Actress and dancer Carla Laemmle, who was one of the few surviving links to Hollywood’s silent era and the niece of Universal Pictures studio founder Carl Laemmle, died at her Los Angeles home on Thursday evening. Laemmle was 104.
Born Rebecca Isabelle “Carla” Laemmle on October 20, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, she moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920s when her uncle invited his brother Joseph and his family to live in a bungalow on the movie lot.
Her first role in show business came as an uncredited ballerina in the famous 1925 silent film version of “The Phantom of the Opera” starring Lon Chaney. She would go on to have a small, yet important part, in the 1931 Bela Lugosi horror film “Dracula.” Carla (uncredited as a bespectacled Coach Passenger) spoke the first lines of dialogue in the film when she said:
“Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age… .”
In the 1999 documentary, “The Road to Dracula,” Laemmle proudly states:
“I had the privilege of speaking the first lines of dialogue in the first talking supernatural thriller.”
Laemmle continued to appear in small roles until the late 1930s when she disappeared from the movies. She briefly came out of retirement in 2001 to play an Elder Vampire in the direct-to-video release of “The Vampire Hunter’s Club.”
In 2009, Carla co-authored a book with Daniel Kinske entitled, Growing Up with Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes. The book details her life at Universal Studios from 1921 to 1937.
She continued to remain active by appearing in the October 2010 BBC Four documentary “A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss” where she discussed working with Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi as well as reciting her opening lines from “Dracula.” In the following month, she appeared in the documentary “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood” for Turner Classic Movies. In May of 2011, she appeared in Paul Merton’s “Birth of Hollywood” on the BBC. In March of 2012, she was a guest of Turner Classic Movies at a screening of “Dracula” in connection with its Classic Movie Festival.
In a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times, film historian Scott Essman called Laemmle nearly “the last tie to an era that is pretty much gone. When you talk about these great Universal films of that period — we are at a point now that it is all memory.”
At the time, Laemmle was looking forward to her 103rd birthday party. She told the Times:
“I never thought about age. I always had a feeling that I was in my 20s.”
Friend and artist Robert Aragon put together a loving tribute to the beautiful actress and dancer entitled, “In Memory of Carla Laemmle.” Just click on the “Play” arrow to watch.
(Special thanks to Red Dot Studio.)
From all of us at Nuke the Fridge, “Rest in Peace Carla!”
Sources: Robert Aragon, wikipedia, losangelestimes