Rebecca Isabelle “Carla” Laemmle (born October 20, 1909) is an American actress and the niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. She was a movie actress in the 1920s and 1930s, and is one of the very few surviving actors of the silent era, of which she is also the oldest. She reached adulthood (then, age 21) after the silent film era ended, meaning that all adult silent film actors from that era are deceased.
Laemmle entered films in 1925 playing an uncredited role as a ballet dancer in the original silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and a small role in the Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931), and is the last surviving cast member of both classic films. Laemmle continued to appear in small roles until the late 1930s, when she disappeared from the movie screen. She briefly came out of retirement to play a vampire in The Vampire Hunters Club (2001).
She shared her reminiscences of appearing in a bit part in Dracula (1931) by hosting the original documentary The Road to Dracula (1999), a supplemental piece included on the 2004 DVD release, Dracula: The Legacy Collection. In that classic film, she portrayed a bespectacled passenger riding in a bumpy horse-drawn carriage with Renfield as he is traveling to Dracula’s castle. In this documentary, Laemmle proudly states: “I had the privilege of speaking the first lines of dialogue in the first talking supernatural thriller”.
In 2009 the book Growing Up With Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes, co-authored by Carla Laemmle and Daniel Kinske, was released. The book details her life at Universal Studios from 1921 to 1937. On October 20, 2009, she celebrated her 100th birthday with a guest list which included Ray Bradbury, Bela Lugosi Jr., Sara Karloff and Ron Chaney.
On October 3, 2010 she appeared in the excellent BBC Four documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, sharing more memories of her early film work with the legendary Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi. As she has done so many times before on the convention circuit, and various documentaries,she recited her opening lines from Dracula. In November 2010 she made an appearance in the documentary Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood for Turner Classic Movies and in May 2011 she appeared in Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood on the BBC. In March 2012, Turner Classic Movies announced that Laemmle would appear at a screening of Dracula in connection with its Classic Movie Festival the following month.
Birthday wishes are in order for Universal Pictures, which as widely noted is celebrating its centennial all year long. Founded by Carl Laemmle, Universal Film Manufacturing Company was incorporated in New York on April 30, 1912. The studio sent out 100 facts about its history, which makes for a good read…. I’ve cut the list down to my favourite 50:
1. Universal Film Manufacturing Company was officially incorporated in New York on April 30, 1912. Company legend says Carl Laemmle was inspired to name his company Universal after seeing “Universal Pipe Fittings” written on a passing delivery wagon.
2. The only physical damage made during the filming of National Lampoon’s Animal House was when John Belushi made a hole in the wall with a guitar. The actual Sigma Nu fraternity house (which subbed for the fictitious Delta House) never repaired it, and instead framed the hole in honor of the film.
3. In the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, the Greek writing on the blackboard in the schoolroom is the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey: “Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide.”
4. The word “dude” in The Big Lebowski is used approximately 161 times in the movie: 160 times spoken and once in text (in the credits for “Gutterballs” the second dream sequence). The F-word or a variation of the F-word is used 292 times. The Dude says “man” 147 times in the movie—that’s nearly 1.5 times a minute.
5. Back to the Future’s DeLorean time machine is actually a licensed, registered vehicle in the state of California. While the vanity license plate used in the film says “OUTATIME,” the DeLorean’s actual license plate reads 3CZV657.
6. American Graffiti’s budget was exactly $777,777.77, and it was delivered on time – and on budget.
7. In the Alfred Hitchcock classic The Birds, Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird during the shooting of one sequence.
8. The Munster’s House on Colonial Street was originally built for the 1946 production, So Goes My Love.
9. The title of the movie Do The Right Thing comes from a Malcolm X quote: “You’ve got to do the right thing.”
10. According to reports, during some of the Russian roulette scenes in the movie The Deer Hunter, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors’ tension per Robert De Niro’s suggestion. It was checked, however, to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled.
11. In the first scene of the movie Double Indemnity, when Walter first kisses Phyllis, there is a wedding ring on Walter’s hand. Fred MacMurray was married and the ring was not noticed until post-production.
12. When Bela Lugosi, star of the monster classic, Dracula, died in 1956, he was buried wearing a black silk cape similar to the one he wore in the film.
13. At 29,500 sq. ft., Universal Studios’ Stage 12 is the 7th largest soundstage in the world. It was originally built for the 1929 musical Broadway.
14. Carl Laemmle Jr. offered James Whale a list of more than 30 film adaptations he could direct and out of them all, Whale picked Frankenstein. It was his transition from war movies to monster pics.
