Posts Tagged ‘Universal Studios’

Carl Laemmle’s Death & Funeral…

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Carl Laemmle

He was lovingly known as “Uncle Carl” and the “Little Napoleon” to those who knew and worked for him. Carl Laemmle, Sr., motion picture pioneer and founder of Universal Studios, was the first of the movie moguls to pass away since the death of Irving Thalberg just two years earlier.

A German immigrant, Laemmle had only $50 when he first arrived in the United States in 1893. In his early years, he first was a package-wrapper in Chicago, and then a clothing store clerk in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where he eventually became manager and saved $2,000.

In 1906 he returned to Chicago and opened a 5 and 10-cent store where he happened to behold a line of people waiting to pay their nickels to see a motion picture and decided to become a film theater operator instead. He named the theater the White Front and charged 5 cents, offering whatever crude films he could find.

From this he established a film exchange and from that success, went to New York where he began to produce his own films. This ultimately led to the founding of Universal Studios and film history when he sent a company to England to film Ivanhoe (1913) in its original setting.

Moving operations to California, he eventually purchased 230 acres in the San Fernando Valley, just outside of Hollywood, and here founded Universal City on March 15, 1915. His most successful films included Traffic in Souls (1913), Foolish Wives (1922), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Phantom of the Opera (1925) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. When talkies arrived, he remained president but handed much of the studios production to his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr.

In 1936, because of financial problems, most notably due to the overruns on the budget of Showboat (1936) and the ravages of the depression, Laemmle was eventually forced to retire, selling the studio to Standard Capital Company.

For the next three years, Laemmle maintained an office in Hollywood to take care of his various business interests. He finally ceased this activity, and spent most of his time at his home at 1275 Benedict Canyon, which was the former residence of producer Thomas H. Ince.

Laemmle suffered his first heart attack on July 14, 1939; this was followed by several milder attacks. On September 23, he went for a car ride hoping to gain some relief from the heat. Upon returning he declared that he felt a “little wobbly” but slept soundly the rest of the night.

Early the next morning he suffered two more heart attacks and his doctor was called. The third and fatal heart attack occurred while he was still in bed. Present at the time of his death was his son, Carl, Jr., his daughter, Rosabelle Bergerman and two physicians.

Laemmle was also survived by two brothers, Siegfried and Louis Laemmle and two grandchildren, Carol Bergerman, 9 and Stanley Bergerman, Jr., 7.

Carl Laemmle obit (click on image to enlarge)

Carl Laemmle’s death certificate (Click on image to enlarge)

Tributes immediately began to pour in. From Mexico City, Joseph M. Schenck, president of the Association of Motion Picture Producers, paid high tribute to Laemmle by issuing the following statement:

“The passing of Carl Laemmle was a shock and a great loss to the motion picture industry.

“Carl Laemmle was more than a pioneer, he was a builder. A kind, gentle man, he fought for the industry at a time when it was weak and shackled, and due to his courage and independence, the fight that was of nation-wide importance in its time was won.

“The whole motion picture industry must mourn the loss of Carl Laemmle, but in Hollywood where he lived and worked, his memory will be enshrined.”

That day, Laemmle’s will was taken from a bank vault and scanned to learn whether he had expressed any last wishes as to his burial — which he had not. At the time, his family was undecided as to whether he would be buried beside his wife (who died in 1919) in a mausoleum in Salem Field Cemetery in New York, but finally determined that he would be laid to rest at Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple

It was also announced that Rabbi F. Edgar Magnin, the “Rabbi to the Stars,” would give the eulogy and read the ritual over Laemmle’s body, which would lie in state at the Wilshire B’nai B’rith Temple (Wilshire Boulevard Temple) from 11:30 AM the next day up until the time of the services.

As a mark of respect, at 12:30 PM on September 26, there was a five-minute period of silence at all of the studios in Hollywood, at the home offices of Universal in New York and at all of the Universal film exchanges throughout the world.

Rabbi Magnin intoned prayers over Laemmle’s body as nearly 2,000 of his friends and former associates listened at the Wilshire B’nai B’rith Temple. The ceremony was simple, as requested by the family. Laemmle lay in a copper coffin at one side of the pulpit, banked high with flowers.

Touching briefly on Laemmle’s rise to success from a poor immigrant from Germany to a leader in the film industry, Rabbi Magnin pointed out it was not the money he made nor the power he wielded but what he did with his wealth and his power.

A PORTION OF RABBI MAGNIN’S EUOLOGY:

“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.

“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.

“He gave generously of his purse and his heart. His charities were widespread and of this I, personally, am acquainted. He gave to the organized charities but he helped more people in an individual way. He established a foundation and he took a personal part in it.

