|Date of Birth||17 January 1867, Laupheim, Baden-Württemberg, Germany|
|Date of Death||24 September 1939, Los Angeles, California, USA (heart attack)|
|Birth Name||Karl Lämmle|
|Height||5' 3" (1.6 m)|
Mini Bio (2)
The roots of Universal Pictures can rightfully be traced back to 1906 when Carl Laemmle returned home to Chicago after a stint as a bookkeeper in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and opened up a chain of nickelodeons. This in turn led to the ambitious 39-year-old organizing a film exchange network he boldly called the Laemmle Film Service, which expanded west and north into Canada. Although he was an original member of the Edison Patents Company, he bristled at the idea of paying royalties to move to the next level: film production. Laemmle founded IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company) in New York in 1909 and for the next three years produced a number of economical multi-reel films while Edison's agents did their best to shut him down. Thomas Edison's General Film Company (known as "The Trust") filed incessant claims of patent infringement on those companies that refused to pay. Many of these independents (which included such future film moguls as Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky) pulled up stakes and left for California. As for Laemmle, he doggedly fought 289 legal actions brought about by GFC from 1909-12 and was ultimately victorious. IMP reformed in 1912 as Universal, filming two final productions in New York, The Dawn of Netta (1912) and a one-reeler, The Nurse (1912), before relocating his company to Los Angeles. From 1912-14 Universal operated two California studios, one in Hollywood and the Universal "Oak Crest Ranch" in the San Fernando Valley. The two operations were move to the new Universal City ("Taylor Ranch") in 1914 For a short time in 1912, the New York Film Company battled with Universal over the ownership of the Bison Motion Picture properties at Evendale and Santa Monica. New York Film Company wins the right to withdraw from Universal. Universal/Bison Evendale plant was returned to the New York Film Company. Universal was given the rights to trade names "Bison" and 101 Bison" Universal/Bison brand began production at the Providencia Ranch ( Universal Oak Crest ranch- the first Universal City) in 1912.
Universal began newsreel production in 1913 under Jack Cohn. In 1914 Laemmle acquired the Taylor Ranch on the north side of the Hollywood Hills and set about building Universal City. Damon and Pythias (1914) was Universal's first film completed there, just prior to the studio's official opening in March 1915 and, until 1925, Universal City would be the largest and most prolific studio in the world (eventually supplanted by MGM soon after its inception). Organized studio tours began in 1915 (they were discontinued in 1928 with the arrival of talkies, but resumed in 1964), which proved highly profitable. Laemmle, lacking a theater network, instituted a three-tiered branding system to market Universal's releases: Red Feather (low-budget), Bluebird (mainstream/medium budget) and Jewell (prestige releases, often roadshow attractions commanding premium prices). Heavy emphasis was placed on one-, two- and three-reel productions.
Universal became known as the most paternalistic of all the Hollywood studios. Virtually all of "Uncle" Carl's relatives (including his son Carl Laemmle Jr. and his vastly more talented nephew, William Wyler, were employed there). The studio enjoyed enormous hits during the 1920s, especially Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) before the actor was lured away to MGM. Lacking a theater network, Universal concentrated on independent rural theatrical houses, offering affordable exhibitor's packages which allowed them to change bills numerous times per week. This marketing strategy largely concentrated on product that would appeal to rural theaters through 1930. During the 1920s Europe also became a major source of revenue, with Universal actively involved in co-productions overseas. Sound productions became the norm by 1929 and Universal responded by increasing the number of quality productions, scoring its first Academy Award for Best Picture with All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) the following year. The studio became famous for popularizing the monster craze, beginning with Dracula (1931), that remained strong into 1935. Unfortunately, the studio's other product was proving less successful as the ravages of the Depression took hold. Laemmle's emphasis on quality productions misfired in the mid-'30s and he was forced to take an unfavorable $750,000 loan from Standard Capital which, after cost overruns on the production of Show Boat (1936), resulted in his ouster from the studio. He was forcibly retired from the movie industry in 1936 and sold Universal to Standard Capital Company, headed by Charles R. Rogers, who instituted drastic cost-cutting measures that coincided with the signing of Deanna Durbin, whose popularity virtually single-handedly saved the studio from financial disaster from 1937-40, until other popular stars (notably the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello) were added to the studio's roster by a later management team headed by J. Cheever Cowdin. Universal was also--briefly--home to displaced low-budget veteran producers Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston, who worked there in 1936 while reforming Monogram Pictures after breaking off from an unhappy association with Republic Pictures.
