Carl Laemmle, an immigrant from Germany who arrived in the United States in 1893 with only $50 in his pocket, built a vast fortune as the father of Universal Pictures. Despite his fortune, fame and power, he is remembered as a generous and kindhearted Hollywood gentleman who was often fondly called "Uncle Carl."
After his arrival in the U.S., Laemmle took a series of menial jobs, first wrapping packages at a Chicago store, then working as a clerk at a clothing store in Oshkosh, Wis. He was promoted from clerk to manager at the Oshkosh shop, which allowed him to save several thousand dollars. He planned to use the money to open his own five-and-dime back in Chicago, but happened upon a line of people waiting for entrance to a movie house. Laemmle decided to buy his own theater instead.
Soon after, bristling under the control of the General Film Co., which enjoyed a virtual monopoly on film production and distribution, Laemmle decided to make his own films instead. He formed the Independent Film Production Co., commonly called IMP, and set up shop in New York and Fort Lee, N.J.
General Film and the Motion Picture Patents Co. didn't take kindly to the idea of smaller independent companies making their own films, which led to legal trouble and the eventual exodus of Laemmle and his fellow independent filmmakers to California.
Laemmle flourished in Hollywood, later purchasing a chicken ranch on the northern side of the Cahuenga Pass for $165,000. He built a film studio in the chickens' place and named the area Universal City.
His fortune — and Universal's stature — grew with the release of films including "All Quiet on the Western Front," which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1930. His love of motion pictures was strong enough, The Times reported in 1918, that he won an endurance contest of sorts with Photoplay Song Hits Inc. President Harry Cohn, by viewing four five-reel dramas, four one-reel comedies and three two-reel episodes of a serial at a stretch. Cohn couldn't stick the marathon out, but Laemmle said he enjoyed it.
He retired as Universal's president in 1936 and succumbed to a series of heart attacks three years later at age 72. Nearly 2,000 people attended his funeral at the Wilshire B'nai B'rith Temple, and his death, quite literally, made Hollywood stop — all of the Hollywood studios observed five minutes of silence as a tribute.
In his eulogy for Laemmle, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin spoke briefly about his place in motion picture history, focusing on his admiration for Laemmle the man.
"Many people are mourned after their death but not loved while they are alive, particularly those who have power which makes them so susceptible to hatred," Magnin said during the service. "But here was a man who was loved by all. He was kind and sweet. He saw all who needed him and never with a display of arrogance. He was always the same, sweet and simple. He never forgot he was a poor boy."
The once-poor immigrant left more than $4 million to his family, including son Carl Jr. His will also provided for friends, personal employees and charity.
Points of interest