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Carl Laemmle Jr.

Carl Laemmle Jr.

Though still relatively inexperienced in overseeing feature films, Laemmle, Jr. believed firmly in his father's credo of producing genre films for middle-class moviegoers. He also saw that the company was falling behind in regard to technological advances like Technicolor and sync-sound production, and delved deeply into the studio's funds to upgrade Universal's ability to turn out these sort of pictures. Though expensive, the results paid off: the company soon earned sizable hits with its first all-color musical, "King of Jazz" (1930), as well as an adaptation of "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) which won the Best Picture Oscar that year. He also struck upon the idea of producing film versions of classic horror literature, beginning in 1931 with "Dracula," which hewed closer to a 1920 stage version than the novel by Bram Stoker. It proved exceptionally popular, and led to a string of classic fright films, including "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Mummy" (1932), "The Invisible Man" (1934) and "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), which made icons of its leads, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.But with the success of these pictures also came costly failures, including back-to-back adaptations of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (1934) and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (1934), and "Sutter's Gold" (1936). Such setbacks came in the midst of the Great Depression, which made it difficult for Universal to recoup the costs for even their biggest hits. Efforts were soon made to stem the tide of money leaving the studio, including the dissolution of the Universal theater chain Laemmle, Jr. had established, but they came too late. Production costs on a remake of one of Laemmle, Jr.'s earliest hits, a film version of the Broadway musical "Showboat" (1935), had overrun by $300,000. Laemmle, Jr. had gone against his father's long-standing policy of funding his projects with the studio's own money by taking out a $750,000 loan from the investment consortium, Standard Capital. J. Cheever Cowdin, who co-headed Standard Capital, proposed to buy out the Laemmles, which resulted in their ouster and Cowdin's partner, Charles Rogers, assuming the presidency of Universal Studios.Laemmle, Jr. worked briefly for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a production executive from 1936 to 1937, but produced no features during this period. He subsequently slipped into obscurity, though the films he oversaw during his brief tenure as the head of Universal would continue to enjoy popularity with generations of moviegoers. Laemmle, Jr. never married, though he was engaged briefly to the actress Constance Cummings. His father, who refused to allow his son to marry a gentile, called off the union. Laemmle, Jr. died of a stroke at the age of 71 on Sept. 24, 1979, exactly 40 years to the day after his father's own death in 1939. By Paul Gaita
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