Tribute: Carla Laemmle, 104-Year-Old Actress

Posted on July 9, 2014 at 8:00 am

The actress Carla Laemmle has died at age 104.  She is not widely known, but is well worth remembering for her role in film history and her incandescent spirit.  Her uncle Carl Laemmle, whose name she adopted (her given name was Rebekah Isabelle) was the founder of Universal Studios.  She first began performing in his films as a teenager.  She never had a major role, but she did deliver the first spoken line in the first horror movie talkie.

The New York Times ran an obituary that can only be described as delightful.  It said that Laemmle

had a modest résumé of bit parts, mostly uncredited, in films of the 1920s and ’30s.

Those roles, according to the Internet Movie Database, included Auction Spectator, Coach Passenger and Oyster Shell. And though it was an oyster shell of spectacular proportions (see below), her credits were not the stuff of which careers are made.

But what made Ms. Laemmle a fan favorite at autograph shows and horror-film conventions in recent years was her durable, genial existence, which encapsulated nearly a century of Hollywood history.

Reared on the Universal Studios lot, she had a charmed cinematic girlhood, with the studio sets her playground and animals from Universal’s in-house zoo her de facto household pets.A wide-eyed beauty, she made her first screen appearance in “The Phantom of the Opera,” the 1925 Lon Chaney silent. After the coming of sound, she uttered the opening line of the 1931 “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi.

The naked abandon of Hollywood before the imposition of the Hays Code in 1930 can also be discerned without difficulty in Ms. Laemmle’s early work. (The oyster shell looms large in this.)

…  “I’m so looking forward to Universal’s 100th-anniversary party,” she told an interviewer in 2012, shortly before that event. “I’ll probably be the only one there who’s older than the studio.”


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