While many contemporary observers disliked Rogers' handling of the so-called "New" Universal, the undeniable fact is that he saved the studio at a critical point in its history. Carl Laemmle died in 1939 of a heart attack in Los Angeles at age 72. As with most Hollywood studios, production boomed during WW2, and by 1945 the studio was averaging a release of one feature film per week. Universal merged with International Pictures, an independent studio headed by ex-20th Century-Fox executives William Goetz and Leo Spitz in 1946 and renamed Universal-International Pictures (reverted to Universal in 1963). Since the company had consciously avoided building a proprietary theater chain it was unaffected by the 1949 Supreme Court theater anti-trust decision. Indeed, the studio was actually better positioned than the other majors as it's revenue stream continued unabated. Universal was purchased by and merged with Decca Records in 1952.
While not a pioneer in television production (most majors, with the notable exception of Columbia, initially stonewalled it), the medium became a huge part of Universal City in the late 1950s. In 1962 Universal was purchased by and merged with The Music Corporation of America (MCA) and became MCA Universal. MCA's television production company, Revue Televsion Productions with its Leave It to Beaver (1957) unit, would relocate to the sprawling Universal lot. Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. purchased MCA in 1991. The Seagram Co. purchased MCA in 1995 and MCA Universal was renamed Universal Studios. In 1998 Universal purchased the USA television network. The company merged with a French global media company, Vivendi Media Group, and became Vivendi Universal in 2000. In April 2004 Vivendi Universal was purchased by and merged with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and became NBC Universal.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jack Backstreet (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)
Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures, was reputedly the most good-natured and least neurotic of the studio bosses. After immigrating to America in 1884, he spent the next decade at a series of dead-end jobs, mostly in Chicago, then worked for another 12 years at a dry-goods store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A salary dispute led him to quit; he returned to Chicago with hopes of acquiring a store of his own, but he bought a nickelodeon instead. Soon Laemmle had also established a film distribution business (known as a film exchange, the critical revenue mechanism at that point in the film business) that became one of the largest in America. In 1909, he produced his first picture, Hiawatha (1909), a 15-minute version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem. By this time Laemmle had become a leader of the "Independents," producers and distributors who defied the would-be monopolists of Thomas Edison's Patents Company. This battle would result in dozens of film companies quickly fleeing west to escape their assets from being confiscated (a tale detailed in Peter Bogdanovich's _Nickelodeon_ ). Principal amongst those evading Edison were Jesse L. Lasky, Adolph Zukor and Laemmle; Hollywoodland, as it was known at the time, was a perfect place to regroup and build their respective businesses. Land was cheap, too secluded for Edison's agents (and law enforcement could be made to favor the moguls' interests in those days) and weather-wise, ideal. By the end of 1912, his company operated two studios on the coast, Nestor at Sunset and Gower and Universal at Edendale. In 1914, he ordered his west coast manager, Isidore Bernstein, to buy the Taylor Ranch in Lankershim Township on the north side of the Hollywood Hills; for the princely sum of $165,000.00, Universal City was born. From it's opening in 1915 until 1925 (when eclipsed by the newly formed MGM), Laemmle's company, Universal Pictures, was the country's leading film producer. The studio could rightly boast launching the careers of a 19-year old Irving Thalberg(hired as Laemmle's $35 per week private secretary and rising within months to the rank of studio manager, later to defect to Louis B. Mayer Productions. later to roll into Metro-Goldwyn Pictures), directors John Ford, Jack Conway, George Marshall, Rex Ingram Lois Weber and Robert Z. Leonard. It held a talented roster of stars such as Lon Chaney, Mae Murray, Harry Carey and Rudolph Valentino. Although Laemmle made a handful of prestige productions, such as Blind Husbands (1919) and Foolish Wives (1922), his output consisted mostly of low-budget westerns and melodramas, churned out in a process designed to resemble a factory. Laemmle's studio was more open than most; he virtually pioneered the concept of opening his gates to tourists from the outset. He was also famous for operating the most nepotistic studio in Hollywood for it's size. While other majors would be peppered with relatives of the top brass, at Universal nearly every one of 'Uncle' Carl's relatives had a job there, including Carl Laemmle Jr., or "Junior" as he was known on the lot and at various times, compared favorably or unfavorably against MGM wunderkind Irving Thalberg. Universal's fortunes waned in the early 1930's, despite cashing in by virtually creating the talkie monster craze that remained strong from 1931 through 1935. It was Laemmle's occasional forays into quality production that caused the studio to stumble. By 1934, Carl was spending far too much money for his stockholder's to stomach, and after a costly flop with Sutter's Gold (1936), he was forced to take out a $750,000 loan for the planned production of Show Boat (1936) . This ended being Carl's deal with the devil; he borrowed the money from an investment consortium, Standard Capital, headed by Charles Rogers and J. Cheever Cowdin. Production problems with the film added another $300,000 to the budget and the loan was called. By April 2, 1936, Rogers was in and the Laemmle era was over. Ironically, Show Boat was a hit, and despite his ouster, he went out on a high note.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: David S. Smith
|Recha Stern||(1898 - 13 January 1919) (her death) (2 children)|