Documentary Blog #9 – Carla Laemmle – Silent Screen Star, Hungry Senior

Carla Laemmle Dancer Headshot

One of Carla Laemmle's many headshots

My first big interview/contact for the documentary is a former silent film star, Carla Laemmle.  She is the niece of Universal Studios founder, Carl Laemmle and got her big break in Hollywood as a dancer in the original version of the 1929 “Phantom of the Opera.”  She also had a speaking role in the 1931 original version of the movie “Dracula” featuring screen icon Bella Lugosi.  One would think that a former actress with ties to Universal Studios would not have to go hungry.  However, her uncle sold Universal Studios in the 1930s because of the financial effects of the Great Depression.  So, the studios have not been in the family for more than 70 years.  I have to admit I was a little, ok, make that a lot, nervous about meeting and interviewing her.  I have interviewed a lot of celebrities/actors/actresses in my previous life and that wasn’t the issue.  I had never interviewed someone who was 101 years old.  I didn’t know how her cognitive functioning would be, if she would be able to hear me or if she would remember everything I wanted to know about that has occurred during the course of her life.  Yes, I stereotyped her and thought of everything that could possibly go wrong.  But, as a producer/director I had to think about these things and come up with a “Plan B.”  But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that I was guilty of generalizing about senior citizens.
Carla Laemmle Dancer Photograph

Carla was an incredibly accomplished dancer throughout her life.

I arrived at her house at 10am on the morning of our interview.  Someone from Sister Sam’s office (Darryl Twerdahl) was also meeting me there since they had helped in setting up the interview.  I had met Darryl before and really liked her so having her there was really comforting too.  I saw Darryl and she took my camera operator (Frank Nolan) and me into meet Carla.  When I first met her I was completely blown away, surprised and shocked to see how absolutely beautiful she is and how well she presented herself.  Of course she was “putting on the dog” since we were there to interview her but she looked great.  And, after talking with her for a couple of minutes I knew the interview would go swimmingly considering she was as sharp as a tack and could provide any and all answers to the myriad of questions I was going to ask her.
Carla Laemmle Senior Hunger, Carla Laemmel Ballerina

Carla Laemmle looking at a picture of her as a ballerina.

As a documentarian, it’s my job to ask questions that are nice, not so nice and possibly offensive.  I have to ask all the questions people watching this documentary might possibly ask.  So, I gave her some parameters about the questions and told her I am going to ask a lot of questions and some of them might make her mad.  I asked her to just answer the questions as best as she could and if they make her mad then please don’t end the interview or walk away but just understand I have to ask a lot of questions.  I felt bad saying that to her because she is such an awesomely sweet lady but it’s something I say to every interviewee and my way of getting the truth.  She obliged and was willing to answer any and all questions as best as she can remember.  I absolutely LOVE her.
Carla Laemmle Sitting at her house, Laemmle Theaters

Carla Laemmle sitting outside her house and posing for an impromptu photo shoot with me.

We stayed at her house for about 4 hours, which was 2 hours longer than expected.  But she wanted to talk with us and was open to share her life with me.  She showed us the boxes and boxes of fan mail she still receives, the photos she signs for her adoring fans and the various memorabilia from her life.  I cannot tell you all the things we talked about that day because I want you to watch the documentary once it’s completed! J  However, I will leave you with one thing that we discussed.  I asked Carla, “Why don’t you go to a nursing home instead of living by yourself?  At least you can have constant companionship and care, right?”  She responded as brilliantly and as insightfully as I could have hoped.  She responded to my question by saying, “Even though I am 101 years old I like living in my home.  I have lived here for more than 70 years and I still think I have a lot to offer this world.  I still think I can contribute something.” That was an absolutely wonderful response.  ‘Nuff said!
Boxes of Fan Mail, Hollywood Star, Carla Laemmle

Here are two boxes completely filled with fan mail and requests for autographs. At 101 years old, Carla Laemmle is still adored by people around the world.

If you want to contribute to this documentary and help me finish it then please do so at my page -
Carla Laemmle, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Hollywood

Carla Leammle reminiscing about her many, many roles and experiences in life

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