The story of Hollywood and the motion picture industry is perhaps America’s most quintessential immigrant success story. All of the major film studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age were founded by German and Eastern European immigrants or their descendants. Nearly all of them were of Jewish heritage; Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Studios, the Fox Film Corporation, and Columbia pictures stand as some examples. Universal Studios, one of the most iconic, was founded by German immigrant Carl Laemmle. Hollywood’s story would be very different without the “Laemmle Effect”—the vision of a pioneering German immigrant who built the largest film studio in the world at that time on a chicken ranch in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles a century ago.
Carl Laemmle was born Karl Laemmle in 1867 in Laupheim, Germany, to Jewish parents Judas Baruch and Rebekka. He attended a Jewish schoolhouse and also attended the Laupheim Latin school for two years. In 1884, at thea ge of 17, he immigrated to America after his mother’s death, because he had promised her that he would not leave as long as she was alive. He joined one of his uncles in Chicago and worked at various jobs there until he established himself at the Continental Clothing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he became director. He married the niece of the owner, Recha Stern, who had immigrated from Hintersteinau, Hessia. At the age of 39, and after twelve years in Oshkosh, he left for Chicago in 1906 to open his own clothing store.
The Two-Way Street from Berlin to Hollywood
The artistry of the early German cinema of the silent era attracted the Hollywood studios, who were eager to bring new talent to the American film industry. Directors, actors, and cinematographers who had worked in Berlin found their way to Hollywood and made their mark. The combination of German artistry and Hollywood commerce paved the way for the Golden Age of Hollywood that was to come, but many who followed these pioneers did not do so out of choice.