This post has been getting a lot of traffic since Carla died on June 12th, 2014, I thought I’d put it front and center…for she burned bright and long.
Today Laemmle is a tiny woman with curly, white hair and bright dancing eyes. She welcomes her visitor with a warm hug. Her house, where she’s lived for some 60 years off of Melrose Avenue near Normandie Avenue, is decorated with several photos of her including one in which she is rather scantily clad.
“I have some pictures that I’m not able to hang up there,” she confided with a smile.
“Tell her the story about the nude pictures,” piped up Laemmle’s grand-niece, Rosemary Hilb, who is an organizer of the birthday party. “Carl Laemmle was so upset,” said Hilb. “He thought he had destroyed them, but she was able to keep a set.”
“Everybody said you have a beautiful body and at that time, I thought, well I don’t mind showing it,” Laemmle said, smiling. “They are in very good taste but he frowned on that.”
Laemmle didn’t go to a regular school while she lived on the lot from 1923-36. “I had a private teacher,” she said. “At that time she taught at the Hollywood Hotel. She had a little table and there was a little room.”
When she wasn’t at school or taking ballet lessons, Laemmle would hang out on the sound stages at Universal. “I could go anyplace,” she said.
She visited the lavish set of 1923’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which starred Lon Chaney as the hunchback Quasimodo. “It was a church scene and he was climbing down [the church],” she said. “That was pretty fabulous to see.”
Two years later, she appeared as a prima ballerina in the Paris Opera House dance sequence in “Phantom of the Opera,” with Chaney. She also appeared with ballet companies in various movies during her years on the lot. “One was ‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929,” noted Hilb. “She had a big scene that Erte designed and she has a dance where she dances out of a clamshell.”
Laemmle famously uttered the opening line in “Dracula,” in which she tells the fellow passengers in the coach: “Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age….”
There are myriad ties to Hollywood’s fabled past. “My father was very good friends with Erich von Stroheim,” said Laemmle of the famed director (“Greed”) and actor (“Sunset Boulevard”). “Once he made a screen test with me and that was wonderful. He and my father spoke German together.”