Carl Laemmle

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Carl Laemmle
Carl Laemmle LCCN2014718849 (cropped).jpg
Karl Lämmle

(1867-01-17)January 17, 1867
DiedSeptember 24, 1939(1939-09-24) (aged 72)
Years active1909–1939
Spouse(s)Recha Stern
ChildrenRosabelle Laemmle Bergerman (1903–1965)
Carl Laemmle Jr. (1908–1979)
FamilyStanley Bergerman (son-in-law)
Carla Laemmle (niece)
Signature of Carl Laemmle.png
Birthplace of Carl Laemmle in Laupheim

Carl Laemmle (/ˈlɛmli/ (listen); born Karl Lämmle; January 17, 1867 – September 24, 1939) was a German-American film producer and the co-founder and, until 1934, owner of Universal Pictures. He produced or worked on over 400 films.

Regarded as one of the most important of the early film pioneers, Laemmle was born in what is now Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1884 and worked in Chicago for 20 years before he began buying nickelodeons, eventually expanding into a film distribution service, the Laemmle Film Service, then into production as Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP), later renamed Universal Film Manufacturing Company, and later still renamed Universal Pictures Company.

Life and career[edit]

Laemmle was born in 1867 to a Jewish family in Laupheim, in the German Kingdom of Württemberg. As a youth, he was an apprentice in Ichenhausen.[1] He followed his older brother and immigrated to the United States in 1884, settling in Chicago, where he married Recha Stern, with whom he had a son, Carl Laemmle, Jr.[2][3] and a daughter, Rosabelle Laemmle Bergerman (later married to Stanley Bergerman). Laemmle became a naturalized American citizen in 1889.[1] He worked a variety of jobs, but by 1894 he was the bookkeeper of the Continental Clothing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he introduced a bolder advertising style.[1]

In 1906, Laemmle quit his job and started one of the first motion picture theaters in Chicago, and quickly branched out into film exchange services.[1] He challenged Thomas Edison's monopoly on moving pictures (the Motion Picture Patents Company) under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.[1] As part of his offensive against Edison's company, Laemmle began advertising individual "stars," such as Mary Pickford and Florence Lawrence, thus increasing their individual earning power, and thus their willingness to side with the "Independents."[1]

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 brought together 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, to merge their companies with IMP as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, with Laemmle assuming the role of president.[4][5] 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.[6][7][8][9] On March 15, 1915 Laemmle opened the world's largest motion picture production facility, Universal City Studios, on a 230-acre (0.9-km2) converted farm in the San Fernando Valley, just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood.[10] 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 or 2005.[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.

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.

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 at 465 West End Avenue, New York City, one block off Riverside Drive near the Hudson River.

Laemmle, although having made hundreds of movies in his active years as a producer (1909–1934), is remembered for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of The Opera (1925), both with Lon Chaney Sr. in the title role, and The Man Who Laughs (1928) and most of the early sound horror films, such as Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), with his son Carl Jr. before they were removed from the company he founded by a hostile takeover in 1936. He briefly resumed distribution with a partner, Michael Mindlin, specializing in foreign films as CL Imports, in the mid-1930s, but for the most part remained in secluded retirement until his death.

Laemmle died from cardiovascular disease on September 24, 1939 in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 72.[4] Laemmle was entombed in the Chapel Mausoleum at Home of Peace Cemetery.

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,[11] 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 many were murdered in the Holocaust.[12]

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

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'."[13]

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-nephew, Michael Laemmle, is a well-known resident of Darwin, CA, and was featured in the 2011 documentary Darwin: No Services Ahead.

His great-grandniece, Antonia Carlotta, talks about him at length in her web series Universally Me, about the history of Universal Studios.[14]

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."[15]

Representation in other media[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stanca Mustea, Cristina. "Carl Laemmle." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 4, edited by Jeffrey Fear. German Historical Institute. Last modified June 19, 2012.
  2. ^ "The Jewish Past of Laupheim". Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  3. ^ "Film History". Taylor & Francis. August 31, 1989 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b "Carl Laemmle Sr., Film Pioneer, Dies. Man Who Ran $3,600 Invested in Nickelodeon Into Millions Stricken in Hollywood. Formed First Exchange. Organized Independent Movie Companies Into Universal, With Its Vast Studio". The New York Times. Associated Press. September 24, 1939. Carl Laemmle Sr., pioneer motion-picture producer, died in his home here today at the age of 72. Mr. Laemmle had been ill for some time. Death resulted from a heart attack, which came as he lay in bed. He had suffered two other attacks earlier in the day. ...
  5. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (May 1, 1997). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813120164.
  6. ^ Rose, Liza (April 29, 2012), "100 years ago, Fort Lee was the first town to bask in movie magic", The Star-Ledger, retrieved November 11, 2012
  7. ^ Koszarski, Richard (2004), Fort Lee: The Film Town, Rome, Italy: John Libbey Publishing -CIC srl, ISBN 0-86196-653-8
  8. ^ "Studios and Films". Fort Lee Film Commission. Archived from the original on April 25, 2011. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  9. ^ Fort Lee Film Commission (2006), Fort Lee Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7385-4501-5
  10. ^ "Making moving pictures" The National Magazine, 42: 409–417. Boston: Chapple Publishing, 1915
  11. ^ Geiger, Patricia (November 4, 2012), "Laemmles Bürgschaften retteten vielen das Leben", Schwäbische Zeitung (in German), retrieved November 7, 2012
  12. ^ "Jüdische Zeitung". Archived from the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved December 11, 2007.
  13. ^ Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.
  14. ^ Hilb, Rosemary. "The New Generation". The Official Laemmle Family Website. Archived from the original on May 19, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  15. ^ "Carl Laemmle". Jewish Currents. Archived from the original on April 1, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2012.

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 (2018). Carl Laemmle. From Laupheim to Hollywood: The biography of the founder of Universal Studios in pictures,stories and documents. CARL LAEMMLE Press Laupheim. ISBN 978-3-9818444-4-3.
  • Drinkwater, John (1931). The Life and Adventures of Carl Laemmle. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Stanca-Mustea, Cristina (2013). Carl Laemmle - Der Mann der Hollywood erfand: Biographie (in German). Hamburg: Osburg Verlag. ISBN 978-3-9551-0005-6.
  • Schochet, Stephen (2010). Hollywood Stories. Los Angeles: Hollywood Stories Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9638972-5-1.

External links[edit]