Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle Sr., passed away this past Thursday at the age of 104. Laemmle was a dancer and actress who grew up on the Universal lot in the 20s and early to mid 30s. She had small roles in such films as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and spoke the first lines in Dracula (1931).
The silent film era seems like so long ago. It’s stars – people like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, and Gloria Swanson – are the stuff of film legend. They almost don’t seem real to me. If you look beyond the 2-D black and white images, though, you find living, breathing people as colorful and multifaceted as anyone you might meet today. I will never get a chance to experience this side of the silent generation. One woman did.
Let’s not over exaggerate, Laemmle would not have met every silent or early talkie star out there. The very idea that she would’ve met even one boggles my mind. These people and this era of movies that seems so elusive to me, she got to experience firsthand.
We have left so few direct links to the early days of film. A couple days ago, we lost yet another. She had the Golden Age of Hollywood living and dancing in her head. She shared her experience and knowledge with filmbuffs time and again. Her name may never have lit up a Hollywood marquee but she will certainly be remembered by lovers of classic movies.