Universal Pictures, or Universal Studios, has been around for a little over a century and it is currently regarded amongst the top six movie studios in America. It grosses billions of dollars in revenue annually and produces major hits and movie stars. Universal is also owned by a giant media conglomerate known as NBC Universal, which is quite different from its humble beginnings. This paper will provide a brief insight into the relationship between Universal Pictures and its impact on the movie industry along with how Universal became a big name in Hollywood.
The man who started it all was Carl Laemmle. Born in Württemberg Germany, Laemmle was the tenth of thirteen children, eight of which died of a cruel epidemic of scarlet fever. At the age of thirteen, he was apprenticed to a family friend as a bookkeeper and office manager. A few years later, at the age of seventeen, Carl persuaded his father to let him buy passage to the United States. After arriving, Carl worked as an errand boy in New York for a short while then moved to Chicago where his brother Joseph lived. There Carl worked as an office boy until his next move took him to Wisconsin. There he worked in a clothing company and met his wife Recha Stern who gave birth to a son, Carl Jr., and a daughter , Rosabelle. Carl got into an argument with his employer and moved back to Chicago looking for an enterprise that might multiply his family’s savings. Carl decided to go into the film industry after seeing The Great Train Robbery, which left a “heavy impression” and a profound business idea (Zeirold 89). In 1906, Laemmle began purchasing nickelodeons. As Laemmle’s business bloomed, the Motion Picture Patents Company was born, which sparked one of his many contributions to the industry, the Independent Moving Pictures Company of America.
Founded in 1909, the Independent Moving Pictures Company of America, condensed to IMP, was created to spite the MPPCo. IMP caused its biggest blow to the MPPCo when they snatched up Florence Lawrence, nicknaming her the “Biograph Girl,” and produced many hit films with her, thus creating the star system we know today. In 1910, Carl joined another organization named the Motion Picture Distributing and Sales Company. This company led to the downfall of the MPPCo and the creation of major studios, such as, MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures), Twentieth Century-Fox, Paramount Studios, and Universal Pictures.
Universal, whose name came from Laemmle “observing” a Universal Pipe Fittings wagon, was created from the remnants of IMP and was sited in New York (Dick 33). The new Universal studio was a horizontally integrated company, with movie production and distribution of exhibition venues. As Laemmle’s business grew he searched for a new foothold to permanently house his studio and, following the westward trend of the industry, by the end of 1912 the company was focusing its production efforts in the Hollywood area. On March 15, 1915, Laemmle opened the world's largest motion picture production facility, Universal City Studios, on 230 acres of converted farm just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood. Studio management became the third facet of Universal's operations, with the studio incorporated as a distinct subsidiary organization. Unlike other movie moguls, Laemmle opened his studio to tourists. Universal became the biggest studio in Hollywood, and remained so for a decade. However, it sought an audience mostly in small towns, producing mostly inexpensive westerns, melodramas, and serials.
The reason for Laemmle’s low budget and lower-class films were because he personally funded all of Universal’s endeavors. One of his greatest “investments” was character actor Lon Chaney, nicknamed “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Chaney started working for Universal when it began in 1912, but was not truly recognized until 1918 in the silent picture Riddle Gawne. He began his early career presented as a team...