Carla Laemmle, One of the Last Silent Film Stars, Turns 102

The niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle is still making movies, eight decades after her first role

Carla Laemmle had one of the great career pauses in Hollywood history. In 1936 she starred in The Adventures of Frank Merriwell; in 2010 she had a part in Pooltime. That’s 74 years between gigs.

The silent film star is celebrating her 102nd birthday on Oct. 20. On the 22nd she’s having a party in Beverly Hills where she’ll discuss her show business life. It began in 1921 when she came to Los Angeles where her uncle was Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. She lived in a house on the lot.

She was the prima ballerina in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera; the maid in 1928’s The Gate Crasher, and, most famously, spoke the opening line of dialogue in the first talking horror film, 1931’s Dracula: “Among the rugged peaks that crown down upon the Borgo Pass, are found crumbling castles of a bygone age."

Laemmle, who freely admits she’s from a bygone age herself, says her early life at Universal “was like living in a fantasy land. There was a zoo on the back lot and you could hear the lions roar in the morning,” she recalls. “There was a camel that would get loose and come graze on our lawn. I’d go out with a dish of oatmeal and lure him into one of the garages.”

The actress, who has a part in the upcoming Mansion of Blood starring Gary Busey, says she sees the biggest change in filmmaking as being “sound. That’s that quite a big difference.”