Remembering CARLA LAEMMLE

PrintE-mail Written by Whitney Scott Bain

Carla Laemmle, who was featured in the Lon Chaney starring, silent screen version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925 and is the first person credited to speak dialogue in the 1931 version of DRACULA starring Bela Lugosi,  passed away quietly at 104.

A remarkable woman, Carla Laemmle was born on October 20th 1909 and was the niece of the famed Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Studios. Miss Laemmle and her family lived on the studio backlot in a mansion, which at the time was a sprawling acreage of trees and open land. Living there was an adventure for her, as movies were at their beginning stage. The studio even had a zoo that they kept with wild and exotic animals from all over the world. One day, one one of her many regular visits, a giraffe escaped its pen and ran amok through the grounds and down what is now Lankershim Boulevard, with film crews and actors frantically trying to corral him. It took several hours to round the giraffe up and production lost a day in filming.

As a young girl Miss Laemmle studied dance hoping to join the ballet when she was chosen to play a small role as one of the stage performers before the chandler falls on the audience in the 1928 version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. During the ‘20s, Miss Laemmle was also a model with several of her portraits now featured in museums and sought after by collectors from all over the world.

As a beautiful young woman, many suitors courted her during the time of prohibition in the late ‘20s.  A non-drinker herself, she was curious what these “speakeasys” were all about. Worried that she might be arrested when she and her date entered, she quickly felt at ease when she saw police officers, judges and local politicians all having a drink in the clubs!

In 1931, talking pictures had already been a success with audiences. Tod Browning’s supernatural thriller, DRACULA became an instant classic that is still revered today. Miss Laemmle is seen in the coach traveling to Dracula’s castle in the beginning of the film.

A few sporadic bits here and there, Miss Laemmle retired from the movie business in the ‘30s and didn’t act again until a small part in the 2005 VAMPIRE HUNTER’S CLUB, which this writer was associate producer on.

In 2009, her autobiographical book co-authored with Daniel Kinske, GROWING UP WITH MONSTERS: MY LIFE AND TIMES AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS IN RHYMES detailed her life on the backlot from 1921-1927.

On October 20th, 2009, Miss Laemmle celebrated her 100th birthday with guests Ron Chaney, Sara Karloff, Bela Lugosi Jr., Ray Bradbury and George Clayton Johnson.

In 2010, she appeared in the BBC documentary, A HISTORY OF HORROR WITH MARK GATTIS where she spoke fondly working with Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi noting that they were professional actors and gentlemen. 

Other appearances included MOGULS AND MOVIE STARS: A HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD for Turner Classics and Paul Merton’s BIRTH OF HOLLYWOOD for the BBC.

 In 2012, at the Turner Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, Miss Laemmle spoke at a special screening of DRACULA.

Film director and good friend of Miss Laemmle, Adam P. Cray, spent many hours interviewing and discussing a future project he was proposing to feature her before her passing. 

Miss Laemmle attended many local Los Angeles area conventions where fans got to meet her as she signed pictures and collectables for them. She also endorsed an animal sanctuary organisation located in England.

I was lucky to spent time with Miss Laemmle and listened to her sage advice. Quick witted, charming and a steel trap of a mind, she could recall everything beginning from when she was a child and at 104 that is a remarkable gift indeed. 

Truly, she was a woman of class and style; the likes of which we will never see again. They broke the mold when they made her. She will be missed, but always remembered.

Miss Laemmle was married briefly, but never had any children.

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