Carla Laemmle, one of the last actresses of the silent film era, passed away last Friday. She was the niece of Carl Laemmle and, most famously, said the opening lines in the first talkie horror film. I had hoped to speak with her at some point during the writing of this book. In interviews she always spoke fondly of her Uncle Carl. It was his invitation that led to her family moving from Chicago to a house in Universal City.
Over her lifetime she witnessed the evolution of Hollywood, from silent films to talkies to color. She was 104 years old. According to IMDB, over the last few years she has appeared in several movies.
Here she is in Dracula (1931) saying the opening lines:
“Among the rugged peaks that crown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age.”
In the summer of 2012 I retraced the steps my great-grandfather, Carl Muessig, who left Germany at the age of eighteen. From his small Bavarian town, not far from Laupheim, we drove north to the port at Bremerhaven to see the German Emigration Center, a museum commemorating the departures of millions of Germans looking for a better life. Visitors are given a “boarding pass” of a noted emigrant whose story they follow through the museum. Before that day, I had never heard of Carl Laemmle. It seemed beyond coincidence to find in my “boarding pass” a man who shared his first name with my great-grandfather. They both left Germany from that same port in 1884 at nearly the same age. As I went through the recreated experience of leaving Europe on a steamship in the late 19th century, I became spellbound by Laemmle’s story. What drove him at the age of seventeen to leave the comforts of home and seek adventure in America? How did he balance profitmaking with the needs of those that asked for his help? And why did he maintain such a deep commitment to the Jews of Germany, when so many other affluent German-born Jews turned their backs on the situation in Nazi Germany? It was clear to me; Laemmle’s story needed to be told.
This summer I begin archival research for The Moving Picture Man . I am most honored that the granddaughters of Hermann Obernauer, a man that Laemmle saved from Dachau, will be accompanying me to Laupheim. From there on to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. I invite you to check in often as I explore the life and times of this remarkable founding father of Hollywood and ardent humanitarian.