15. Vans, the company behind the checkerboard shoes worn by Sean Penn (a.k.a. Jeff Spicoli) in the cult movie classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, became a national brand after the film’s release in 1982.
16. Actor Charlton Heston “parted” the Red Sea attraction on the Universal Studios Tour at the attraction’s grand opening in 1973.
17. The Universal sound technician, Jack Foley, developed the method of creating and recording many of the natural, everyday sound effects in a film. Today this method is named after him.
18. The legendary thriller and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock did not win any Academy Awards while working with Universal.
19. In the infamous shower scene in Psycho, the sound of the knife-stabbing actress Janet Leigh was made by plunging a knife into a melon.
20. The legendary studio head Irving Thalberg got his start in show business as Carl Laemmle’s personal secretary in 1917.
21. In 1995, Waterworld generated worldwide attention for being the most expensive film made to date. Unable to live up to expectations at the box office, the film eventually turned a profit due to strong home video sales and inspired one of the most popular theme park attractions of all time.
22. About 25% of the film Jaws was shot from water level so audiences could better relate to treading water.
23. In the film The Invisible Man, the director dressed Claude Rains in black velvet and filmed him against a black velvet background to create the effect that he wasn’t there.
24. Some of the props used in the 2005 version of King Kong were original props from the 1933 version. These props came from Peter Jackson’s personal collection and include the Skull Island spears and brightly painted shield, and some of the drums from the sacrifice scene.
25. In Jurassic Park, a guitar string was used to make the water ripple on the dash of the Ford Explorer by attaching it to the underside of the dash beneath the glass.
26. Universal entered the 3-D market with the film, It Came from Outer Space (1953)
27. Universal won its first Best Picture Academy Award for All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930.
28. Steven Spielberg nicknamed the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws, “Bruce.”
29. In the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, when Louise is on the phone asking for the operator, the music playing on the radio is the theme song to Written on the Wind, which was made at Universal the year prior.
30. It took two-and-a-half hours a day to apply Lon Chaney’s makeup in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
31. The first American film to show a toilet flushing on screen was Psycho.
32. In the film, Scarface, an M16 assault rifle with an M203 40mm grenade launcher attached to the barrel is Tony’s “little friend.”
33. Alfred Hitchcock did not choose to conclude the film, The Birds, with the usual “THE END” title because he wanted to leave the audience with the feeling of unending terror and uncertainty.
34. The locusts in the 1999 film, The Mummy, were mostly computer-generated, however, some live grasshoppers were used. Hours before filming they were chilled in a refrigerator to make them more sluggish.
35. The average shot length in the film Vertigo is 6.7 seconds.
36. The permanent set in Stage 28 was created to be a replica of the landmark The Paris Opera House, for the classic film, The Phantom of the Opera.
37. When you hear the sound of the crowd cheering, “Spartacus! Spartacus!” in the movie Spartacus, it was actually a pre-taped recording from a 1959 football game at Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium.
38. The final speech by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird was done in one take.
39. The diner in the movie The Sting is the same diner interior used in Back to the Future.
40. The title of the film Streets of Fire starring Michael Paré and Diane Lane, was drawn from a Bruce Springsteen song, from his album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The song, unfortunately, does not appear in the film.
41. 1920’s Shipwrecked Among Cannibals was the first film to gross $1,000,000 for Universal.
42. Prominent Universal Director Edward Laemmle was the nephew of Universal Founder Carl Laemmle. He directed over 60 films (including shorts) for Universal.
43. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is only the second time Bela Lugosi would play “Dracula” in a feature film. (He played other vampires in the interim, but not Dracula.)
44. In 1973’s High Plains Drifter starring Clint Eastwood, one of the headstones in the graveyard bears the name Sergio Leone as a tribute.
45. In 1992’s Scent of Woman, Al Pacino repeatedly shouts “Hoo-ah.” “Hoo-ah” comes from the military acronym “HUA” which stands for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”
46. The Blues Brothers “Bluesmobile” is a 1974 Dodge Monaco.
47. 1971’s Play Misty for Me was set in Carmel, CA, where Clint Eastwood later lived and became mayor in 1986.
48. “The Bride” in “The Bride of Frankenstein” is the only one of Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters to have never killed anyone.
49. Throughout its hundred year legacy, Universal brought to audiences the first films of talents such as John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Norman Jewison, Ben Stiller, Robert Zemeckis, John Hughes, Amy Heckerling, Spike Jonze, Zack Snyder and Judd Apatow.
