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June 8: Carl Laemmle

June 8, 2012

Universal Pictures was incorporated on this date in 1912 by Carl Laemmle, a German-born pioneer of the American film industry. Laemmle (pronounced lem-lee) was one of the first entrepreneurs to buy up nickelodeons and create a film-distribution network (which involved major legal battles with Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the motion picture camera) before merging his operation with several others to create Universal. He had a hand in the creation of some 400 films in the course of his career (Universal’s most enduring contributions were Showboat and the classic horror films of the 1930s, by which time Laemmle’s son Carl Jr. ran the studio). Laemmle was also the publicist behind Hollywood’s first film star, Florence Lawrence, for whom he got newspaper attention in 1910 by planting and then retracting a story that she’d been killed by a streetcar! In the 1930s, Laemle sponsored hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, paying their emigration and immigration expenses to the U.S. and lobbying the Congress and the State Department to let them in. He also unsuccessfully tried to save the Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis, who were returned to Europe. To see a Universal News clip featuring Laemmle defending Roosevelt's NRA, click here.

"His was the only studio that allowed tourists to visit (a practice that has evolved into a $100 million annual business with Universal Theme Parks in Los Angeles, Orlando and Osaka, Japan). On the lot he was affectionately referred to as Uncle Carl – though with his penchant for nepotism, for many the moniker wasn’t a nickname. At one point he was said to have had more than 70 relatives on the payroll, causing poet Ogden Nash to quip in verse, 'Uncle Carl Laemmle/Has a very large faemmle.'" —