100 Years of Hollywood – “The Laemmle Effect”

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.

Although Laemmle’s influence on the growth of the film industry is essential, Germany itself played an important role, especially during the early years of filmmaking. German and Austrian directors made ground-breaking films in Europe, many in the German Expressionist style that greatly influenced their contemporaries in America in set design, cinematography and the development of the genre of horror films. Early German actors created iconic characters in their pioneering roles.  American directors knew genius when they saw it, and they lured much of Germany’s top talents like Ernst Lubitsch, Marlene Dietrich, and Conrad Veidt to work in America in the 1920s. The flow of talent for early filmmaking often involved a round-trip ticket from Berlin to Hollywood.

When Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany 1933, much of Germany‘s Jewish movie talent was forced into exile, and the majority of them ended up in Hollywood.  Germany’s Golden Age of filmmaking had ended, but the Golden Age of Hollywood had begun.  Nearly 800 Jewish exiles from Hitler’s Europe came to Hollywood and worked in every phase of film production.  Their influence in the industry was profound and continued after the war, as the vast majority of them stayed in America.

100 Years of Hollywood- “The Laemmle Effect” explores the fascinating lives of those who risked everything to continue their craft in the face of a systemmatic, violent oppression. Their legacies and those of their successors from the German and German-American communities continue to shape the film industry even today.