Carl Laemmle

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Carl Laemmle

Carl Laemmle, Sr. (born January 17, 1867 in Laupheim , † September 24, 1939 in Beverly Hills ; actually Karl Lämmle ) was a German-American film producer who founded Universal Studios in Universal City in Los Angeles County in 1912 and ran it until 1936. In this role he was one of the most powerful studio bosses of his time. He was one of the most influential film pioneers in US film history and is also known as one of the founding fathers of Hollywood . Laemmle was instrumental in creating a new art form, the feature film . He was one of the first to recognize that one can inspire the masses for this art.


Emigration and entry into the film industry

Carl Laemmle was born in Laupheim, Upper Swabia, as the son of a Jewish cattle dealer in the residential building at Radstrasse 9, into the local Jewish community . Laemmle completed an apprenticeship as a businessman. On January 28, 1884, he emigrated to the USA with his school friend Leopold Hirschfeld at the age of 17. On February 13, 1884 he reached the port of New York with the emigrant steamer " Neckar " from Bremerhaven . His first job was as an errand boy for a drug store. A short time later he moved to Chicago, where his older brother Joseph lived. In 1889 he took on the US citizenship.

Laemmle became managing director of a textile company in Oshkosh (Wisconsin) , a city with a large German-speaking minority. At the textile company, he worked with eye-catching advertising. His biographer Udo Bayer says: "Here he developed his skills as a modern businessman with the corresponding advertising techniques, without which his later rise would have been inconceivable and which still astonish us today".

In 1906 he went into business for himself in Chicago and invested his money in a Nickelodeon (5-cent movie theater). For this, the facade, interior and furniture were painted white, as the competition looked rather dingy. In 1906 he founded a film distribution company. The business was booming and within a very short time he owned 50 cinemas. Later he built his own theater for women only, so that they could go to the cinema in a “proper” way.

In 1908 his company was the largest film rental company in the USA. Laemmle himself appeared in advertisements with the slogan "I Am the Moving Picture Man". In 1910 Laemmle founded his first film production company, the Independent Motion Picture Company . “Carl Laemmle presents” appeared in the opening credits from the start. He was the first in the US film industry to rely on stars by naming the actors, while the competition used the actors without naming them. At first he belonged to the so-called independents , i.e. the film producers who opposed the monopoly of the Motion Picture Patents Company . The patent company aimed to control all stages of the value chain of filmmaking by means of patents and licenses. Carl Laemmle refused to participate and led a fight against this monopoly guided by free market convictions. The patent company was crushed by federal government intervention and the highest jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The break of the monopoly was "in the eyes of his contemporaries ... Laemmle's greatest achievement".

Universal Studios founded

In 1912 the Independent Motion Picture Company merged with other companies to form the Universal Motion Picture Manufacturing Company (now Universal Studios ). The Universal Motion Picture Manufacturing Company again ran Laemmle. During his active time as company director at Universal Studios and the predecessor company, over 400 films were produced. He moved his production site from the east to the west coast of the USA. In California, wages were lower and the weather better, favorable circumstances that allowed more days of filming in less time. In a deserted area near Los Angeles, now known as Hollywood, Laemmle bought a 170 acre chicken farm and built Universal City Studios . Universal expanded very rapidly in a very short time. Just one year after it was founded, in 1913, over 2,000 people found employment. Other film production companies later settled in Hollywood.

Carl Laemmle with short actors 1929

Since the late 1910s and later as America's largest film company, Laemmle's Universal Pictures was one of the "Big Six", which (after the dissolved Motion Picture Patents Company) formed the second oligopoly of film companies.

He produced propaganda films during the First World War . In 1918 the propaganda film Der Kaiser - Die Bestie von Berlin ( The Kaiser - Beast of Berlin ) about Kaiser Wilhelm II came out first. The propaganda film Untergang der Lusitania ( The Sinking of the Lusitania ) followed in 1918 . 1919 played Erich von Stroheim in the heart of humanity ( Heart of Humanity ) a German officer who wants to rape a Red Cross nurse. This officer throws a child who is interfering with the rape out the window.

The best-known films from his studios were The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Nothing New in the West (1930), Waterloo Bridge (1931) and the series of horror films in the 1930s that began in 1931 started with Dracula and Frankenstein . The Universal led the genres of wild west film and the classic horror film to lasting importance.