“He always gave to people who needed help, but he made them feel that they were earning what he gave them.

“He was a fine American. He was born in Germany and he always had a tender spot for the German people. He full well realized in the World War as today that they are victims of a government.

“His love for his home and his family was second to none.”

During the service, Laemmle’s daughter, Rosabelle, almost broke under the strain. It was only a few minutes after Magnin’s closing words that she was able to leave the temple and go with relatives to the cemetery for the interment.

Home of Peace Mausoleum

Carl Laemmle was laid to rest in a private family room of the Chapel Mausoleum at Home of Peace Cemetery. Universal Studios is still a major film company; one of only a few that still exist at their original Hollywood location.

Carl Laemmle’s grave (Find A Grave)

 

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Universal Studios, the Laemmle years, 1912-1936…

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

FILM HISTORY

Universal Studios, the Laemmle years, 1912—1936…      

 

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

The 100th anniversary of Universal Studios was celebrated this year (April 30) thus making it the first of the major Hollywood studios to achieve that impressive longevity. The story of Universal, especially the years of Carl Laemmle’s control, is typical of the industry and carries a recognizable theme that reverberates through all American business successes.

 

 

 

 

When Carl Laemmle arrived in New York at 17 years-old, he had $50 and a telescope valise packed with only a few personal items from his home in Laupheim, Germany. From there he headed west like many other immigrants and found odd jobs in stores, factories, working as a farm hand in South Dakota, as a bookkeeper in Chicago and as the general manager of a department store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Twenty-two years later, Laemmle had saved a capital of $2,500 and started on his next venture.

 

Laemmle had returned to Chicago where he waited in line for the new sensation, the motion picture shows, which was shown in a store converted to resemble the interior of a railroad coach; the motion picture representing scenery was viewed from the rear of a train. Laemmle was astonished at the long line of people willing to pay a dime for this privilege and envisioned the possibility for a new money-making opportunity.

 

With the assistance of R. H. Cochrane, a young Chicago advertising man, they acquired a store on Milwaukee Avenue where he opened the White Front Theater on February 24, 1906 (it had been the White Front store and the sign served as a name for the theater). It was on a Saturday night and he gave patrons fifteen minutes of movies and a song with beautifully colored slides. On Sunday he ran twenty shows. At five cents a head his gross for the two days was $192.05. That was the beginning of a long association with Cochrane who later became a vice-president of Universal.

 

A second theater was soon opened and from that point Laemmle entered all branches of the rapidly expanding motion picture industry. This new success brought him into conflict with the larger interests in the industry. After breaking with the Patents Company, which owned most of the patents on cameras, projectors, etc. he announced he would produce his own films. The Independent Moving Picture (IMP) Company was formed. Its first film, Hiawatha, was released in October 1909. IMP has been given the credit for introducing the star system to Hollywood, when it signed the Biograph Girl, Florence Lawrence, and billed her name above the title of her pictures in 1910. Over the next three years Laemmle battled Edison’s motion picture trust which was followed by a federal investigation, leading to the termination of the General Film Company.

 

The Universal Film Manufacturing Company was founded on April 30, 1912, and was composed of six of the leading independent producers. The name Universal was given, according to Hollywood legend, when Laemmle was presiding over a pretentious gathering of independent film producers in his office overlooking Union Square to decide upon a name. After glancing out the window at the Broadway traffic, with the usual flourishes, gave the designation—Universal. He had seen the name, it is said, on a delivery wagon marked “Universal Pipe Fittings.”

 

Following other film producers, by the end of 1912, Universal was making most of its films in Hollywood on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. During the first year of the studio’s operation, 250 films were produced, mostly two-reelers.

 

As Laemmle and Universal prospered, he purchased a former chicken farm, the 230-acre Taylor ranch on the banks of the Los Angeles River five miles north of Hollywood. The land was part of the ancient Rancho Cahuenga de Ramirez and on the property where General John C. Fremont and Pio Pico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga.  

 

 

 

 

Formal dedication of the studio on March 14, 1915, was an affair heralded by posters in railway stations throughout the country. Exhibitors were brought here by special trains to witness the ceremony. Laura Oakley, Universal City’s female police chief, presented Laemmle with a golden key and he officially unlocked the huge front gate of the studio as bands played. Flags were unfurled and a cheering crowd of 20,000 jammed Lankershim Blvd.  

 

 

 

Carl Laemmle and friends at the opening of Universal City in March 1915

 

Universal City came into existence and the studio was created as a small city with a population of nearly 300, with its own post office, fire department and police department. Children have been born on the lot and men and women have died there. Virginia Richdale Kerrigan, the daughter of William W. Kerrigan, one-time manager of Universal and the twin brother of actor J. Warren Kerrigan, had the distinction of being the first baby born on the Universal lot in 1915. Tragically only nine years later, Virginia’s dress caught fire at a Christmas gathering and she died from her burns.