50. More than 100 million people from around the world have taken the Universal Studios “studio tour.” While the tour officially began in 1964, Universal has been welcoming the public to our studio since 1915 and the silent era.
Guest Writer Mark Sonntag. With the release of Star Wars Episode 1 3D I can’t help but remember the time when there was only the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Like all kids I was hooked, but that’s all we had, that, comics and whatever old scifi movies were re-run on TV, plus the odd campy 70s scifi show. No video games and a multitude of high end CG movies like today… oh yeah and no internet.
Maybe it was because of Star Wars, but during the early 80s the Flash Gordon movie serials were constantly repeated on TV, they were already almost 50 years old at that time but I didn’t care I loved them and believe it or not it is pretty obvious now that they are a direct ancestor of Star Wars, from the cliffhanger format of film making to the opening title roll… George Lucas grew up on them.
Flash Gordon debuted on Sunday January 7, 1934 in the color comic section of the Hearst newspapers. Like Star Wars, it’s straight into the action with the opening panel showing a newspaper headline “WORLD COMING TO END” and it’s non stop from there with Dr Hans Zarkov kidnapping Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to save the world from the evil Ming the Merciless. Created by Alex Raymond and writer Don Moore it was King Features Syndicate’s answer to Buck Rogers, and very quickly surpassed Buck Rogers in popularity.
It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling when in 1935 Universal bought the movie rights for a reported sum of $12, 000. At this point in time Universal was renowned for it’s horror films and movie serials, and still under the control of founder Carl Leammle.
Henry MacRae, head of Universal’s serial department allocated a budget of $350, 000, triple the amount normally allotted to a serial. Work began in 1935 with screen writers Frederick Stephani (who would also direct), George Plympton, Basil Dickey and Ella O’Neil assigned to adapt the comic strip to the screen. Unlike most Hollywood movies of the time the screen writers opted to follow the strip and the serial that was finally made is essentially a faithful adaptation of the first year’s continuity.
Paramount contract player and 1932 Olympic swimming champion Buster Crabbe was cast as Flash Gordon, dying his hair blonde for the part. He remembered visiting the Universal lot during auditions when Henry MacRae spotted him and offered him the part.
19 year old Universal contract player Jean Rogers was cast as Flash’s girlfriend Dale Arden and for some reason ordered by Universal to go blonde (Dale is a brunette in the comic strip). Frank Shannon was cast as Dr. Hans Zarkov.
As for the evil Ming the Merciless, the part went to character actor and sometime foil of Laurel and Hardy, Charles Middleton about whom Crabbe recalled “he strutted around like Ming (when in make up); he really did strut! He was a very nice guy, but he had to stay in character. The minute he put on his street clothes, he was a different person.” Priscilla Lawson was cast as Ming’s daughter Aura, Richard Alexander as Prince Barin the rightful heir to the throne of Mongo and John Lipson as Vultan king of the Hawkmen. Future Frankenstein monster Glenn Strange makes an appearance as a lobster clawed monster and as one of Ming’s guards.
In order to create the lavish fantasy sets required, Universal hired Ralph Berger as art director. Even with the higher budget, costs still needed to be watched in order to complete thirteen 20 minute films. Sets from previous Universal films were utilized, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula’s Daughter to name a few. Even props were reused, the Egyptian idol from The Mummy became the great god Tao, the rocketship from Fox’s Just Imagine was purchased and used for Zarkov’s rocketship. Kenneth Strickfaden’s wild electrical devices from Frankenstein can be seen in Ming’s lab.
Special effects which look primitive today were created by propman Elmer Johnson and cameraman Jerome Ash using 2 foot long models made of wood and metal, hanging on wires with cigar smoke trailing from the exhaust.
Flash Gordon began production in October 1935 and took six weeks to shoot with cast and crew working from 8am to 10:30pm six days per week.
The 13 chapter serial premiered on April 1936 and was immensely popular, with theatres adopting the unusual practice of showing each weekly episode at night instead of just to the Saturday matinee crowd. It was re-edited later that year into a 68 minute feature version, unfortunately it’s success came too late for founder Carl Laemmle who sold his interest in Universal in May 1936 due to bad debts.
In 1996, Flash Gordon was included in the National Film Registry .
Of course with the serial so successful and the weekly comic strip ever popular what was Universal to do but make a sequel… TO BE CONTINUED.