Carl Laemmle

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This article is about the founder of Universal Pictures. For his son, see Carl Laemmle, Jr..
Carl Laemmle
Born Karl Lämmle
(1867-01-17)January 17, 1867
Laupheim, Württemberg, Germany
Died September 24, 1939(1939-09-24) (aged 72)
Los Angeles, California
Years active 1909–1936
Spouse(s) Recha Stern
Birthplace of Carl Laemmle in Laupheim

Carl Laemmle (Listeni/ˌkrl.lɛ; born Karl Lämmle; January 17, 1867 – September 24, 1939) was a pioneer in American film making and a founder of one of the original major Hollywood movie studios – Universal.[1] Laemmle produced or was otherwise involved in over four hundred films.

Regarded as one of the most important of the early film pioneers, Laemmle was born in Laupheim in the Kingdom of Württemberg, at that time an independent state (before becoming part of the German Empire in 1871). He emigrated to the United States in 1884, working in Chicago as a bookkeeper or office manager for 20 years. He began buying nickelodeons, eventually expanding into a film distribution service, the Laemmle Film Service.

Life and career[edit]

Laemmle was born on 17 January 1867 in Laupheim, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, in Germany, to a Jewish family, the son of Rebecca and Judas Baruch Lämmle.[2] His parents were born with the same surname, and were first cousins.[2] He emigrated to the United States in 1884, settling in Chicago. He married Recha Stern there, and worked there for almost 20 years.[3][4] He and his wife had a son, Carl Laemmle, Jr.

After moving to New York, Carl Laemmle got involved in producing movies, forming Independent Moving Pictures (IMP); the city was the site of many new movie-related businesses. On April 30, 1912, in New York, Laemmle of IMP, Pat Powers of Powers Motion Picture Company, Mark Dintenfass of Champion Film Company, William Swanson of Rex Motion Picture Company, David Horsley of Nestor Film Company, and Charles Baumann and Adam Kessel of the New York Motion Picture Company, merged their studios and incorporated the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, with Laemmle assuming the role of president.[1] They founded the Company with studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where many early film studios in America's first motion picture industry were based at the beginning of the 20th century.[5][6][7][8] In 1915, the studio moved to 235 acres (0.95 km2) of land in the San Fernando Valley, California.[9]

Universal maintained two East Coast offices: The first was located at 1600 Broadway, New York City. This building, initially known as The Studebaker building, was razed around 2004-5.[citation needed] The second location to house Universal's executive offices was at 730 Fifth Avenue, New York City. Many years later, 445 Park Avenue was the location of Universal's executive offices.

After moving to California, Laemmle purchased as a residence for his family the former home of film pioneer Thomas Ince on Benedict Canyon Drive, Beverly Hills. The house was razed in the early 1940s. Laemmle also maintained a large apartment for himself and his two children, Rosabelle Laemmle (later Bergerman) and Carl Jr., at 465 West End Avenue, New York City, one block off Riverside Drive near the Hudson River.

In 1916, Laemmle sponsored the $3,000 three-foot-tall solid silver Universal Trophy for the winner of the annual Universal race at the Uniontown Speedway board track in southwestern Pennsylvania. Universal filmed each race from 1916 to 1922.

In the early and mid-1930s, Laemmle's son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., produced a series of expensive and commercially unsuccessful films for the studio. His occasional successes included Back Street (1932), 1936's Show Boat (1936), and several horror movies of the 1930s that became considered classics. Carl Laemmle and his son were both forced out of the company in 1936 during the Great Depression

Legacy and honors[edit]

Laemmle remained connected to his home town of Laupheim throughout his life, providing financial support to it and also by sponsoring hundreds of Jews from Laupheim and Württemberg to emigrate from Nazi Germany to the United States in the 1930s, paying both emigration and immigration fees,[10] thus saving them from the Holocaust. To ensure and facilitate their immigration, Laemmle contacted American authorities, members of the House of Representatives and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He also intervened to try to secure entry for the refugees on board the SS St. Louis, who were ultimately sent back from Havana to Europe in 1939, where likely many died.[11]

Carl Laemmle (seated far right) and Irving Leroy Ress (sitting, far left) at Laemmle's 70th birthday celebration, 1937.

Following his death from cardiovascular disease on September 24, 1939, in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 72, Laemmle was entombed in the Chapel Mausoleum at Home of Peace Cemetery.

Asked how to pronounce his name, he told The Literary Digest, "The name means little lamb, and is pronounced as if it were spelled 'lem-lee'." [12]

His niece, Rebekah Isabelle Laemmle, known professionally as Carla Laemmle, appeared in several films until her retirement from acting at the end of the 1930s.

His great-grandniece, Antonia Carlotta, talks about him at length in her web series Universally Me, about the history of Universal Studios.[13]

The poet Ogden Nash observed the following about Laemmle's habit of giving his son and nephews top executive positions in his studios:

"Uncle Carl Laemmle
Has a very large faemmle."[14]

Representation in other media[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dick, Bernard F. (May 1, 1997). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813120164. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "The Jewish Past of Laupheim". Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Rose, Liza (April 29, 2012), "100 years ago, Fort Lee was the first town to bask in movie magic", The Star-Ledger, retrieved 2012-11-11 
  6. ^ Koszarski, Richard (2004), Fort Lee: The Film Town, Rome, Italy: John Libbey Publishing -CIC srl, ISBN 0-86196-653-8 
  7. ^ "Studios and Films". Fort Lee Film Commission. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  8. ^ Fort Lee Film Commission (2006), Fort Lee Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7385-4501-5 
  9. ^ “Making moving pictures” The National Magazine, 42:409-417. Boston: Chapple Publishing, 1915
  10. ^ Geiger, Patricia (4 November 2012), "Laemmles Bürgschaften retteten vielen das Leben", Schwäbische Zeitung (in German), retrieved 7 November 2012 
  11. ^ "Jüdische Zeitung". Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  12. ^ Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.
  13. ^ Hilb, Rosemary. "The New Generation". The Official Laemmle Family Website. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Carl Laemmle". Jewish Currents. Retrieved 2012-09-04. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bayer, Udo (2013). Carl Laemmle und die Universal. Eine transatlantische Biographe (in German). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. ISBN 978-3-8260-5120-3. 
  • Bayer, Udo (2015). Carl Laemmle. Von Laupheim nach Hollywood: Die Biographie des Universal-Gründers in Bildern und Dokumenten (in German). Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich Verlag. ISBN 978-3-9556-5083-4. 
  • Stanca-Mustea, Cristina (2013). Carl Laemmle - Der Mann der Hollywood erfand: Biographie (in German). Hamburg: Osburg Verlag. ISBN 978-3-9551-0005-6. 

External links[edit]