Carl Laemmle (left) first met Albert Einstein (right) when he invited him to Hollywood. Carl Laemmle (left) first met Albert Einstein (right) when he invited him to Hollywood. Carl Laemmle (left) first met Albert Einstein (right) when he invited him to Hollywood. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Einstein: A universal icon with a 'Universal' friendship

In unearthed video, watch Einstein speak with pal Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Studios.

From attending red carpet premieres with Charlie Chaplin to countless movies about the famed Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Albert Einstein had a long and storied history with Hollywood.

But few people know about his friendship with Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Studios.

Einstein kept detailed travel diaries, which are now mostly housed at his archives on the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew University. According to those notes, it seems the two first met at a December 1930 screening for "All Quiet on the Western Front," which later won an Oscar for both Best Picture and Best Director. “We drove to Hollywood to visit the film giant Laemmle,” Einstein wrote.

Laemmle and Einstein, both giants in their respective fields, had lived in southern Germany while growing up. Einstein was from Olm, Laemmle from Laupheim – 15 miles apart.

Einstein and Laemmle grew up near each other in Germany.Einstein and Laemmle grew up near each other in Germany. (Photo: YouTube)

After coming to the U.S. in 1887, Laemmle opened a nickel theater, or nickelodeon, in Chicago. It was so successful that he opened a second theater. His outsize goals eventually led him to launch his own distribution company.

That was in 1912. Soon after, Laemmle was making his own films and eventually moved Universal Studios from New Jersey to Hollywood, where it became a self-contained city, complete with its own police and fire departments, post office and school.

The photo of when Laemmle met Einstein became famous and is now visible to people who take the tour of NBC Studios.

But there's a little more to the story. When Laemmle met Einstein, he couldn’t resist getting some footage of the man he had long admired. Laemmle had two cameramen videotape Einstein and Laemmle talking. In German.

Antonia Carlotta, Laemmle's niece, produces a web series in which she discusses the early days of Universal. An English speaker and a huge Einstein fan, she just had to know what they were saying. So when she found the brief video of her favorite scientist online – talking to her uncle – Carlotta was ecstatic.

“It’s so unusual to find anything with Carl talking at all, let alone to somebody so important and so well known," she told From The Grapevine.

Carlotta said Laemmle told Einstein he wanted to show him around the studio, to see “how much meaning films can have. How important an art form it is.” Once there, “Carl introduced Einstein to Charlie Chaplin, who he was a big fan of, and the two of them started a friendship.”

Still in the U.S. three months later, Einstein attended a dinner party with Chaplin. There, he met actresses Claudette Colbert and Marion Davies, and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, among others.

Chaplin also invited Einstein to accompany him to the March 7, 1931, premiere of his movie "City Lights." The world-famous genius, who admired the silent big-screen star, was nonetheless “baffled by all the brouhaha and the crowds that greeted the two celebrities when they arrived for the opening,” according to Chaplin’s official website.

It was during Einstein’s third visit to the U.S., in 1932-33, that Einstein decided to stay. He never returned to Germany, and in 1940 he became a U.S. citizen. By then it was clear that Einstein loved Hollywood – and Hollywood loved him.

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