His son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., worked in his father's studio as a teenager and produced Universal’s major films in the early 1930s. William Wyler , the director of Ben Hur , was the son of Laemmle's cousin and was brought to Hollywood by him. In 1929 he gave the company to his son. The senior later took over the company again himself, as his son proved unsuitable for the management. During the global economic crisis , he had to transfer part of the company to a partner with capital. In 1936 the Laemmles were forced to sell the entire company to the partner. There were many reasons for this: the emergence of sound films and the resulting considerable capital requirements at the end of the 1920s changed the production model. Competitors had caught up, the methods and production processes had frozen in the course of the many successful years at Universal. The vertical integration of cinemas into the group was not successful, and there were no locations in attractive places. The instinct for fabrics and box office hits does not seem to have been so strong anymore. The proceeds from the sale of the company ensured the family a comfortable life.

Laemmle and Laupheim

Birthplace in Laupheim (2007)

Laemmle remained connected to Laupheim throughout his life. He often visited his hometown, twice before his naturalization in the USA. As a successful businessman, he used these visits to financially support Laupheim. In the course of the 1920s, Laemmle donated large sums to the city of Laupheim, the Jewish community and individual citizens. He soon had the role of the rich uncle in town. He gave money for a new school, a swimming pool and the orphanage. The honorary citizenship awarded to him in 1919 was suspended in 1921 due to a request from the political right in the Württemberg state parliament and a subsequent announcement by the Württemberg interior ministry that foreign citizens could not become honorary citizens (Laemmle was now an American citizen). A few years later a street was named after him.

Even before the seizure of power by the National Socialists, the setting Laemmle changed over. The mood against Laemmle already turned in 1930, when he was awarded the Oscar in the category Best Picture for his film In the West Nothing New on November 5, 1930 in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles . 36 days later the film was banned in Germany. The Völkischer Beobachter agitated against the "film Jew" Lämmle. The street sign with his name was removed in June 1933 and the street was renamed Schlageter Strasse . Laemmle was no longer allowed to enter Germany.

Laemmle as the savior of the Jews

Laemmle did a lot to help the oppressed, disenfranchised Jews in Germany. From 1936 to 1939 he assumed over 300 guarantees for Jewish families from Laupheim, Nuremberg , Berlin and other cities, so-called affidavits , that is, the guarantee of an American citizen to take care of the refugee if necessary. Laemmle also turned to other Jewish celebrities with petitions so that they could also take on guarantees. With this he saved many people from certain death in the concentration camps. In a letter to the American consul in Stuttgart , Laemmle writes: “You can be sure that when I issue an affidavit, I do it with full knowledge of my responsibility and that my whole heart and soul are connected to it. I don't need to tell you about the suffering German Jews are going through in these times, and I feel that every single Jew who is financially able to help those in dire need should do so steadfastly. "


Laemmle died on September 24, 1939, at the age of 72 at his Beverly Hills home , of three heart attacks that day. He was buried in the Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles.


Memorial to Carl Laemmle in Laupheim
Memorial plaque in Universal Studios Hollywood

His son, Carl Laemmle, Jr. followed in his father's footsteps as chief executive of production at Universal Studios in 1929. The actress Carla Laemmle (1909-2014) was the niece of Carl Laemmle, Robert and William Wyler the sons of his cousin. Carla Laemmle was mainly seen in films from 1925 to 1939, which the Laemmles had produced at Universal Studios.


In Laupheim

Today there are many institutions in Laupheim that are reminiscent of the honorary citizen Carl Laemmle, for example the Carl-Laemmle-Gymnasium , the Carl-Laemmle-Platz with a fountain in the Rabenstraße, the birthplace at Radstraße 9 and the museum for the history of Christians and Jews in Großlaupheim Palace. There four exhibition rooms and a mini cinema are dedicated to him.


The House of History Baden-Wuerttemberg was from December 2016 to July 2017 the special exhibition Carl Laemmle presents - A Jewish Schwabe invents Hollywood . In it, Laemmle was remembered as a Hollywood producer, but also as a savior of Jewish fellow citizens.

