This year marks the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros., and the studio plans to celebrate the occasion in a number of different ways, the first of which in print with the May 30 release of “Warner Bros.: 100 Years of Storytelling.” Written by Mark A. Vieira and his research advisors Alexa L. Foreman and Sloan De Forest, the tome charts the history of Warners across 180 pages filled with production details culled straight from studio archives, and complemented by an incredible array of photographs and images that have been carefully preserved (or in some cases restored).
Here’s an exclusive look at its cover:
Chronicling a century of filmmaking, much less the ins and outs of studio politics, requires some guard rails, unless you’ve got limitless resources and a few thousand pages to fill. Consequently, Vieira set some limits on where he could draw from for the book. “No quotes, no notes,” Vieira tells Variety. “That was my mantra, because I just love these wild quotes you’d find from people or people I’d met back when I was in film school — but there’s just no room.”
What he subsequently did was narrow his focus only to include anecdotes or facts about particular films if it advanced the long term, overall storyline of the book. Afterward, he enlisted the help of Foreman and De Forest as expert sounding boards to ensure that its history was well-rounded, even if it wasn’t going to be comprehensive. “Alexa Foreman from Turner Classic Movies helped find info for me about things that I didn’t know, like cartoons and animation history,” he recalls. “Sloan de Forest, who is a writer for Running Press, helped me with the intros that involved personnel changes at Warner and corporate stuff that I didn’t have access to instantly, but she knew it because she has been writing about those things for the trades.”
Although he recognized the importance of building a team in order to complete the book, the basic idea for it was something he first conceived more than four decades ago. “It was something I wanted to do for a long time, since I saw a book in 1974, “Here’s Looking At You” by James Silke,” Vieira says. “They got ahold of everybody who was living at that time, and I always said, ‘We should do a book on Warners, but the entire history, not just up to ’73’.”
For Vieira, whose past work includes “Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era,” “Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M,” and “George Hurrell’s Hollywood: Glamour Portraits, 1925-1992,” “100 Years of Storytelling” gave him an opportunity to employ his deep reservoir of knowledge to provide insightful chronology of larger changes and trends. “How the company expanded, contracted, expanded, contracted, like some kind of a sale, joined with another company, and then separated from another company, all those changes were fascinating because what it spoke to was what was happening in the country and in the world at large,” he says.
Looking at the history of the film industry through the specific prism of Warners, Vieira says that there are some phenomena that have existed for much longer than contemporary moviegoers might expect, given what seems to be a current cycle of focusing on sequels, remakes and intellectual property.
“Warners remade their own films — ‘Outward Bound’ became ‘Between Two Worlds’, ‘To Have and Have Not’ became ‘The Breaking Point’,” he observes. “But there’s a reason for that. Human beings go where they are comfortable… The logical successor would be franchises. It’s not something that’s imposed on them as some kind of corporate trick. It’s something people want.”
Through his research for various projects about Hollywood lore, Vieira has not only developed an aptitude for curating great photographs, but the skill to clean them up for readers. The book includes images from many of the standard-bearer films that helped burnish Warners’ success, as well as snapshots of studio talents that communicate their star wattage — and perhaps even a more accurate depiction of them than the reputations they’ve cultivated.
“There’s a photograph that was in the Warner Archive image bank of Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan and Vivien Leigh on the set of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire, and they look all so happy to be there, and so happy to be working,” he says. “And for all the frustration that we hear about from Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney among others, there were these moments of pure creativity and happiness that an astute still photographer could capture.”
Serving as a launchpad for Warner Bros.’ 100th anniversary celebration, Vieira’s book isn’t meant to be definitive, but “100 Years of Storytelling” will undoubtedly whet readers’ appetite for exploring the studio’s catalog more closely — just as the experience of researching it did for him. “I wish I could do a book like this on every studio, but I’m happy that it’s Warner, because there’s this family ethic there,” he says. “To me, that was very important.” Given the rarity of true institutions in an industry that is constantly reimagining itself, much less institutions that have endured since the industry’s very beginnings, Vieira sees his book as a tribute to a Hollywood exception, even if the story it tells is of Warner’s rule.
“The idea of a hundred years of one company — of any company, if they lasted that long, would be such a fantastic concept, an accessible concept… because you get all those things that affected moviegoing and movie-making, it’s a wonderful chronicle of American history and world history.”