Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mr. Harold Lloyd

Keaton. Lloyd. Chaplin. That is how I rate the three great silent comedians. I know other people have different opinions, which is cool...but, this is my blog so there :)

Getting into silent film, and even before, I remember seeing the famous picture of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hand of the clock tower. Even people who aren't fans of silent film have probably seen this image before. Well, it made me curious and I went out and got a copy of Safety Last because I wanted to see the comedian in action. I was used to seeing Buster and Chaplin's form of comedy, and Lloyd's was unique and funny in his own way. He was also a dreamy looking...I am a sucker for boys in glasses I guess. I had a chance to see The Freshman at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor about a year ago and it was wonderful! Seriously, for me, there is nothing that makes me smile more than seeing a silent film on the big screen with accompanying organ. It makes you feel like you are going back in time...and that you are right there with Harold Lloyd or whoever is on the screen.

Harold was just so endearing that you were rooting for him the whole time you were watching the film. He was also a great man off screen, which counts for a lot in my book. I adore him.

He was born Harold Clayton Lloyd on April 20, 1893 in Burchard, Nebraska. His parents James and Elizabeth divorced when he was a child, and Harold chose to stay with his father. They soon moved to Omaha where he first began to hone his acting skills. The two then headed west to San Diego.

He befriended Hal Roach and began working for his studio in comedies. In 1914, actress Bebe Daniels was hired to act in a series of shorts with Harold. She left after five years to pursue her own acting career and was replaced by Mildred Davis.

Harold's first character was known as Lonesome Luke, which was his take on Chaplin's Tramp character (He really does look like Chaplin as this character. Chaplin and Hitler actually). For two years, he appeared in about 60+ shorts as this character. He soon began to realize that in order to really make a splash, he needed to create his own character instead of just imitating other comedians.

So, "The Glasses Character" was born. He was an everyman, someone who the audience could identify with. Also, Hal Roach told Harold that he was too handsome and needed some sort of disguise to play down his looks. Instead of a mustache ala Chaplin, he chose glasses (The lenses of the glasses were removed).

As this new character, Harold began making feature length films. Some hits were Grandma's Boy (1922), Safety Last (1923), Girl Shy (1924), and The Freshman (1925).

The films were very successful, and soon Harold himself became quite a star around Hollywood. A well off one at that. He started his own production company and began to produce more films that spanned from dark comedy to screwball.

Harold and Bebe Daniels

During the 1930s and the Depression, his character began to get old for audiences. He sold his company and made a few films for other studios into the 1940s. He appeared in the film The Sins of Harold Diddlebock, a film that was financed by Howard Hughes. The film contains parts from his past films but was quite sloppily put together and written within a matter of weeks. It was later reissued, cut, and under a different name, which greatly upset Harold. He sued Hughes and the studio for damaging his screen image and walked away with a settlement.

Like many stars, Harold turned to other mediums when the talkies came around. He got into radio and did shows for NBC and Lux. He stayed doing this until about 1950 when quietly retired, although he did make a few tv appearances on various shows such as This is Your Life.

In 1953, he received an Academy Award for "being a master comedian and a good citizen." Apparently the second part was a hit to Chaplin who targeted as being a communist. Even with all the political undertones and BS...Harold accepted it with pride.

Harold Lloyd passed away on March 8, 1971 of prostate cancer.

He was interred at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Harold only married once, to actress and costar Mildred Davis. They married in 1923 and stayed married until her death in 1969. The couple had two kids, a daughter Gloria and a son Harold Jr. They also adopted a daughter named Marjorie, who they called Peggy.

Bebe Daniels was a long time love of his as well. They were engaged for a time, but they eventually split. They did remain friends though. I thought I remember hearing somewhere that he had also romanced costar Jobyna Ralston, but I don't remember when or from where, so don't quote me on that.

Harold, Mildred, and family lived in a beautiful mansion they called "Greenacres." The palace had 44 rooms and its own golf course. Even though the grounds have been divided, the main house still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Son Harold Lloyd Jr. had a brief acting career himself. His film The Flaming Urge was actually filmed in my hometown of Monroe, Michigan (Pretty damn cool!). He was also a homosexual which was treated quite well by his famous father. After his father died, he slipped into alcoholism and died of a stroke only a few months after Harold. He was only 34.

Besides acting, Harold enjoyed photography. He was famous for his nudes and for photographing such famous ladies as Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe (I was quite shocked when I read the words "nude" and "Harold Lloyd" in the same paragraph a few years ago when I was really getting into silent film. I couldn't see him and naked ladies in my head and have it make sense. Thank God this wasn't a case of Bob Crane).

Mildred Davis and Harold

In 1919, during a photo session with what was supposed to be a prop bomb, an accident occurred which cost him the thumb and index finger of his right hand. In films, he wore a prosthetic device and a glove and still performed his stunts. You know, what is up with silent film comedians with injured hands? Buster lost part of a finger when he was a child and now Harold? Man oh man...

Apparently autographs from his early career (before the 1930s) are quite rare. His father James would correspond with Harold's fans and sign his son's name. The easiest way to spot a real from a fake is easy. Harold's signature is simple, while his father's is much more fancy.

He was a superstitious dude! To him, certain streets were to be avoided because they were unlucky, he had to enter and leave through the same door, and had to get dressed a certain way.

"At a cost of 75 cents they provide a trademark recognized instantly wherever pictures are shown." ~ Harold Lloyd [talking about his glasses]

** 10/20/10 ** According to the 1920 Census, Harold lived with his older brother Gaylord in California. His brother is also listed as being employed by "moving pictures" and he did in fact appear in a few of his brother's movies as an extra or in bit parts.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Harold Lloyd, Jr. had been an alcoholic for some time and had his stroke in 1965 at age 33. It was a massive stroke from which "Duke" Lloyd never made anything close to a full recovery. He died in 1971 at age 40, three months and one day after his father's death. Though Harold Lloyd, Sr. was very tolerant of homosexuals, including his son, what was distressing was his son's propensity for sex with violent men -- he frequently came home to his parents' home battered and bruised after his encounters. Altogether a sad story, I find.