Carl Laemmle Producer Award

On the occasion of Carl Laemmle's 150th birthday in 2017, the Alliance of German Producers - Film & Television launched the Carl Laemmle Producer Award together with Carl Laemmle's birthplace Laupheim . As the first independent German producer award, the Carl Laemmle Producer Award annually honors the life's work of an outstanding producer personality and at the same time generally highlights the special achievements of the producers in the creative and economic process of filmmaking in a special way.

Excellent producer personalities

Filmography (selection)

Selection from around 1600 films that Laemmle produced or co-produced:


  • Thomas Schnabel, Paula Lutum-Lenger, Rainer Schimpf, Cornelia Hecht: Carl Laemmle - a Laupheimer in the world: an exhibition of the House of History Baden-Württemberg in the Museum of the History of Christians and Jews, Laupheim . Ed .: House of History Baden-Württemberg. House of History Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-933726-54-4 .
  • Christoph E. Palmer (Ed.): Carl Laemmle. Life - work - price . 1st edition. Alliance of German Producers - Film & Television eV, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-9816027-6-0 .
  • Udo Bayer, Wolfgang Jacobsen: Carl Laemmle. From Laupheim to Hollywood; the biography of the universal founder in pictures and documents . Hentrich & Hentrich, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-95565-083-4 .
  • Cristina Stanca-Mustea: Carl Laemmle. The man who invented Hollywood; Biography . Osburg, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-95510-005-6 .
  • Udo Bayer: Carl Laemmle and the Universal. A transatlantic biography . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-95565-083-4 .
  • Anna-Ruth Löwenbrück: From Laupheim to Hollywood: Carl Laemmle (1867–1939) . In: KINtop. Yearbook for the Study of Early Film . tape 12 . Stroemfeld Verlag, Basel / Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-87877-792-2 , p. 121-130 .
  • Udo Bayer: Carl Laemmle and our high school . In: From the Laupheim Latin School to the Carl-Laemmle-Gymnasium - Festschrift for the 125th anniversary of the Laupheim Gymnasium . Carl-Laemmle-Gymnasium, Laupheim 1994.
  • Neal Gabler: An Empire of Their Own. How the Jews Invented Hollywood . Anchor Books, New York 1989, ISBN 0-385-26557-3 (English, limited preview in Google Book Search).


  • Ira Beetz, Kai Christiansen , Reinhardt Beetz: 100 years of Hollywood. The Carl Laemmle story. Documentary, Germany, USA, 2011, 79 min. Producer: SWR

Web links

Commons : Carl Laemmle  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Udo Bayer: Carl Laemmle and the Universal. A transatlantic biography . Königshausen et Neumann, Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8260-5120-3 .
  2. Jürgen Kaiser: Misunderstood at home - known in the world. How swabians changed the world . Publishing house and bookstore of the Evangelical Society, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-945369-28-9 .
  3. Cristina Stanca-Mustea: Carl Laemmle - the man who invented Hollywood. Biography . 1st edition. Osburg-Verlag, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-95510-005-6 .
  4. a b c Urs Jenny: Hollywood's first king . Der Spiegel 27/2013, pp. 117–119.
  5. ^ Winsor McCay: The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)  in the  Videoarchiv - Internet Archive
  6. Nothing new in the West: The producer . Article in the LernWerkstatt Geschichte “Film und Geschichte” at the University of Hanover; Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  7. ^ Christoph Palmer: Carl Laemmle. (PDF) Retrieved January 13, 2018 .
  8. ^ Corinna Müller: From silent film to sound film. Retrieved January 13, 2018 .
  9. ^ Christoph Palmer: Carl Laemmle. (PDF) Retrieved January 13, 2018 .
  10. Neal Gabler: Laemmle's List: A Mogul's Heroism. In: The New York Times . April 11, 2014 ( New York Times, accessed January 8, 2017); The Hollywood mogul who saved jews from Hitler , Winnipeg Jewish Review, September 19, 2019
  11. ^ Carl Laemmle, Sr., Film Pioneer, Dies. In: The New York Times . September 24, 1939 ( accessed January 8, 2017).
  12. ^ Carl Laemmle on , accessed January 8, 2017
  13. Website for the special exhibition Carl Laemmle presents - A Jewish Swabian invents Hollywood in the House of History Baden-Württemberg 2016/17