Carla Laemmle: 'Dracula' 1931 Actress Dead at 104

by Andre Soares
Carla Laemmle
Carla Laemmle.

'Dracula' 1931 actress Carla Laemmle dead at 104

Carla Laemmle, a bit player in a handful of silent movies and at the dawn of the sound era – e.g., the horror classics The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Dracula (1931) – and a niece of Universal Studios co-founder Carl Laemmle, died on June 12 at her Los Angeles home. Laemmle, who had reportedly been in good health, was 104 years old.

Born Rebekah Isabelle Laemmle on Oct. 20, 1909, in Chicago, Carla Laemmle was less known for her movie work than for having survived most of her contemporaries and for her family connection to the Universal mogul – her father, Joseph Laemmle, was Carl's brother.

'Dracula' actress was a member of Carl Laemmle's 'very large faemmle'

“Uncle Carl Laemmle, Has a very large faemmle,” once half-joked poet Ogden Nash, in reference to Laemmle's penchant for hiring family members. As Laemmle's niece, Carla Laemmle was featured in bit parts in several Universal movies, most notably as a dancer in Rupert Julian's The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney in the title role and Mary Philbin as the object of his mad obsession; and at the beginning of Tod Browning's Dracula, starring Hungarian import Bela Lugosi as a replacement for Chaney, who had died of cancer the previous year. David Manners and Helen Chandler were the 1931 Dracula's romantic leads.

Also of note, Carla Laemmle would later claim she made a screen test directed by none other than Erich von Stroheim, the top – and most extravagant – Universal filmmaker of the early '20s. Laemmle would never work for von Stroheim.

Carla Laemmle movies

According to the IMDb, Carla Laemmle – usually uncredited; sometimes billed as Beth Laemmle – had bit parts in about a dozen movies, mostly as a chorine in musical numbers. At Universal, besides The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula, her movies included Harry A. Pollard's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1927); William James Craft's comedy The Gate Crasher (1928); and John Murray Anderson's King of Jazz (1930), a 1930 musical extravaganza featuring bandleader Paul Whiteman, top Universal star Laura La Plante, and newcomer John Boles, among others.

Laemmle is also supposed to have danced in two 1929 MGM productions: Charles Reisner's The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Harry Beaumont's Best Picture Academy Award winner The Broadway Melody.

In recent years, Carla Laemmle returned to acting, being featured in four minor independent productions: Mike Donahue's Pooltime (2010); Matthew A. Lanoue's A Sad State of Affairs (2013); and The Extra (2014), also directed by Donahue, and featuring Tyrone Power Jr. and veteran John Saxon. The IMDb also lists as an upcoming 2014 release Donahue's Mansion of Blood, featuring Laemmle, Power Jr., 1978 Best Actor Oscar nominee Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story), and 1952 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Terry Moore (Come Back, Little Sheba).

On stage, according to a 2012 Los Angeles Times piece by Susan King, Carla Laemmle had one of the leads in Her Majesty, the Prince at the Hollywood Music Box in 1936. The play was written by Raymond Cannon, a former actor (D.W. Griffith's True Heart Susie), whose behind-the-screen credits included the scenario for the 1925 Buster Keaton comedy Go West, and the direction of several films at various studios in the late '20s and early '30s (e.g., Red Wine, Joy Street, Swanee River).

Carla Laemmle can also be briefly seen in Kevin Jordan's 2012 Web series Broken Dreams Blvd, recreating a scene purportedly from Cecil B. DeMille's 1914 Western The Squaw Man, the first feature film shot in Hollywood.

Carla Laemmle: Later years

After the end of her Hollywood stint, Carla Laemmle danced at nightclubs in the Los Angeles area. Raymond Cannon would later become her companion until his death in 1977. Also as per the Los Angeles Times article, “during the war” Laemmle was briefly married to a bigamist.

Regarding her longevity, Laemmle told the Times, “I never thought about age. I always had a feeling that I was in my 20s.”

In the past couple of weeks, besides Carla Laemmle Hollywood has also lost actresses Martha Hyer (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Some Came Running, 1958), Ruby Dee (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for American Gangster, 2007), Joan Lorring (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for The Corn Is Green, 1945), and Paramount leading lady Mona Freeman (Dear Brat, Branded). (See also: Movie actors of the 1930s still alive: Olivia de Havilland, Maureen O'Hara, Danielle Darrieux, and others.)

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