Carl Laemmle, the father of Universal Pictures, was reputedly the most good-natured and least neurotic of the studio bosses. After immigrating to America in 1884, he spent the next decade at a series of dead-end jobs, mostly in Chicago, then worked for another 12 years at a dry-goods store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A salary dispute led him to quit; he returned to Chicago with hopes of acquiring a store of his own, but he bought a nickelodeon instead.
Carl Laemmle & Universal City
In 1914, Carl Laemmle ordered his west coast manager, Isidore Bernstein, to buy the Taylor Ranch in Lankershim Township on the north side of the Hollywood Hills for the princely sum of $165,000; and Universal City was born. From its opening in 1915 until 1925, Universal Pictures, was the country’s leading film producer.
The studio could rightly boast launching the careers of a 19-year old Irving Thalberg who was hired as Laemmle’s $35 per week private secretary and rose within months to the rank of studio manager, later to defect to Louis B. Mayer Productions, and later to roll into Metro-Goldwyn Pictures). Other careers launched included directors John Ford, Jack Conway, George Marshall, Rex Ingram Lois Weber and Robert Z. Leonard. Universal Pictures held a talented roster of stars such as Lon Chaney, Mae Murray, Harry Carey and Rudolph Valentino.
Although Carl Laemmle made a handful of prestige productions, such as Blind Husbands (1919) and Foolish Wives (1922), his output consisted mostly of low-budget westerns and melodramas, churned out in a process designed to resemble a factory. Laemmle’s studio was more open than most: he virtually pioneered the concept of opening his gates to tourists from the outset. He was also famous for operating the most nepotistic studio in Hollywood for its size.
While other studios would be peppered with relatives of the top brass, at Universal nearly every one of ‘Uncle’ Carl’s relatives had a job there, including Carl Laemmle Jr., or “Junior” as he was known on the lot. Universal’s fortunes waned in the early 1930′, despite cashing in by virtually creating the talkie monster craze that remained strong from 1931 through 1935.
It was Laemmle’s occasional forays into quality production that caused the studio to stumble. By 1934, Carl Laemmle was spending far too much money for his stockholders to stomach, and after a costly flop with Sutter’s Gold (1936), he was forced to take out a $750,000 loan for the planned production of Show Boat (1936) . This ended up being Carl’s deal with the devil; he borrowed the money from an investment consortium, Standard Capital, headed by Charles Rogers and J. Cheever Cowdin. Production problems with the film added another $300,000 to the budget and the loan was called. By April 2, 1936, Rogers was in and the Laemmle era was over. Ironically, Show Boat was a hit, and despite his ouster, he went out on a high note.
[IMDb Mini Biography By: David S. Smith]