Obit of the Day: One of the Last of the Silent Film Stars
Carla Laemmle grew up at Universal Studios - literally. Her uncle, Carl Laemmle, co-founded the studio in 1912 in New Jersey with several others. Universal moved to California in 1915, and it was a few years later that Mr. Laemmle (pronounced “Lemlee”) invited his brother Joseph and his family to live at the studio. Ms. Laemmle was only a teenager at the time.
As the niece of the studio founder, Ms. Laemmle quickly found herself in front of the camera. She made her debut as a ballerina in the 1925 silent film classic The Phantom of the Opera, starrng Lon Chaney, Sr. She was sixteen years old.
Over the next decade-and-a-half, Ms. Laemmle had roles in eleven films, often uncredited. Her first four films were all silent pictures before she transitioned into “talkies” in the late 1920s. She was part of the cast for the original Broadway Melody (1929) which featured the first-ever Technicolor musical sequence (which has since been lost). A year later she was cast as “Chorine” in The King of Jazz (1930), the first all-color musical.
Ms. Laemmle made history herself in 1931 in the role of a carriage passenger in the film Dracula. Again uncredited, Ms. Laemmle spoke the first line of dialogue in the film (“Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass, are found crumbling castles of a bygone age.”). That gave her the honor of delivering the first words of dialogue in the history of horror films.
Ms. Laemmle’s career ended for the first time after her appearance in 1939 film On Your Toes. But she would reappear 62 years later, in the film The Vampire Hunters Club (2001). She performed well past the age of 100 in various ”B” movies including A Sad State of Affairs (2013) and Mansion of Blood (2014).
Ms. Laemmle adored her time on the Universal lot and published a short (49 pages) memoir in 2009 titled Growing Up With Monsters. She also appeared in 18 documentaries talking about her film career or her late uncle.
Carla Laemmle, who was the last surviving cast member of both The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula, died on June 12, 2014 at the age of 104. According to Wikipedia, there are only twelve men and women of Hollywood’s silent era still living. The oldest is Manoel de Oliveira, 105, and the youngest is former child star Dickie Moore, 88.
Sources: LA Times, Variety, IMDB.com, and Wikipedia
(Image of Carla Laemmle, circa 1925, is courtesy of autographmagazine.com)