(p. C5) David Thomson’s “Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio” is the latest in the exemplary Yale Jewish Lives series, which now stretches from Jacob the Patriarch to Jacob Wonskolasor, known to the world as Jack L. Warner (1892-1978).
. . .
Jack told Julie Garfinkle that “people are gonna find out you’re a Jew sooner or later, but better later.” Julie became John Garfield. I can’t resist adding that Jack approached Phil and Julie Epstein with the same advice. After turning him down they snuck into his office and stole a piece of stationery. To the newly arrived Don Taylor, a fellow Nittany Lion, they wrote, “All of us at Warner Bros are looking forward to your great career as an actor and to a long and fruitful relationship with you under your new name of Hyman Rabinowitz. Sincerely, Jack L. Warner.”
. . .
(p. C6) As this fine book progresses, Mr. Thomson turns his attention away from the brothers and their studio and onto individual actors and films. These form a remarkable series of critiques and vignettes–cranky, idiosyncratic, sometimes improbable, but always ingenious, and now and then inspiring.
. . .
Of course he has the most to say about “Casablanca,” much of it insightful and cogent. On the one hand, it’s an “adroit masquerade,” yet also part of what it was, and no less is, to be American: “Wry, fond of sentiment yet hardboiled, as if to say we’re Americans, we can take it and dish it out, we’re the best, tough and soft at the same time.” Thus did the qualities of this film, and others, pass “into the nervous system of the country,” making it what it remains to this day.
I am in a position to point out one of the few outright mistakes, not of judgment but of facts, in this book. Mr. Thomson naively accepts screenwriter Casey Robinson’s claim that he created the ending of “Casablanca.” The truth is that the ending was thought up at a red light on the corner of Sunset and Beverly Glen, when Phil and Julie turned to each other, as identical twins will, and cried out, “Round up the usual suspects!” By the time they reached Doheny they knew Maj. Strasser had to be shot and by the time they reached Burbank they knew who was going to get on the plane with whom.
For the full review, see:
Leslie Epstein. “The House That Jack Built; Warner Bros was the smartest, toughest studio, and Jack L. Warner its smart, tough driving wheel.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017): C5-C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Thomson, David. Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.