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Father of the "STAR" (aka: celebrity or famous), SYSTEM!!!

"Universal is costing us a lot of money, but I am happy to spend it as long as it brings prosperity to America."

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For the record, I'd have shat BRICKS, to get a letter or email like THIS!! 


It's the kinda gent Carl was though!!  

It was an early, sunny, September morning in 1884, when a young immigrant stepped off a steamship in Long Island, New York -  with a pocket full of change and a head full of dreams.  That immigrant was Carl Laemmle.  He is credited for turning talent in Hollywood into the 'then' unheard of term: celebrities - and for the founding of one of the most powerful studios to ever stand in Hollywood: Universal Pictures.  He is my favorite movie mogul, second only to Harry Warner, and just ahead of Wm Fox, & Louis B. Mayer.  Carl Laemmle could rightfully be called ONE of the most important of the Hollywood founding fathers.  Harry and Joe Cohn, who went on to found Columbia, and Irving Thalberg, boy wonder of MGM, all got their start with Carl.


His story, begins now...

Carl Laemmle was born  January 17, 1867, in Laupheim, Württemberg, Germany in this modest house.  Carl grew up in a loosely ruled, strictly religious Jewish household.  If ever there was a kid with a solid plan in was Carl! 


As a kid, Laemmle was very smart and found that school in general bored him. 


At age 13, he had grown to love reading and hearing about the happenings in America. America was a land of dreams, and he set his sights on achieving his.  He left school, (at age 13), and began a job as an assistant to a local Laupheim bookkeeper and office manager.  He saved every bit of money he earned. 


At age 17, he had saved enough, and with his families blessings, immigrated to America with a head full of dreams and heart full of passion!!  

Upon arrival, he found work in New York doing odd jobs. That led him to Chicago and found work in a clothing store.  Carl was a hard worker and was looking for the challenge.  Acting on a tip from a friend he met while in route to America, he found work as a manager at a dry-goods store, in this modest district, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. While there - he met his boss' daughter, Recha Stern.  They immediately connected and not long after, were married.  He worked there for 12 years happily with Recha. After enduring a salary cut, he suspected underhandedness from the boss.  While Carl was always the hard worker, he stood firm on the principle that a salary should reflect that hard work. (It would also be a principle he fostered later as head of Hollywood's most powerful studio.) He made an appointment with his boss and respectfully resigned after the meeting.   His wife took Carl's side over her fathers - and together they relocated back to the Chicago neighborhood, Carl had worked in previous. 


By now, he had saved enough to start his own clothing store.  While business was thriving in his new store, it wasn't thriving the way he thought it would.  One night, while locking his shop up, he heard loud noises and turned to see a massive crowd gathering around a nickelodeon.  He went to further inspect and found people in awe coming out..and the people that were in line, filled with excitement about going in.  Carl took great notice and even counted the people coming and going from the nickelodeon.  It was then he knew he was in the wrong business.  He sold his new clothing store and bought a Nickelodeon in the heart of Chicago.  It was called, White Front Theatre, and quickly became the most popular in the city.  It was so popular that within two months, he had acquired the funds to open two more theaters. (Back in the day,  I  guess it was pretty nice anyway.)  They, like the White Front, also became a favorite night outing for Chicago residents.  Each theater would bring in one night, enough to pay overhead for one week.  

His theaters were a success, but he would soon start eyeing the possibility of making his own films. 


In 1909, he founded the Independent Motion Picture Company.  He commissioned later stars such as Mary Pickford (UA), Harry and Jack Cohn (who later went on to found Columbia Pictures), and 'boy wonder', Irving Thalberg, (of MGM fame), to join his studio.  He also had , then well-known, Florence Lawrence, added to his payroll.  Florence Lawrence had been the Motion Pictures Patent Companies, most shining ladies...known to the public as 'the Biograph Girl.' Wanting move attention to this, Carl had published a newspaper report announcing the tragic death of the "Biograph Girl." The next day he published an ad retracting the false report and proudly pronounced Lawrence as the new "Independent Motion Picture Company" girl.  The next day, Florence Lawrence, arrived to the studio with a crowd of fans awing her.  (I imagine this is what it must've looked like!)  Thus, creating the STAR system, as we know it today. 


