Sam Warner was vice president and sales manager of Warner Bros. Pictures — one of the four brothers who founded and ran the studio.
Warner is credited with the promotion of Vitaphone technology, which was used in the production of thousands of feature-length talking pictures and established sound as the next evolution in the movie industry.
In 1925, Sam Warner invited his older brother Harry to a meeting that would change the course of movie history. Harry thought it was to be a meeting of Wall Street bankers. It actually turned out to be a demonstration of sound movies.
Harry admitted later, "I am positive if (he had) said talking pictures, I would not (have) gone." But, watching a short of a jazz band and realizing that sound shorts could be used as appetizers before the main feature, Harry conceded to experiment with sound, and on June 25, 1925, Warner Brothers contracted with Bell (which owned the Vitaphone sound process) to make a series of sound films.
Sam Warner, the family's greatest enthusiast for sound, was put in charge of the project and immediately began preparing short films at the old Vitagraph studios in Brooklyn, while Jack Warner, out in Hollywood, was preparing a feature with a musical track, "Don Juan," starring John Barrymore. In pursuing sound, the Warners were very much mavericks, but while the Hollywood establishment may have resisted them, the winds of change were blowing.
The morning after the successful premiere of "Don Juan," Variety issued a special edition in acknowledgment of the impending revolution. Warner Bros. stock soared from $8 to $65 per share. The Warners became very wealthy men overnight.
"The Jazz Singer" was the first feature-length talking film, and Sam Warner oversaw its production. It opened Oct. 6, 1927, a date that would be engraved in motion-picture history as the real beginning of the sound era.
Even at the time, everyone seemed to recognize the stakes. Since "Don Juan," the industry had been waiting for a confirmation, a sign that sound was part of the natural evolution of the movies and not just a short-lived novelty.
Sam Warner died the day before "The Jazz Singer" premiered, but is remembered as one of the men who brought sound to Hollywood.
Sam Warner had held the balance of power in the family by managing to be Jack Warner's ally without being Harry Warner's enemy. His death destabilized the tender truce between the family's factions.