 

Many of the 300 Universal employees lived in houses on the lot when the studio was opened in 1915. Some merely converted sets into practical living quarters and others just camped. Most of the actors had horses, for Universal was the home of the Western, which provided the studios bread-and-butter in the first two decades. The players with horses carried saddle bags in which were stuffed two uniforms. Sometimes they would appear in the mornings as Indians and after lunch, once the Indians were defeated by the cowboys, they would switch costumes and chase the images of themselves.

 

 

 

The above and following two photos were taken on a visit to Universal Studios in 1916 (Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)

 

 (Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)

 

 (Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)

 

One day in 1916, Harry Carey, one of Universal’s early western star attractions, was leading a bunch of cowhands down Broadway when the whole group tired of the script. Just for fun, and the undying mortification of the city’s budding social set, Carey and his dusty mounted troupe, rode up the steps and into the lobby of the stylish Alexandria Hotel.

 

Many stories of early Universal were based on nepotism, for there it thrived. Several Laemmles changed their names so that strangers wouldn’t get the impression they were there only because they were related. Some made good, others did not. But Uncle Carl, as he was known in the industry, never fired one of them. Ogden Nash, the poet, said the following about Laemmle’s habit of giving top executive jobs to family members: “Uncle Carl Laemmle has a very large faemmle.”

 

Laemmle’s greatest pride was for his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., who was originally named Julius after his grandfather in Germany. But when the senior Laemmle made him general manager of Universal on his twenty-first birthday, Julius became Junior.

 

Something else that Laemmle loved was gambling. High-stakes poker games with such cronies as Joseph Schenck and Sid Grauman would last all night and when the local action slowed a bit, Laemmle thought nothing of taking quick trips to Agua Caliente, the Mexican forerunner of Las Vegas. One night he lost $10,000 there. In one weekend, he lost three times that.

 

Universal Studios was the site of a number of industry firsts—Laemmle established the first European exchange for independent American films; he built the first electrically lighted stages so he would not have to depend on sunlight, and produced the first $1,000,000 feature, Foolish Wives (1922), directed by Erich von Stroheim, who the studio billed as “the man you love to hate.”

 

Many famous names in Hollywood history served at one time or another on the Universal lot. On it Charlie Chaplin courted Mildred Harris and Wallace Reid won Dorothy Davenport. John Ford and William Wyler (a Laemmle family member) received their early training at the studio—on Harry Carey westerns and farces with Laura La Plante. Such films as Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), both with Lon Chaney; Showboat (1929 and 1936) and the Academy Award winner, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) were made there. The studio launched the comedies of the 1930s with My Man Godfrey (1936) and introduced Deanna Durbin as a 14-year-old singer in her first great success, Three Smart Girls (1936). The studio also produced such classic soap operas as Magnificent Obsession (1936), Back Street (1932) and Imitation of Life (1934), the same titles that turned out to be box-office hits in the 1950s in remakes refurbished with color. And of course, there are the famed monster films which include Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933).

 

 

 

 

All studios were famous for their publicity stunts, but one at Universal had repercussions for many years to come. For the film, The Black Cat (1934), an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, the studio advertised a county-wide contest for a cat to play the title role. Every child in town showed up. By the time the pre-selected winner was announced, cats were loose everywhere. Few chose to return home, and for decades (and possibly to this day) the studio lot teemed with their descendants.

 

 

 

Cast of Show Boat–Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger and Helen Westley

 

The Laemmle era came to an end in 1936 when the studio produced a lavish remake of Show Boat, featuring several stars from the Broadway stage version. Carl Jr.’s disturbing spending habits, the studios attempts at high-quality productions and the costs of modernizing and upgrading during the depression brought about their decline and being placed into receivership. Stockholders demanded that the Laemmle’s take out a loan from Standard Capital Corporation to make Show Boat, using the family’s controlling interest as collateral. When production problems created a huge overrun, the loan was called in and Universal could not pay. Standard foreclosed and seized control of Universal. Ironically when Show Boat was released it was a financial success but it was not enough to save the Laemmles who were forced to leave the studio on April 2, 1936. Carl Laemmle died three years later at the age of 72.

 

Despite low periods in its history, Universal Studios has survived. Over the past seventy-plus years Universal has had several owners and name variations. It is the debris from the Laemmle years, 1912 to 1936, that saw hundreds of films made on the 230 (and eventually 410) acres and that form most of Universal today. It doesn’t look much like a chicken farm any more.