He moved his studio to New York, first here, then here, then here ... (he lived here, in this building) ... Successfully, throwing off & avoiding the monopoly control by the Motion Picture Patents Company.. 


He produced 100 short films by 1910. 


By 1912 he was looking to expand and started purchasing smaller companies, merging his already owned companies as he purchased them.  In 1915, he secured a pad .. (now LA Fitness on Hollywood Blvd),  & 230-acres in Hollywood, California, named it Universal City, and unveiled the finished product in front of 20,000 spectators.  He christened it Universal Studios.  

The house pictured here, is Carl's house, as it once stood
in the posh Beverly Hills neighborhood of Benedict Canyon. 'Dias Dorados,' as Carl affectionately called it.  The house in this picture was built just after Carl's was razed. Thanks to Hollywood friend Neil Lipes!!  The original address of Carl's home was 1051 Benedict Canyon Drive, but today that parcel of land roughly consists of the addresses 1235, 1245, 1255, 1265 and 1275 of Benedict Canyon.  Nowadays, it certainly looks nothing like it once did..

As the lots of Universal grew, so did the films.  Carl placed great emphasis on the talent at Universal, (even if it was Freaks..I LOVE that film!!)... Beautifying the STAR, to sell films.. Rather than what the norm was until that point, where, the film sold itself!


His 'star' system worked - and put an already record breaking Universal - on the maps, for even greater success.  Other studios followed suit after they saw the success Universal/Carl had!!  It wasn't about marketing the film itself, anymore...It was about marketing the talent.  


In 1929, Carl started newsreels.  An added extra - at the beginning of films so patrons could see Universal's progress, and the worlds news.  Carl hired family directly to work at Universal, thus garnering him the name, 'Uncle Carl.'  A poet by the name of Ogden Nash wrote the following about Laemmle's giving his family the top executive positions in his studios: "Uncle Carl Laemmle - Has a very large FAEMMLE."  His family, to this day, runs a small chain of theaters in Hollywood.  They are very homey, and if ever in Hollywood or the Los Angeles area...checking them out is highly recommended!!  Here is their website..

When Carl's son - Carl Laemmle, Jr. turned 21.., Carl, Sr. turned over the company to him. It was a BIG BOO BOO of a mistake, that nearly ruined the studio, & DID ruin the Laemmle's affiliation with their creation.. 


Laemmle Jr. proved to be too extravagant, & irresponsible, to be able to successfully run the company through the Great Depression.  Carl, Sr. was forced to take out a $750,000 loan for the planned production of the 1936 film Show Boat.  Production problems with the film, added another $300,000 to the budget, and the loan was called, & the studio - taken by the bank.


Cut to April 2, 1936...Show Boat premiered, & was a hit at the box office!!  It would have garnered more than enough to pay back the loan... It was too late, however..  While the ending credits of the film, did recognise Carl Sr, and Jr... By the time profits started rolling in, the bank had control of the studio. 


The bank did offer Carl Sr., an executive position at his studio,


BANK:  SHiTTT!!!!  Just, SHIT!!  We'll figure out how to make movies, then!!


You LOVE my reenactments - don't you??  I know!! 😉

He spent the short final years of his life at his home and traveling abroad.  He reconnected and made one last visit to his home in Laupheim.  He gave financial support to hundreds of Jews from Laupheim and Württemberg to emigrate from Nazi Germany to the U.S. (which meant paying both emigration and immigration fees), thus saving them from the Holocaust. On the morning of September 24th, 1939...Carl had a massive heart attack and died on this property, at his home.  He was 72 years old.  His death happened just as his Universal taking off again.  Today, a statue (that looks nothing like him), in both the Hollywood and Orlando Universal Studios serves as a rememberance to patrons, of him as Universal's beloved founding father.  He rests at the Home of Peace Memorial Park in Los Angeles. 


Visit his grave, and leave your virtual flowers and a comment, here. 


RIP Mr. Laemmle, your greatness will forever be remembered through each and every Universal film!

HUGE THANKS to Hollywood friend - David (whose great, great grandfather was Carl!!👍)  Laemmle - and a fellow by the name of Josh, at Universal Studios Hollywood THEIR contributions to this story!!

see "Uncle Carl," in an early newsreel.. Below..

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