By Tom Meyers
Carl Laemmle, a German immigrant who had settled in the Midwest, came to Fort Lee in 1909 with his Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP) to shoot his first film Hiawatha, which was shot in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee. In 1912, Laemmle joined forces with a number of smaller studios and consolidated the studios into a new independent studio, Universal. Thus, Universal was born in Fort Lee and took occupancy of the Champion Studio. Laemmle by 1915 built a new Universal Studio on Main Street in Fort Lee which for a time was the largest studio in the USA. Simultaneously he created Universal City in California and soon he would lease his Fort Lee studio to Sam Goldwyn and then Lewis Selznick. Universal sold their studio property in Fort Lee in 1931 to Herbert J. Yates the head of Republic Studios and Consolidated Film Industries and the studio plant would become one of the largest film processing plants in the nation from 1931 through 1961.
Fort Lee Film Commission’s Tom Meyers was invited to the recent premiere of the new documentary film Carl Laemmle directed by James L. Freedman. The New York City premiere took place at the JCC of Manhattan and one of the producers of the documentary is Fort Lee Film Commission member Richard Koszarski.
This documentary taught much about the strength and character of Mr. Laemmle. Many knew Laemmle as an independent studio owner who fought Thomas Edison who controlled the patents and charged fees for use of cameras for studios not part of his Trust. And while Edison wanted to kill Universal and rid himself of Laemmle, though small in stature, Laemmle was a lion and fought Edison in the press and in the public arena as well as in the courts and eventually prevailed.
Laemmle used those same skills in the 1930s to save scores of Jews in Germany from the Nazis. Laemmle saw the danger of Hitler and he knew it was up to him and others to try to save as many Jewish families as he could from certain death at the hands of Hitler. Laemmle worked petitioning the US government and he spent much of his time and fortune to save Jewish refugee families. This film is of critical importance at this time and frankly in any time. Following the documentary, Meyers met several people in attendance whose families were saved from the Nazis by Mr. Laemmle.
This is why we are so proud that the Fort Lee Film Commission in 1912, the centennial of the creation of Universal Studio in Fort Lee, petitioned the Mayor & Council to erect a commemorative street sign on the corner of Fifth Street and Washington Avenue to be named Carl Laemmle Way. This sign is placed on Fifth Street in Coytesville, the street where Universal was born in 1912, and it serves as a reminder of not only a great filmmaker but of a great humanitarian. We hope to screen this documentary in 2020 at the Barrymore Film Center in conjunction with an exhibit on Universal Studio and Carl Laemmle. Mr. Laemmle will indeed have one of our first stars on our Walk of Fame outside the BFC which will be dedicated on our opening night of February 15th, 2020.