top of page

Sam Warner

Father of Talking Pictures

Sam Warner, the father of talking pictures, was born August 10, 1885, in Baltimore, Maryland.  From a very young age Sam could be seen as a visionary entertainer.  As a kid he worked sketched comedy and perform it for his family.  As a teenager he took a job as a carnival barker and discovered in an old abandoned building, a Kinetoscope projector.  Sam learned how to operate it, and anxiously introduced it to brothers Abe and Harry.  They, like Sam, were fascinated by it and the legend began.. 

Sam was, in large part, the creative mind at Warner Brothers.  He would envision an idea, and then Harry would then usually tweek and perfect it.  Of all the brothers, Harry and Sam, would prove best at working together.  In July of 1925, Sam married beautiful actress Lina Basquette, and had a child they named Lita.  Not only was Sam a film
connoisseur, he was a home connoisseur, as well as a champion bulldog breeder/trainer.  
The only movie mogul of the time, to own 3 places of residence.  He lived here (when at home full-time) in California, here when in Maine, and here in a condo-townhouse when in New York.   Sam and family, enjoyed the fruits of his labor to the fullest!! 👍

In 1925 - Sam approached brother Harry with an idea that would revolutionize motion pictures forever.  It was after a vacation visit to Western Electric's Bell Laboratories headquarters, Sam envisioned syncing sound with film and urged Harry, to sign an agreement with Western Electric to develop a series of "talking" shorts using the newly-upgraded Sound-on-film technology.  Harry muttered the now famous.."who the hell wants to hear actors talk."  That seemed to be the end of the talk .. However, the more Sam thought about it - the more he liked the idea, and began presenting the idea to a skeptical Harry more and more.  By February of 1926, the studio had suffered a whopping, dropping loss in revenue of Warner Brothers films.  Harry, after a long period of refusing to accept Sam's demands, then agreed to use synchronized sound in Warner Bros. shorts, as long as it just for usage of background music.. 
In April of 1926, Harry, himself, made a visit to Western Electric's Bell Laboratories in New York, with Sam along - and was VERY impressed.  Harry signed a partnership agreement with Western Electric to use Bell Laboratories to test the sound-on-film process.  The first film they used the 'sound on film..Vitaphone' technology on, Don Juan, flopped.  Much to Sam's dismay, Harry quickly put the brakes on the Vitaphone.  
Paramount chief, Adolf Zukor, however, saw potential in the 'sound-on-film' technology - and offered Sam an executive producer spot at Paramount Pictures, if he brought Vitaphone with him.  Sam, seeing that brother Harry's refusal to move forward with using sound in future Warner films, seemed permanent, agreed to accept Zukor's offer. However, before the deal was solidified, & a contract signed - Paramount lost it's top star, Rudolph Valentino, and alot of profits - thus leading Zukor to hop on the "Harry" train saying 'nay' to Sam's vision!!  Sam was DETERMINED to see this through though..  
By 1927, Warner Bros., was in bad shape.  The other big studios, (Carl Laemmle's Universal Pictures, MGM, & even the profit suffering Paramount), were putting a strain on Warner to make better quality films at a faster rate.  Harry, under tremendous pressure, knew something had to give, & something new was looking brighter..  He gave the green-light to Sam, in whatever he needed to make the picture with 'sound-on-film Vitaphone.'  
Sam anxiously got started, and put long, strenuous hours into the film...supervising it to perfection.  Nearing the end of production on "The Jazz Singer,"  Jack (who was working non-stop, helping Sam on production of The Jazz Singer), noticed Sam started having severe headaches and nosebleeds.  By the end of the month, Sam was unable to walk straight.  Sam was then hospitalized and was diagnosed with a sinus infection.  The Jazz Singer was to debut in days and Sam was determined to be there for the premiere.  

Sadly, it would never happen..  Unfortunately, the sinus infection soon developed into an acute mastoid infection.. His and body had now become riddled with infection. Sam's infection soon developed into pneumonia. 
On October 5, 1927, Sam died from a cerebral hemorrhage, as doctors were trying to remove infected cells from his brain.  Sam was only 40 years young..  His dream had killed him, quite literally.. Thru stress & looong hours!!  

On October 6, 1927 - The Jazz Singer debuted in New York to massive success.  Albeit, somber & with mourning to the brothers, (Harry, Albert, & Jack)..  The films success was a tribute to Sam's vision, & hard work!!
Harry had a camera set up to capture the audience reaction on that historic night.. Upon hearing sound for the first time on film.. I've that "SOMEWHERE", & soon as I find, I WILL be posting, & updating the homepage..  So be on the lookout for that!!
The studio spent  $500,000 in the film, but reaped $3 million in profits.  The film HURLED Warner Bros. to the top in Hollywood.  
Hollywood's five major studios, which controlled most of the nation's movie theaters, initially attempted to block the growth of "talking pictures," only to have to face the facts in the end!!..
In the face of such organized opposition, Warner Bros. fired back, by producing 12 "talkies" in 1928 alone... Further solidifying their brothers dream, & thus proving, "talkies," were here to stay - backed by public demand!!  
The following year, the newly formed Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognized Warner Bros. for "revolutionizing the industry with sound"  

Sadly, Sam never lived to see his idea revolutionize the industry...but he will forever be known as, "the father of talking pictures."  
Visit his grave, leave your virtual flowers, & a comment for the father of sound in film, here.
Another Warner - SAM - was named after SAM Warner 
bottom of page