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Review of ‘Hollywood Story’

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

FILM REVIEWS

The true ‘Hollywood Story’ is solved 

 Hollywood Story poster

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
 

Recently I had the pleasure to watch the rare film, Hollywood Story (1951), starring Richard Conte, Richard Egan, Henry HullFred Clark and in one of her early film appearances, Julie Adams (billed as Julia Adams).

 

The film was obviously inspired by the unsolved William Desmond Taylor murder that occurred barely 30 years earlier — a famous Hollywood director (named Franklin Ferrara in the film) is found shot and dead in his bungalow. The case goes unsolved and ruins several Hollywood careers including one of the directors leading ladies, an actor who is rumored to have murdered him and a screen writer who becomes a destitute beachcomber.  

 

Helen Gibson, William Farnum and Francis X. Bushman being greeted by the studio guard at the entrance of the former Chaplin Studios

 

Besides the cast mentioned earlier, there are cameos by former silent film favorites, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson and an appearance by Joel McCrea who plays himself. But the real star of the film, in my opinion, are the scenes of old Hollywood. The film opens with a shot of Hollywood Boulevard looking west from Vine Street with the Broadway Department Store entrance and the Warner Theater clearly visible.

 

Other scenes include the NBC Studios (now demolished) on Sunset and Vine and shots of the Hollywood Christmas Parade as it passes Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The swimming pool of the Roosevelt Hotel makes an appearance as does portions of the famed Sunset Strip.

 

Richard Conte and Julie Adams near poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel in The Hollywood Story

 

The plot of the film revolves around Larry O’Brien (Richard Conte) a Broadway producer who arrives in Hollywood to try his hand at filmmaking. Based on facts presented to him, he decides to make a film about the Franklin Ferrara murder. His friend and now-agent (played by Jim Backus), finds him an old abandoned studio that just happens to be where Ferrara was found murdered. This begins the chain of events for his plans to make a movie about Ferrara — investigating the facts himself and getting in trouble in the process.

 

While the film is produced by Universal (the old entrance to the studio also has a cameo), they rented the Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea just south of Sunset as the stand-in for the studio where Ferrara was murdered and where O’Brien will now make his film. A long shot of the bungalow clearly shows the neon sign atop the Roosevelt Hotel (and is still visible today) in the background and the distinctive brick gate entrance to the studio can be seen from inside the lot. It is at this front gate that Conte greets silent film stars, Bushman, Farnum and Gibson. In another scene Conte runs outside the gate onto the sidewalk just as he sees Julie Adams and Paul Cavanaugh make an escape up La Brea and around the corner at Sunset.

 

I don’t believe Hollywood Story was ever released on video or DVD, but it should be. If you ever have the opportunity to see this film and old Hollywood is one of your interests, I highly recommend it.

 

 

 The studio guard, Richard Conte and Jim Backus walking onto the Chaplin lot. Notice the ornate tower in the background which is the entrance to the studio. That same tower is below.

 

 

 

 The studio guard greeting Francis X. Bushman at the entrance of the former Chaplin Studios in The Hollywood Story. Below is the same spot as it looks today.

 

 

 

 Richard Conte stands on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the former Chaplin Studios looking north toward Sunset. Below is the same spot as it looks today.

 

 

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Universal City at 96

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

FILM HISTORY

Today marks 96 years at Universal Studios

 

 

© Dickens Archives © Universal Archives Collection

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

As of today, Universal Studios has spent 96 years at its present location in the San Fernando Valley. In mid-1912, Carl Laemmle, a pioneer independent producer, made his early Universal pictures at a small studio on Sunset and Gower in Hollywood. In 1915, upon the advice of Isadore Bernstein, then his studio manager, a former chicken farm in the valley was purchased.

 

Immediately, a farming community began its transformation into a choice residential section and the motion-picture studio, previously more of a factory, became a veritable world unto itself. Universal City was incorporated as a city with its own post office and governmental recognition.

 

On March 15, 1915, special trains from New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Seattle brought thousands of visitors and hundreds of industrial leaders, actors, directors and exhibitors to Los Angeles and then out the sandy road across the Cahuenga Pass to Universal City for the “official opening.”

 

Laemmle began the festivities and opened the big white gate with a golden key at 10 a.m., and he and Bernstein, headed the procession of 100 guests. Once inside the gate, gaily-clad Universal girls pelted the party with flowers, and a big caravan of mounted cowboys and Indians saluted with pistol shots and bands played, and Pat Powers, treasurer of Universal, hoisted a huge American flag, followed by a display of daylight fireworks.

