zurück zur Berichtauswahl

Carl Laemmle

(Udo Bayer ©)

In January 1884 a young man of just 17 entered the steamer „Neckar“  in Bremerhaven. The “Neckar” was one of those small uncomfortable ships for emigrants on which hundreds of thousands of Europeans left their home countries in search of a better future. The young traveler came from Laupheim in the kingdom of Württemberg and had just finished a business apprenticeship. His name was Carl Laemmle. His father had a small real estate business in Laupheim. The boys were heading for New York where the ship arrived on the 13th of February. On this day one of those typically American success stories began which seem like a fairy tale to us today – but the beginning was hard.

Laemmle`s first steps on American soil were as an errand boy for a drug store in New York, but then a short time later he moved to Chicago where his elder brother Joseph lived. Carl had a couple of different jobs until he finally found work as a book keeper. In 1894 he started to work for the Continental Clothing Company in Oshkosh/Wisconsin, a small town north of Chicago with a strong German speaking minority. Through hard work and his business skills Carl worked his way up to the position of store manager.


After 12 years he felt a growing discontent with his job which did not offer him any career opportunities. He decided to start his own business. When looking for an own shop in Chicago he happened to walk into a Nickelodeon, on of those early cinemas which fascinated people at that time. Carl was thrilled, people paid money and left without any stuff. Some weeks later, in February 1906, he opened his first own Nickelodeon, the White Front Theatre, That was the first step of his start in the film business.

Within six years he managed to work his way up to the top, through intelligence and a feeling for the needs of the markets but also for longings and dreams of the audience: from the owner of a movie theatre and owner of the most important film service in the States to a film producer, the IMP company. In 1909 he produced his first movie, Hiawatha”. Three years later he founded together with some other men the Universal Film. In Hollywood he opened in 1915 the largest studio of the world; it was the beginning of the film industry on the West Coast. Laemmle was one of the important studio founders. He fought against the monopoly of the Edison Trust for seven years. During Laemmle’s time Universal produced more than 9000 movies, only a small number got famous to today like 20000 Leagues under  the Sea, Foolish Wives, Merry go Round, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, King of Jazz and especially the Universal Horrors like The Black Cat, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Some of the most important actors, directors and cinematographers of the German Expressionistic cinema went to Universal.  Since 1928 his son Julius, called Junior, played an important role as producer.

Carl Laemmle supported generously his former home town after the war for years with money and he collected goods for it. His studio had the first and closest contacts to Germany with an own German subsidiary, the Deutsche Universal. Laemmle was appointed as honorary citizen of Laupheim. But he was also attacked because of Universal’s contribution to the First World war propaganda and the release of All Quiet on the Western Front  in 1930 - after Remarque’s novel - fueled the attacks against him; so he never came to Germany.

Universal and the film business in general were affected by the depression and the costs of establishing the equipment for talkies after 1930. In 1936 the Laemmles had to sell. Laemmle stayed a rich man, so his great humanitarian effort to save Jewish people from Europe got possible. Because of the restrictions in the US, everyone, who wanted to come in, needed an affidavit, a personal warranty to avoid that he would be a “public charge”; Laemmle gave hundreds of them.

Laupheim remembered Laemmle only late after the Second World War. Today the local high school, which he attended, is named after him, a fountain remembers him and above all several rooms in the Museum for the History of Christians and Jews are dedicated to him. The most important features of the exhibition came from the family, his son in law Stanley Bergerman, his grand niece Ruth Regis and Carla Laemmle, his niece; we could  celebratete her 100.th birthday last year in Los Angeles. Carla contributed also to several Universal pictures as a dancer and an actress.


zurück zur Berichtauswahl