Edward Muhl spent over 45 years at Universal Pictures and, as head of production (a position he held for over 20 years), was responsible for, or played key roles in, some of the studio's most important decisions. Muhl's contributions range from the technical (he was instrumental in persuading studio heads to shoot most of their films in Technicolor rather than the cheaper black-and-white) to the purely business (he made the deal that allowed MCA to purchase Universal in the early '60s).
Like many of Hollywood's early players, Muhl had a rather roundabout entry into the entertainment industry. The following account comes from his son, Phillip Muhl. Edward E. Muhl was born in Chester, IN. In 1921, his family migrated west after his father lost his job at a local foundry. The family settled in Santa Ana, CA, where Muhl completed high school. Following graduation, he took a correspondence course in accounting and worked in a bookstore until the shopkeeper moved his operation to Hollywood. The owner wanted Muhl to move, too, but refused to give the young man a raise, so Muhl remained. Subsequently, an employment agency sent him to Barker Brothers to interview for the position of stock mattress clerk. On interview day, Muhl went to the wrong floor and was mistaken for a recently hired bookkeeper by a manager and was almost immediately put to work. Like many companies of the day, Barker Brothers utilized Powers adding machines. These were notoriously cranky contraptions and, due to a design flaw, frequently broke down. As the company forbade employees to do their own repairs, a minor breakdown meant having to wait up to two hours for a repairman. Muhl noticed the actual repair only took a couple of minutes and he also paid attention to the tool used for fixing the machine. Seeing that fixing them was ridiculously simple, Muhl had a similar tool made at a local machine shop and, disregarding the rules, quietly fixed his own machine. Whereas other department bookkeepers were constantly contending with delays from breakdowns, Muhl managed to have the highest output in the office and soon became known as a whiz kid.
Universal Pictures also used Powers machines. Hearing of Muhl's amazing abilities, they lured him away from Barker Brothers in 1927. The hardworking and enterprising Muhl was soon promoted from bookkeeper to head of the studio's accounting department. His immediate supervisor found this irksome and, taking a subtle approach toward ridding himself of the young hotshot, appointed him the personal bookkeeper to studio president Carl Laemmle. Until then, no one had managed to survive long in that position. But Muhl was different. Apparently uncowed by Laemmle's status, Muhl was straightforward with his opinions and advice, something that impressed Laemmle enough to promote Muhl to head of the legal department even though he had no legal training, let alone a college education. Thus began his long tenure at Universal, one that survived the upheaval of a succession of owners and major management changes. Despite the internal storms that plagued the studio, Muhl flourished, receiving several major promotions, until he became head of production in the 1950s. He held that position until 1969, when he left to become a production consultant.