 

Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford drove down from the San Francisco’s World Fair to dedicate the immense 500-foot open stage at the new studio, arriving late because their car broke down. Notable among scenes presided over by different directors were a beautiful interior designed by Charles Giblyn, where Cleo Madison entertained the crowds, and a set showing the interior of a hunting lodge in Africa, where Henry McRae calmly stroked two live leopards. Other sets included a bit of Moorish architecture and a snow scene.

 

 

 

 

MacRae then filmed a spectacular scene for The Torrent (1915), a two-reeler with Marie Walcamp, and thousands stood spellbound as a large reservoir in the hills behind the studio unloosed a flood of water which washed away a street of cottages built down the middle of the valley for the big climax scene of the production. Another thriller which had a tragic ending was the repetition of an airplane bombing which was staged by Frank A. Stites, who, after completing the stunt, found his plane on fire and, to avoid falling into the crowd, heroically crashed his plane against the back lot hills and was instantly killed.

 

Out at the end of the ranch there were motion picture scenes being filmed, and there were amusing sideshows, and the big zoo, with its wild animals. Bands played, candy and soda booths did business and wild Arabs rode elephants down the road.

 

The ball that evening was attended by 2,000 people and was held in the large inside studio, which was handsomely decorated with flags and flowers. “Daddy” Manley, the oldest motion picture actor at that time, 88 years old, and “Mother” Benson, led the grand march, which was reviewed by Laemmle and Bernstein.

 

Among the celebrities who participated in filming scenes marking the opening of Universal City were J. Warren Kerrigan, Louise Lovely, Marie Walcamp, Grace Cunard, Francis Ford, King Baggot, Arthur Johnson, Harry Carey, Wallace Reid, Dorothy Davenport, Henrietta Crossman, Helen Ware, Priscilla Dean, Dorothy Phillips, Frank Keenan, Hobart Bosworth, Alice Howell, Julia Dean, Digby Bell, Lon Chaney, Jean Hersholt, William Stowell, Betty Compson and many bit players who later became stars.

 

Visitors recalled that after the completion of the opening ceremonies at midnight on March 15, Laemmle and MacRae were stopped on their return to Hollywood when eight coyotes came out of the hills and blocked the narrow road before their car.

 

 

 

 

Within fifteen years, more than 1,000 feature films and many short subjects, not to mention sixty serial thrillers were produced at Universal City. At one time, in 1917, there were forty-two directors working with an equal number of productions simultaneously, an all-time record for film production.

 

In addition to almost fifty contract players, Universal City, in its first three years at this location, had sixty full-blooded Native Americans and the largest zoo in the West. The average film shipments from Universal City in 1915 and 1916 were 45,000 feet a week, a tremendous output, considering that features were one and two-reelers.

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Historic fires at Universal Studios

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

After fire, Universal Studios reopens backlot

 

 

 

 

Producer Steven Spielberg center, crosses a street with a building facade after a dedication ceremony for Universal Studios newly rebult New York Street backlot locations, at the studio in Universal City, Calif., Thursday, May 27, 2010. A fixture in Hollywood for decades, New York Street, which consists of 13 city blocks of buildings has been the setting of commercials, television shows and feature films. The shooting location burned in an accidental fire on June 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) (Reed Saxon, AP / May 27, 2010)

 

Beginning yesterday, visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood can see the new New York Street backlot, which replaces the famous location ruined in a fire two years ago.

 

A fixture in Hollywood for decades, the backlot is primarily designed to let filmmakers shoot New York, London, Paris and other places without actually having to leave Los Angeles. Visitors can catch a view of the newly rebuilt four acres on Universal’s behind-the-scenes studio tours by tram.

 

The Universal Studios back lot fire two years ago recalls blazes that have occured there since the studio moved to that location in 1915. All the major studios have had fires at one time or another but Universal seems to have had more than their fair share. What follows is a brief history of fires at Universal over the years.

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Historic fires at Universal Studios

 

 

 

 

by Allan R. Ellenberger  

 

March 25, 1913

 

Before Universal moved to their present location, their studio was at Gower Street and Sunset Boulevard. Very early in the morning, the studio was totally destroyed by a fire that began in the film storehouse and was believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion.

 

Several outdoor stages, dressing rooms, outbuildings, offices, scenery storeroom and other buildings, all made of wood, were burned to the ground. For a time the Hollywood branch office of the Sunset Telephone Company and near-by residences were threatened.

  

 

September 29, 1917

 

A fire started from an unknown origin in the dry grass and spread to a two-story building on one of the western streets just a short distance from the wardrobe building. Members of the Universal fire department and most every able bodied man fought to extinguish the flames. Sparks from the burning buildings were carried to one of the stages and set fire to a number of the overhead diffusers. Actors helped to put them out.

