Warner Bros. 100th Anniversary Celebrates Male Contract Actors Today on TCM

Warner Bros 100th anniversary
Everett Collection/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is celebrating a very incredible milestone for Warner Bros. In honor of its 100th anniversary, TCM is celebrating Warner Bros. all month long with special films. Today’s Catch a Classic! events (April 12) feature some of the top studio contract male actors from the ’30s and ’40s whose names are most associated with WB as contract players. During the early Hollywood era contract players were hired when studios had all the power and basically maintained “stables” of big-screen celebrities exclusively for their own productions (though they would sometimes “loan” an actor or actress to another studio). Today’s celebrations include:

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

GUNGA DIN, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 1939

Everett Collection

 8:15 AM Union Depot (1932)
9:30 AM Parachute Jumper (1933)

Fairbanks Jr. was the son of Douglas Fairbanks and the stepson of Mary Pickford. Based on his father’s name, he was given a contract with Paramount Pictures at the age of 13. In the ’30s, Warner Bros. offered him a contract after the success of his supporting role in Little Caesar. He briefly left Hollywood to serve in World War II and was known for marrying Joan Crawford.

John Garfield

THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL, John Garfield, 1939

Everett Collection

11:15 AM They Made Me a Criminal (1939)
1:00 PM Air Force (1943)

Garfield was approached by Paramount and Warner Bros. but hesitated in accepting a contract because he also wanted to pursue stage work. Garfield eventually went with Warner Bros. because they accepted his demands, and he signed a seven-year contract. After the success of Four Daughters (1938), he was designated a star player instead of a featured one. Eventually, he began to butt heads with the studio and after his contract was over, he left and started his own production company.

Claude Rains

MR. SKEFFINGTON, Claude Rains, 1944

Everett Collection

Sir John Gielgud on Claude Rains (interstitial)
3:15 PM Passage to Marseille (1944)
5:15 PM Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Rains signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. in 1935 with the potential to loan him to other studios. Rains became the first actor to receive a million-dollar salary which was a very impressive feat at the time.

James Cagney

WHITE HEAT, James Cagney, 1949

Everett Collection

Bugs and Thugs (1954) (cartoon)
George C. Scott on James Cagney (interstitial)
8:00 PM White Heat (1949)
Blackface and Hollywood (interstitial)
Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943) (cartoon)
10:30 PM Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Cagney began with just a three-week contract with Warner Bros. after being cast in a film based on a play he was in. He fell into the “bad guy” persona and made several films as this kind of character. The studio liked him and kept extending his contract. He worked with Warner Bros. on and off over many years and made some classic films during that time.

Errol Flynn

SAN ANTONIO, Errol Flynn, 1945

Everett Collection

12:45 AM Gentleman Jim (1942)
2:45 AM The Sea Hawk (1940)

Flynn began as an extra and was soon noticed by studios. His most famous film for Warner Bros. was The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) also starring Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains.

George Raft


Everett Collection

5:00 AM Manpower (1941)
6:45 AM Background to Danger (1943)

Although Raft reportedly never thought of himself as an actor, he was a great one. He started out as a dancer and appeared on Broadway, later moving on to films. After working with Paramount, he received an offer from Warner Bros. to star alongside James Cagney in Each Dawn I Die (1939), which led to Raft gaining a contract with the studio for three films per year.

Check out the full schedule for the Warner Bros. 100th Anniversary airings on TCM here.

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