It may have taken 90 years, but Thomas Edison has finally had his revenge against early movie producer Carl Laemmle.
The feud between the two shaped the movie biz, and Laemmle would have been shocked if he was told while unveiling Universal City in 1915 that Edison’s General Electric Co. would one day own the ground he stood on.
After Edison invented a device for showing moving pictures — the Kinetoscope — in 1893, the movie business was centered around New York City, which Edison dominated with his Motion Picture Patent Co.
Laemmle and independent producers such as Adolf Zukor and William Fox, though, refused to pay license fees to Edison and fled west to Los Angeles in good part to put 2,500 miles between their studios and Edison’s often ruthless patent enforcers.
“The film industry is full of odd ironies,” says Neal Gabler, author of early Hollywood history “An Empire of Their Own.”
But Laemmle, Gabler says, was first and foremost a shrewd businessman, and would have understood why a corporation like GE would eventually absorb the movie studio he started.
“Though it began as a raucous affair with sharkish behavior,” Gabler says, “fairly early on, the studios stabilized and Wall Street came in. More than a posthumous victory for Edison, it’s a truce.”