 

Sparks also fell on the roof of the new electric light studio, which was constructed only a few weeks earlier, but a group of men quickly put it out. For a while, it was feared that the $4,000,000 studio would be seriously damaged, however, the loss was estimated at $10,000.

 

Not to waste the opportunity, several cameramen trained their cameras upon the fire scenes which would be placed in stock for use in future films.

 

 

June 3, 1919

 

A stubborn fire aided by a strong wind blowing into the San Fernando Valley was intent to destroy everything on the Universal back lot (back ranch). However, being in an unincorporated district, the nearby Hollywood fire station declared Universal City to be beyond its jurisdiction. Actor Harry Carey, who was filming scenes for Rider of the Law (1919) gathered several of his fellow cowboy actors to help fight the fire. They hauled a hose from the studio to the crest of one of the hills where there was a huge water tank and sprayed the hillsides from there. The blaze destroyed sets and equipment on three of the hills and damage was set at $5,000 and might have amounted to more had not Carey and the other men acted so quickly.

 

 

 

 

May 25, 1922

 

A short-circuited electric wire, which whipped through an open doorway of a cutting room, ignited more than 100,000 feet of film. The huge coils of film flared up instantly with flames sweeping through the room, endangering near-by buildings. Padlocked metal boxes of film exploded with the heat, showering the vicinity with steel splinters that embedded themselves in the walls.

 

The explosion, smoke and fire that followed caused a near-panic among the hundreds of studio employees. Actress Priscilla Dean rushed up a flight of stairs to the burning room, intent on saving the film of her picture, Under Two Flags, (1922) which was just being completed. She tripped on a flowing oriental robe (part of her costume) she was wearing and sprained her ankle.

 

At a loss of four cents a foot, more than 185,000 feet of film was destroyed including Under Two Flags and the footage for five other productions.

 

Tod Browning, who directed Under Two Flags, was about to leave for his home when the fire started. Irving Thalberg, director-general of the studio; Julius Bernhein, Leo McCarey and Arthur Ripley (film editor), all made an effort to reach the cutting room but were forced back by the flames.

 

Thalberg estimated that the property damage from the fire and the loss of film would come to more than a half-million dollars.

 

 

December 23, 1922

 

Just seven months later another fire ravaged the studio under similar circumstances when an electric lamp short circuited and ignited more than a million feet of film. An explosion shook the building, knocking down a woman standing fifty feet from the source. Fortunately the fire was prevented from spreading to the adjoining scenic shop where large amounts of paint, chemicals and inflammable materials were stored.

 

The fire broke out at 3:50 pm, and was battled by fire-fighting apparatus on the premises. Special effects man, Edward Bush and actor Norman Kerry, who was still dressed in his Austrian costume from Merry-Go-Round (1923), rushed into the building ahead of the fireman. However, both were overcome by fumes from the burning film and were carried out unconscious. They were attended to at the Universal City Emergency Hospital. Actors Herbert Rawlinson and Art Acord were among those who also aided in fighting the flames.

 

The studio was not seriously damaged but a total of 1,100,000 feet of film was destroyed. This included footage for between thirty-five and forty films which was being edited including One of Three (1923) from the Yorke Norroy film series starring Roy Stewart. It was estimated to cost approximately $250,000 to reshoot the pictures. The destroyed film was valued at about $100,000.

 

 

February 26, 1923

 

A “prop” fire became a genuine blaze and damaged a cabin set and singed every actor in the filming of an episode of The Phantom Fortune (1923) serial. William Desmond suffered slight burns and minor lacerations when he dragged Cathleen Calhoun from the burning cabin with her costume ablaze. Esther Ralston suffered scorched hands, arms and back. Robert F. Hill, the director, was burned about the neck and ears. Cameraman, “Buddy” Harris had his right hand severely burned. Three electricians and a property man also sustained minor injuries.

 

The fire was caused by flares used to simulate flames that ignited the woodwork of the set. All the injured were given emergency treatment at the studio hospital and then taken home.

 

 

Universal Film Corporation, 1924 (LAPL)

 

 

August 27, 1925

 

A fire broke out on the set of The Midnight Sun (1926) starring Laura La Plante and Pat O’Malley. Five hundred extras were thrown into a panic, many of them trampled under foot and two injured slightly when a gigantic set representing the interior of the Petrograd Imperial Ballet was swept by fire.

 

The cause of the blaze was a sputtering overhead-arc light which came in contact with a huge drapery, part of the decorations imported from Paris for the production. Three days of shooting had to be reshot because of the destruction of the draperies which could not be duplicated. The estimated damage to the set was $15,000.

 

 

April 8, 1927

 

A fire started in the editing room when a lamp burned out and a spark flew into a stack of film. The fire, which threatened to spread, was confined to the single building, but the building was destroyed.

