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Max Laemmle Dies at 82; Showcased Foreign Films

Times Staff Writer

Max Laemmle, who emigrated from Europe to the United States to start a small chain of American motion picture houses and then ironically made a success of them by showing European movies, died Friday of respiratory problems at his Beverly Hills home.

He was 82 and a memorial is scheduled Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the University of Judaism.

Laemmle, who last year observed the 50th anniversary of his first Los Angeles theater, was a cousin of “Uncle Carl” Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures. He was working for Carl Laemmle in Paris as head of the French division of the studio when he came to Los Angeles in 1938 with his brother, Kurt.

Began With 2 Theaters

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They began by leasing two small neighborhood theaters--the Dale and the Franklin--in Highland Park. Besides offering four features a week, the new owners gave away dishes and anything else they could to attract business during the Depression.

When the war broke out they leased the Los Feliz, a theater that, like the Dale and Franklin, showed films several weeks after their debut.

The Los Feliz and the Royal, another Laemmle house, for many years were the premier art houses of Los Angeles--the theaters where the new cinema of Ingmar Bergman, Jean Luc-Godard and Francois Truffaut first became familiar to local moviegoers.

The shift to these avant-garde features was not by choice, Max’s son, Bob, recalled in an interview last year.

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“Television,” he said “killed the Highland Park theaters.”

But such neo-realistic films as “Open City” and “The Bicycle Thief” whetted the appetites of a new generation of filmgoers--war veterans who would never again be able to fantasize over Hollywood’s gossamer as they had before; and their wives and children who had first seen Europe devastated in newsreels and now saw it again in the post-war films as a backdrop for characters struggling to recapture the common threads of their humanity.

Max Laemmle organized a French film festival and persuaded the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael to write the program notes. The Laemmles developed a loyal following and at one point had a mailing list of more than 6,000 people who were lured regularly to their theaters.

French Films, Opera

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French students and their teachers occupied the theaters on Wednesday mornings to view French films tailored to their needs. So did opera and Shakespeare enthusiasts, at other times when screens would have been blank.

Over the years their family chain came to include the Music Hall, the Fine Arts, the Monica Fourplex, the Grande Fourplex, the Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town & Country Triplex in Encino. There also will be five new Laemmle theaters when construction is completed on the site of the old Schwab drug store at Crescent Heights and Sunset Boulevard.

It was not all rosy, however; higher rents forced the Laemmles out of the Los Feliz where many of their classics had screened.

But at a profit or loss, the Laemmles provided one basic service to the film industry: Most of the time their theaters were the first to screen the short subjects and documentaries being offered for Academy Award consideration.

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Max Laemmle’s honors over the years included being made a chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, a special achievement award from the L.A. Film Critics Assn. and the Community College of Jewish Studies Tikum Olam award.

In addition to his son and his brother, Laemmle is survived by his wife, Bobby, a daughter, Margaret Reisbaum, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

The man who loved movies. Page 1, Calendar.


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