While attending the first annual Irvine International Film Festival (IIIF), I had the auspicious occasion to meet and interview Carla Laemmle. At age 102 Ms. Laemmle defies any notion of what a centenarian looks and acts like. Standing straight and strong, she entered the theater on the arm of her male friend and escort. She was smiling, truly radiant, with glowing, smooth skin. The attention of the paparazzi and cluster of fans seemed merely to energize her.
During the Q&A I asked her if she knows Lady Gaga, and laughingly she told me, “Of course!” I wanted to know because there were so many ways to compare her and Lady Gaga: Ms. Laemmle’s determination to stand apart from the traditional, her revealing costumes, her artistic development, her stride toward perfection in her art, loving her body, posing nude, her Buddhist philosophies and her nontraditional open relationships. She was and continues to definitely be ahead of her time.
After the West Coast premiere of her fascinating documentary, Among the Rugged Peaks: the Carla Laemmle Story, Ms. Laemmle was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the IIIF. Starring Carla Laemmle as herself and narrated by Sally Kirkland, the film beautifully depicts Ms. Laemmle’s intriguing life, highlighting her stunning career as a classically trained dancer and successful actress, her rebellious spirit, and her remarkable family, including her famous uncle Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures.
Throughout her life she has followed her diverse artistic passions and appeared in a wide array of films, such as King of Jazz in 1930 with George Gershwin, The Phantom of the Opera in 1925 with Lon Chaney, and Night and Day in 1946 with Cary Grant.
Carla Laemmle is one of the oldest living silent film stars, and the first ever to speak in a talking horror picture, Dracula (1931). Just this past year she wrapped up filming on the feature film Mansion of Blood alongside other horror veterans, including Gary Busey. Ironically, she had the closing line in this film. So, from the opening line in a 1931 film to the closing line in a 2011 film eighty years later, Carla certainly has come full circle.
Long live Carla Laemmle!