 

Many thousands of feet of film had to be reshot. Among the films destroyed was Reginald Denney’s Fast and Furious (1927). The loss due to the fire was estimated at $10,000.

 

 

January 7, 1931

 

A blaze started in a frame structure used for cutting short-length films. The cutters narrowly escaped when the room burst into flames. They were slightly overcome by fumes generated by the burning film, but were revived in the studio infirmary. The studio fire department confined the fire to the one building. Damage was placed at $10,000 to the film and $5,000 to the building.

 

 

October 25, 1932

 

A brush fire broke out in the woodlands behind Universal and swept through fifteen acres of land and destoyed two film sets valued at $10,000. While the main stages and sets were not in danger, the sets destroyed were used in Frankenstein (1931) and the William Wyler film, A House Divided (1931).

 

 

September 8, 1937

 

A brush fire fanned by a stiff breeze burned over twenty-two acres on the Universal back lot destroying three houses used as a motion-picture set. A score of wild animals caged near a jungle set and several hillside residences were also in danger of the blaze.

 

One of the destroyed houses was an old type Spanish ranch that had been used in hundreds of western films. The other two were a part of what was known as the Swiss Village and were originally built in 1922 for a John Barrymore picture.

 

The wild animals included Universal’s famous black panther, the trained chimpanzee “Skippy,” and numerous lions, leopards and other animals. The collection was valued at $50,000.

 

The estimated damage to the back lot was $10,000.

 

 

December 23, 1954

 

A fire broke out on the set of One Desire (1955) starring Anne Baxter and Rock Hudson. The script called for Baxter to throw a book at Hudson, and knock over a kerosene lamp. She did and the flames swept up the drapes, however members of the crew were unable to contain the blaze as it whipped to the ceiling of the sound stage. The heat opened sprinklers over an adjacent stage and caused damage to other sets prepared for the same film.

 

 

Universal back lot during the 1957 fire 

 

September 25, 1957

 

An acre of permanent street-scene sets was destroyed by a fire that broke out on Universal’s back lot shortly before 5 pm. None of the street scenes involved in the fire was in use. A complete theater set on “New York Street,” a landmark for twenty years, was consumed in the fire. The heat melted and twisted the steel girder frame of the building that had been used in numerous films. The last film to use the set was the remake of My Man Godfrey (1957) starring David Niven. The damage was estimated at $500,000.

 

 

May 15, 1967

 

A fire started in a barn on the “Laramie Street” set and spread north and east over twelve acres of movie and television sets. At times, flames leaped more than 100-feet into the air. The “European,” “Denver” and “Laramie” streets were burned to the ground by the fire which roared out of control for more than an hour.

 

Wind-blown sparks showered upon nearby Warner Bros. Studios causing at least one minor fire on the roof of the old casting building. Embers were carried as far as NBC Studios, two miles away and across the river to the Lakeside golf course.

 

The “European” set was originally built in 1930 for filming of All Quiet on the Western Front and had been used for countless films since. The destroyed “Laramie” set was used for the television show Laredo and the “Denver” street for The Virginian series.

 

The total estimated damage was set at $1 million.

 

 

The famous Courthouse Square set at Universal that once again escaped destruction. (Universal Studios)

 

 

November 6, 1990

 

A spectacular fire ravaged four acres of the Universal back lot and destroyed the New York Street; an adjacent alley set; Brownstone Street; a portion of the Courthouse Square where Back to the Future was filmed and the Dick Tracy Building. Also heavily damaged was the King Kong and Earthquake exhibits on the studio tour.

 

The New York Street set was used in the films The Sting (1973), and Dick Tracy (1990), among others. Beside the Back to the Future films, the Courthouse Square set was used in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). The fire was set by a studio guard who was later sentenced to four years in prison. Damage was estimated at $25 million.

 

Ironically, this is in the same area that was destroyed in Sunday’s fire. This time, however, the King Kong exhibit was completely destroyed. Investigators have determined that this fire was caused by workers repairing a roof on the New York Street set.

 

 

September 6, 1997

 

Improperly stored chemicals were blamed for a fire that destroyed the northern side of Courthouse Square. Once again this building was spared.

 

 

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Carla Laemmle’s 100th Birthday

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

100th BIRTHDAY

Carla Laemmle

 

Carla Laemmle

  

By Allan R. Ellenberger 

 

Today is the 100th birthday of actress and dancer Carla Laemmle, who is also the niece of Universal Studios founder, Carl Laemmle.

 

Carla Laemmle was born Rebecca Isabelle Laemmle on October 20, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. According to the 1910 census, when Carla was 6 months old, she was living with her family at 4244 Vincennes Avenue, and may have been born there.

