Rin Tin Tin went on the make 25 movies (mostly silent films) for the Warner brothers, his salary escalating to $6,000 a week. It is said that he rode in his own limo, ate only T-bone steaks and listened to on-set music to put him in the right mood.
Warner Bros. also had a two-legged star in those early days, in the form of John Barrymore, a famous theater actor with a fondness for alcohol. Barrymore starred in “Don Juan” in 1926 with sound effects and a music score, but no dialogue. That would come with “The Jazz Singer,” which put the studio on the map.
Still, it was the shadowy gangster movies of the ’30s that personified the early Warner Bros. With hardnosed actors like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, the grim movies often reflected the mood of the country, stunned by the Great Depression.
Subsequently the brothers managed to corral a cadre of great actors, including Bette Davis, who made more than 50 movies on the lot, Errol Flynn and Joan Crawford.
At the dawn of World War II came maybe the greatest film of all, “Casablanca,” written hurriedly by identical twins Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.
The last surviving twin, Julius, who died in 2000, said he had no idea the film would become such a legend. “You can’t tell if it’s going to be a winner or not,” he said. “‘Casablanca’ didn’t become a classic till many years after the release. It won the Academy Award, and had some respect, but to become a picture that’s being revived 50 years later, we had no idea.”
He and his brother whipped out three scripts a year. “We always had a picture playing in a theater, one shooting on the sound stage, and you’re writing another,” he said. “Always. All contract writers did. We’d just finished shooting ‘Arsenic and Old Lace,’ and we were gonna do ‘Mrs. Skeffington.’ After ‘Casablanca’ they gave us a new contract and made us a producer.”
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For film lovers, you must know this: The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood is located at 3400 Riverside Drive in Burbank, Calif., and is open Monday through Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with tours leaving every 30 minutes. The “Classics Made Here” tour is held Friday and Saturday. Tickets for the “Classics” tour are $75 for adults and $65 for kids 8 to 12 years old. Reservations are recommended. For more information on the various other tours and to purchase tickets online visit www.wbstudiotour.com or call 818-977-8687.
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‘PROJECT RUNWAY’ SEEKS DESIGNERS
If you’re a designer just waiting to be discovered, “Project Runway” is looking for you. The show has returned to Bravo, where it began and — best of all — is back under the control of its original producers, the Magical Elves.
The show became so bizarre, the designers were more outlandish than their designs. The winners were usually the most grotesque designs that nobody would be caught dead in, and the credentials of the guest judges were always questionable. Hopefully the show will return to its former glory when it returns this season. For those who would like to try for the $250,000 prize can apply at www.projectrunwaycasting.castingcrane.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tag @magicalelvesprojectrunway.
‘ENDEAVOUR’ RETURNS FOR FIFTH SEASON
The persistent Det. Constable Morse has returned to “Masterpiece Mystery” on PBS, where the indefatigable cop is on the hunt for a serial killer. The show, “Endeavour,” is entering its fifth season. It’s the prequel to “Inspector Morse,” which ran for several years on PBS and was cut short by the death of its star.
Shaun Evans has taken over the role as the young Morse. Evans says the thing about “Endeavour” that fascinated him was the story. He’d read the books, he says. “I really like stories. I like people who tell stories, like the stories we tell about ourselves as well. I’ve always been surrounded — my family’s from the north of Ireland — and they’re great storytellers and I like the whole thing. It kind of excites me. So I wouldn’t even limit it to acting. I like books, films, TV. I like the ideas behind stories, so it’s kind of primal in a way. If you think about a father sitting around a campfire telling stories, there’s something about it that’s just amazing.”
GREEN BERET TO CHALLENGE DANGE
Remember Mike Rowe taking on America’s most disgusting jobs for the series “Dirty Jobs”? Well now Tim Kennedy, a Special Forces sniper, Green Beret and MMA fighter, will try on America’s most dangerous jobs via the Discovery Channel’s new show, “Hard to Kill,” premiering July 31.
Watch Kennedy push the boundaries along with some of the nation’s bravest people as he learns to trigger a massive avalanche, test the boundaries of flight in the forbidding desert or intercede between a cowboy and 2,000-pound bull.
(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)
©2018 Luaine Lee
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