Monday, October 24, 2011

Carla Laemmle by Rick Atkin

Rick Atkin.Carla Laemmle: Among the Rugged Peaks. An Intimate Biography. Baltimore, Md: Marquee Press, Inc., 2009.

Carla Laemmle was born on October 20, 1909.  She is the niece of

Carl Laemmle, who created a movie studio on 230 acres he purchased in Lankershim Township, California for $165,000 that became Universal Studios.

Carla studied dance from the age of six, attended dance school, and portrayed the Prima Ballerina in his uncle’s 1925 movie “The Phantom of the Opera.”  She also appeared in the 1931 Universal film “Dracula” as well as dancing in movies such as “Don Juan”, “La Boheme”, and “Camille”.

Before Carl Laemmle moved to California, he rented a downtown Chicago store called the White Front Theater, a nickelodeon with 120 folding chairs.  He then operated a second movie theater in Chicago called Carl’s Family Theater.  He then sold both.  Carl Laemmle had belonged to Edison Patent Company, who held a monopoly on movies by owning the production studios, camera, and film.  Laemmle wanted to create his own movies and he refused to pay royalties to the Edison Patent Company.  Laemmle instead worked with Lumiere film from France and then created the Motion Picture Distribution and Sales Company.  The Edison Patents Company fought back with 280 lawsuits.  The court dissolved the lawsuits in 1915.

Carl Laemmle started the Independent Moving Pictures Company.  Laemmle was unique then in claiming European film rights.Laemmle produced films at 53rd Street and 11th Avenue in New York.  “Hiawatha” was the company’s first film.  It starred Gladys Hulette.  It was first shown on October 25, 1909 in New York.  Carla Laemme was five days old at that time.

Carl Laemmle produced a film in 1913 entitled “Traffic in Souls”.  It became the first movie to be booked in 30 New York City theaters at the same time. 

Laemmle hired Erich von Stroheim to direct films.  Von Stroheim’s detailed directing style cost him his job at Universal.  He was replaced in the middle of directing “Merry Go Round” by Rupert Julian.  Julian later directed “The Phantom of the Opera” which starred Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin.  Philbin was a childhood friend of Carla’s. 

Carl Laemmle opened his Universal Pictures movie studios on March 25, 1915.  The company’s official name was the Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  This was the first common area for producing movies.  250 movies were produced in its first year.

Carl Laemmle created the star system.  Florence Lawrence was the first big film star.  She was followed by Mary Pickford. 

Carla received private dance lessons for four years. She also wrote poetry and had poems published in two different Chicago newspapers when she was six years old.  At age 15, she had a poem published in a Los Angeles newspaper.

At age 19, Carla became the personal secretary to Irving Thalberg, a studio General Manager.  Thalberg pushed to produce the movie “The Phantom of the Opera”.  Universal bought the rights.  Thalberg then left Universal to work for Louis B. Mayer Productions.

Carla and her family moved to Universal City in 1920.  Carla befriended a hermit named Pete, who lived in a shack.  Mae West also was a friend of Pete the Hermit.  Carla also enjoyed the studio back lot zoo.

Carla became the Premiere Danseuse at the Shrine Light Opera.  Her live performance won critical acclaim.

Carla appeared in a dramatic role in Universal’s “The Gate Crasher”.  Universal then loaned her to perform in MGM’s “The Broadway Melody of 1929:.  Her scene was cut from the film yet the scene was placed into the movie “The Hollywood Revue of 1929”.  Carla did not know this happened until decades later.

Carla next was in Universal’s “King of Jazz” with Bing Crosby.  She appeared in “Dracula”.  As her line opened the movie, she thus because the first person to speak dialogue in a horror film.  All previous horror films were silent films.  Her cousin Carl Laemmle, Jr. was the film’s producer.

The Depression and gambling problems facing Carl Laemmle and Carl Laemmle, Jr. bankrupted Universal.  Loans could not be repaid so Standard Capital acquired 80% of Universal common stock and took control of Universal.  Carl resigned as President and Carl, Jr. resigned as General Manager and Vice President.  “Magnificent Obsession” and “Showboat” were later released but still listed Carl Laemmle, Jr. as Producer.

Once Carla was no longer under contract with Universal, she was able to work for any studio.  She changed her professional name to Carol Lenard.  Carl danced in several movies such as Warner Brother’s “Mission to Moscow”, MGM’s “The Chocolate Soldier” and RKO’s “Step Lively”, where she danced with  Frank Sinatra.  Her 1946 appearance in “Night and Day” was her last for some time.  She danced professionally in live theater.  She left the entertainment business yet returned to appear as a vampire in “The Vampire Hunter’s Club” in 2001 with Forest Ackerman and Mink Stole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick

I live in Chicago and am trying to locate Carla's childhood homes. I have addresses for LANGLEY AVE and S. CALUMET AVE. BUT i was thrown for a loop when I found that the family lived at 4244 Vincennes Ave. in 1909 ( which throws off the Calumet address). Also, would you know the addresses of Carl Laemmle's nickelodeons in Chicago? I am hoping to send Carla some photos.
Thanks David