 

Carla was the daughter of Joseph Laemmle, who was Carl’s older brother. Joseph was 76 when died in March 1929. Her mother, Carrie Belle Norton Laemmle, was born in Connecticut and died in March 1962 at age 91. Carla also had a half-brother, Universal director, Edward Laemmle who died in 1937.

  

 

Carla Laemmle in Dracula

 Carla Laemmle is thrown onto the laps of fellow passsengers in the opening sequence of Dracula (1931)

 

Carla had an uncredited role as a ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and continued in smaller parts in Universal films. In 1931 she had the opportunity to speak the first line of dialogue in the horror classic, Dracula. She plays a bookish young girl who reads to her fellow passengers while riding in a coach. Today she is the only surviving cast member of the film.

 

Click below to watch Carla Laemmle in Dracula. She appears at one minute and 19 seconds into the film.

 

 

Besides Dracula, Carla had small roles in several films of the 1920s and 30s such as Topsy and Eva (1927), The Broadway Melody (1929), King of Jazz (1930) and the Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935). Also a dancer, she appeared in many venues including the one below at the Shrine Auditorium on June 11, 1931.

 

 Carla Laemmle ad

 

In 1936 she played Princess Quan Mui Mai in Her Majesty The Prince at the Music Box Theater. In 2001 Carla appeared in The Vampire Hunters Cluband this year co-authored a book about growing up on the Universa lot from 1921  to 1937 called Growing Up With Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes. Still active at 100, she recently attended the Cinecon banquet this past September. Happy Birthday Carla!

 

Carla Laemmle

Carla Laemmle at the recent Cinecon banquet in September (Photo by Allan R. Ellenberger)

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Universal Reopens Courthouse Square

Friday, June 19th, 2009

STUDIOS

Universal Studios backlot reopens

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Universal back lot

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The University of Southern California marching band, left, announces the rebuilt Courthouse Square film location at Universal Studios reopening for tours in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 18, 2009. The Courthouse Square, now fully restored, after the four-acre June 2008 fire in the historic backlot. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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Hollywood Landmark Razed…

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Laemmle Building Demolished!

 

 Demolition of the Laemmle Building last Friday

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger 

 

The historic Laemmle Building on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Vine was demolished last Friday. Preservationists contend that the tearing down of the building, built by Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle in 1932, is federally illegal. The building has been vacant since it was damaged in an unsolved arson fire in April.

 

The intersection of Hollywood and Vine has been famous since the 1930s because many of Hollywood’s important radio stations were located nearby.  “Brought to you from Hollywood and Vine” was a familiar opening to many early radio broadcasts.

 

The Laemmle Building in the 1950s

 

Carl Laemmle, paid the George W. Hoover (builder of the Hollywood Hotel) estate $350,000 for the property in 1925. At the time, that was the highest price paid for real estate in Hollywood (the lot sold for $15,000 in 1912). In 1928 Laemmle refused a $1,000,000 offer for the corner.

 

Originally Laemmle planned to build a 900-seat theater and office building valued at $250,000. At some point in mid 1932 revisions were made to build a one story building with foundation specifications for additional stories to be added later (which never came about). Designed by famed architect, Richard Neutra in the International Style, construction began in September 1932, and was completed early the following year.

 

The Laemmle Building fire last April 30th

 

At the time of the April fire, the building housed the Basque Nightclub and Restaurant, a popular celebrity hangout. Actress Lindsay Lohan celebrated her 21st birthday there and rap star Kanye West partied there earlier in April. Scenes from the movie Ocean’s Eleven were filmed there and the property had recently been sold as part of a renovation renaissance in Hollywood.

 

While many historic buildings have been saved from destruction in Hollywood (and many more have been lost), the sudden demolition of the Laemmle Building questions the commitment of city officials on preservation issues in Los Angeles.

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Universal Studios Fire…

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Low water pressure hampers fight against Universal Studios fire

 

 

A soundstage and several sets are lost as billowing smoke raises health concerns. The theme park remains closed today.

 

A studio set is engulfed as firefighters work to extinguish it early this morning at
Universal Studios.  (Los Angeles Times)

 

By Bettina Boxall, and Ari Bloomekatz and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
6:04 PM PDT, June 1, 2008 

 

Low water pressure hampered efforts today to fight a fire that raged through the Universal Studios back lot in Universal City, destroying a soundstage, the theme park’s King Kong attraction and film sets such as the Courthouse Square seen in Back to the Future and the New York streetscape from Bruce AlmightyREAD MORE

 

 Smoldering wreckage stretches on for blocks as firefighters continue battling a
blaze on the Universal Studios lot. (Los Angeles Times)

 

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