Harold Lloyd

Active - 1915 - 2014  |   Born - Apr 20, 1893   |   Died - Mar 8, 1971   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

An all-American boy with an all-American childhood, comedian Harold Lloyd became entranced with amateur dramatic productions through odd jobs as a theatre usher, call boy, and stage hand. After working in a stock company where he specialized in intricate character make-up, Lloyd moved from Nebraska to California, where there was more theatrical work. While assisting at a San Diego dramatic school, Lloyd took extra work in several of the silent film companies operating up the coast in Los Angeles. One of his fellow extras was Hal Roach, who had plans to become a film producer. One small inheritance later, Roach set up his own movie company and hired Lloyd as his comedy star. Lloyd's first film character, Willie Work, didn't work, though it enabled him to teach himself the skills of film comedy from the ground up. Leaving Roach briefly for bit work at Mack Sennett's Keystone studios, Lloyd returned to Roach and developed a new characterization, Lonesome Luke -- which frankly wasn't new at all but a direct steal of Charlie Chaplin's "tramp." Be that as it may, Roach and Lloyd's "Lonesome Luke" two-reelers, which co-starred Bebe Daniels, were very popular, but Lloyd got sick of the imitation and set about creating a more original character. In later years, both Lloyd and Roach took separate credit for coming up with the "glasses" character -- a handsome, normal looking youth who wore horned-rimmed glasses. Whoever thought it up, it was manna from heaven for Lloyd, whose star ascended once he got away from heavy character make-up and silly costumes and concentrated on playing a comic variation on the "average guy". Determining to be funny at all times on screen, Lloyd surrounded himself with a crack team of gagmen, who came up with endless comic bits of business for his new character. With their two-reelers doing terrific business, Lloyd and Roach began working their way towards feature films, which would bring in even more revenue. Lloyd's first feature, Grandma's Boy (1922), set the tone for his subsequent films: he played a character who "grew" either in strength or integrity as the film progressed. The film itself had a strong plotline to support his character, and the gags flowed freely and naturally from the action, instead of being inserted for their own sake, as often happened in silent film comedy. Though Lloyd would vary his "glasses" character from film to film -- a spoiled rich lad in one picture, a humble clerk in the next -- he never strayed far from the likeable boy-next-door that he'd established in his short subjects. Lloyd left Hal Roach to form his own production company in 1924, and the annual feature releases which followed -- most especially The Freshman (1925) -- established Harold as the top moneymaking comedian in the movies. "As rich as Croesus," to quote film critic Andrew Sarris, Lloyd invested his savings in a huge Beverly Hills estate, Greenacres, where he would live the rest of his life with his wife (and former co-star) Mildred Davis and their children. Uniquely attuned to the optimistic 1920s, Harold's go-getting screen character had trouble surviving the Depression-era 1930s; though he made a successful transition to sound with 1929's Welcome Danger, each of Lloyd's subsequent talking features grossed less than the previous one at the box office. He took up to two years to produce a film, and was more careful than ever to maintain his high standards, but despite excellent films like Movie Crazy (1932) and The Milky Way (1936), Lloyd's jazz-age character seemed out of step and anachronistic in more desperate times. He left films as an actor in 1938, dabbling briefly as a producer for RKO in the early 1940s and working on occasion in radio. When time seemed ripe for a screen comeback in 1946, it was with The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, which might have been a better film had not Lloyd clashed so vehemently with his director, eccentric genius Preston Sturges. A still fabulously wealthy Beverly Hills resident whose activities in charity and municipal work brought him universal respect, Lloyd devoted the 1950s to his favorite hobbies, painting and stereoscopic photography. Feeling somewhat forgotten in the early 1960s, Lloyd began releasing his old films theatrically with modest success, and just before his death agreed to their long-awaited TV distribution; still the creative dynamo, Lloyd insisted upon personally re-editing his old films so that they would play better on TV. To many around the world, Lloyd was one of the richest, nicest, and most accessible film stars in Hollywood.

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