Creating Hollywood’s Dream World. The Contribution of Carl Laemmle
Neuere/Neueste Geschichte
Immigrant Entrepreneurship. The German-American Experience in the 19th and 20th Century


Creating Hollywood’s Dream World. The Contribution of Carl Laemmle

Referent/in: Cristina Stanca Mustea, Heidelberg


Considered a “pioneer among pioneers and the first independent producer of the motion-picture business” (The Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1939, p. 1) Carl Laemmle left an important mark in the history of film industry. He was more than an initiator and a road opener for the film industry: he was a believer in the promises of the American Dream of freedom and success. Born in 1867 in Laupheim, a small village in South-West Germany, Carl Laemmle, the son of a poor Jewish farmer, immigrated to the United States in 1884, at the age of 17. He spent most of his first years in odd jobs, trying to integrate in the new environment and learn English. He was a clerk, a pharmacist’s helper and a farmer in the Mid-West. Eventually he moved to Oshkosh, to work in a retailer firm. For twenty years, he was nothing more than a usual German immigrant facing the challenges of acculturation in the United States. But in 1906, Carl Laemmle gave up the retail to enter the booming world of nickelodeons and the magic of film business. This decision was to influence the development of the American film industry like nothing before it. The opening of Universal Pictures in Hollywood, on March 15, 1915, transformed the German immigrant of Jewish origin into America’s biggest film producer. Laemmle was a man of many “firsts” as he inaugurated innovative production techniques, such as the star system, built the first major film studio in Hollywood, a city dedicated entirely to film production, invested for the first time a million of dollars into a movie and gave the chance to women directors to take charge of their productions. Moreover, Laemmle maintained close connections to Germany and often acted as a transatlantic mediator between Germany and the United States. He supported the German team for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1932, promoted German writers in the United States and acted as an ambassador for the German cause after the end of WWI. Starting with 1934, Laemmle began an active campaign against the prosecution of the German-Jews and used all his influence to gather support for his cause. Until 1939, he succeeded in paying affidavits for over 300 Germans of Jewish origin, saving their lives in this way. In Laemmle’s interpretation, Hollywood was a representation of the American Dream, but one that he lived on two continents he considered home.