Gene Arceri and Irene Manning, opening night of the new Tennessee Williams play in San Francisco. The Showcase Theatre, 1976. Co-Produced by Gene Arceri.

Warner Brothers Studio turned 85 last year.

But the “this” you must remember is that the birthday film “You Must Remember This – The Warner Brothers Story,” written and directed by Richard Schickel, is essentially a birthday present from Warner Brothers to itself.  An endless, perfectly fine toast.

Did you see it?

Some years ago, Ronald Reagan (among others) and I were invited to the same party!  I couldn’t believe it!  My dear friend Irene Manning, who was a Warner 40s star, got an invitation to attend A Celebration of Tradition at her old studio and on June 2, 1990, I was to be her escort for the Celebration.  Imagine 20 years ago.  A Diamond Jubilee 1925-1985.   All of the familiar Warner contract players still living, were invited.  I had a tuxedo not used since Abe Lincoln’s funeral, so I dusted it off  and packed a bag.  Irene got out her glitziest gown, packed it and off we went to Hollywood.  They put us up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and from that moment on it was star treatment all the way.

The Warner Bros. studio, dating to 1923, was home to the first talking movies and legendary films such as The Maltese Falcon, Rebel Without A Cause and all the best of Bette Davis, Bogart, Cagney and the “stock-company”.  The Warner Bros. shield is emblematic of a wide spectrum of styles from the action packed gangster and prison reform films to the pioneering musicals  apotheosized in the Busby Berkley extravaganzas; from the film noir classics of Bogart and the swashbucklers of Flynn to the polished melodramas elevated to high art by Bette Davis.

The night of the festivities in Burbank, Warner set up its biggest sound stage and turned it into Rick’s Cafe Americana – from Casablanca, of course.  It was dazzling.  I just couldn’t begin to list all the stars that were there and I was right in the middle of it.  When The Great Warner Bros. Films segment was introduced by Steven Spielberg and hosted by then President Ronald Reagan as part of the program – the stars that had passed on came back to life again.  And joined the party.  Visiting the old sets, touring the lot in little caravans was especially interesting.  But nothing could compare with the stars, all gathered under one temporary rooftop.  It was over 65 years ago that Al Jolson, in The Jazz Singer, broke the silence of the motion picture screen and enabled four brothers to create a studio.  Fortunately, we can still see these movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel.

En route back home, Irene talked about the making of Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942 and the song and dance genius George M. Cohan, a role for which the actor had been picked by Cohan himself.  When we landed at San Francisco airport – my head was still in the clouds.  I had been to a super Hollywood party – and one I would never forget.

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