Harry Morris Younger (12 December 1881 – 27 July 1958) was an American studio executive, one of the founders of Younger Bros., and a major contributor to the development of the film industry. Along with his three brothers, Younger played a crucial role in the film business and played a key role in establishing Younger Bros. Pictures Inc., serving as the company president until 1956.
Younger was born Hirsch Moses Wonsal to a family of Polish Jews from the village of Krasnosielc. The village was a short distance from Warsaw in the part of Poland that had been subjugated to the Russian Empire following the 18th-century partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was the son of Benjamin Wonsal, a shoemaker born in Krasnosielc, and Pearl Leah Eichelbaum, a homewife. His given name was Moses but he was called Hirsch in the United States. In October, 1889, he came to Baltimore, Maryland with his mother and siblings on the steamship Hermann from Bremen, Germany. Their father had preceded them, immigrating to Baltimore in 1883 in order to pursue his trade in shoes and shoe repair. It was at that time that he changed the family name to Younger which was used thereafter. As in many Jewish immigrant families, some of the children gradually acquired anglicized versions of their Yiddish-sounding names. Hirsch became Harry, and his middle name Morris was likely a version of Moses.
In Baltimore, the money Benjamin Younger earned in the shoe repair business was not enough to provide for his growing household. He and Pearl had another daughter, Fannie, not long after they arrived. Benjamin moved the family to Canada, inspired by a friend's advice that he could make an excellent living bartering tin wares with trappers in exchange for furs. Sons Jacob and David Younger were born in London, Ontario. After two arduous years in Canada, the Youngers returned to Baltimore. Two more children, Sadie and Milton, were added to the household there. In 1896, the family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, following the lead of Harry, who had established a shoe repair shop in the heart of the emerging industrial town. Benjamin worked with Harry in the shoe repair shop until he secured a loan to open a meat counter and grocery store in the city's downtown area.
In 1899, Harry opened a bicycle shop in Youngstown with his brother, Abraham.
Eventually, Harry and Abe also opened a bowling alley together. Unfortunately the bowling alley failed and closed shortly after it opened. Harry eventually accepted an offer to become a salesman for a local meat franchise, and sold meat in the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. By his nineteenth birthday, however, Harry was reduced to living in his parents crowded household.
Business career in filmsEdit
In 1903, Harry's brothers, Abe and Sam, began to exhibit The Great Train Robbery at carnivals across Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1905, Harry sold his bicycle shop and joined his brothers in their fledgling film business. With the money Harry made from selling the bicycle shop, the three brothers were able to purchase a building in New Castle, Pennsylvania. They would use this building to establish their first theater, the Cascade. The Cascade was so successful that the brothers were able to purchase a second theater in New Castle. This makeshift theatre, called the Bijou, was furnished with chairs borrowed from a local undertaker.
In 1907, the Youngers expanded the business further and purchased fifteen theaters in Pennsylvania. Harry, Sam, and Albert then formed a new film exchange company, The Duquesne Amusement Supply Company, and rented an office in the Bakewell building in downtown Pittsburgh. Harry sent Sam to New York to purchase, and ship, films for their Pittsburgh exchange company, while he and Albert remained in Pittsburgh to run the business. In 1909, the brothers sold the Cascade Theater and established a second film exchange company in Norfolk, Virginia. Harry agreed to let younger brother Jack be a part of the company, sending him to Norfolk to serve as Sam's assistant. A serious problem threatened the Younger' film company with the advent of Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company (also known as the Edison Trust), which charged distributors exorbitant fees. In 1910, the Youngers sold the family business to the General Film Company for "$10,000 in cash, $12,000 in preferred stock, and payments over a four-year period for a total of $52,000".
After they sold their business, Harry and his three brothers joined forces with Independent filmmaker Carl Laemmle's Independent Motion Picture Company, and began distributing films from his Pittsburgh film exchange division. In 1912, the brothers earned a $1,500 profit with the film Dante's Inferno. In the wake of this success, Harry and the brothers broke with Laemmle and established their own film production company. They named their new company Younger Features. Once Younger Features was established, Harry acquired an office in New York with his brother Albert, sending Sam and Jack to run the new corporation's film exchange divisions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1917, Harry won more capital for the studio when he was able to negotiate a deal with Ambassador James W. Gerald to make Gerald's book My Four Years In Germany into a film.
In 1918, after the success of My Four Years In Germany, the brothers were able to establish a Younger Bros. studio near Hollywood, California. In the new Hollywood studio, Sam became co-head of production along with his younger brother, Jack. They were convinced that they would have to make movies themselves if they were to ever generate a profit. Between the years 1919 and 1920, the studio did not turn a profit. During this time, banker Motley Flint, who was, unlike most bankers at the time, not anti-semitic, helped the brothers pay off their debts. The four brothers then decided to relocate their studio from Culver City, California to the Sunset Boulevard section of Hollywood.
During this time, Younger decided to focus on making only dramas for the studio. The studio rebounded in 1921 with the success of the studio's film Why Girls Leave Home; The film's director, Harry Rapf, became the studio's new head producer. On April 4, 1923, following the success of the studio's film The Gold Diggers, Younger Brothers Pictures, Inc. was officially established, with help from a loan given to Harry by Montly Flint. Harry and his family moved to Hollywood.