“It has been amazing to me that these comedies can still strike a responsive note of laughter with audiences of all ages and in all parts of the world. Laughter is the universal language. It establishes a common identity among people—regardless of other differences. It is the sweetest sound in the whole world.” Harold Lloyd
Los Angeles -- When we imagine the movies from the silent era. That period when syncopated sound was absent, prior to 1927 and the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer". Which actually was a silent picture with an audio track for the Al Jolson vocalized song sequences. We pretty much come up either with the Keystone Cops or the two comedic geniuses from that era, as some have come to believe, was the true golden age of film entertainment, Charlie Chaplin in his tramp outfitted character, and the stone faced dead pan comedic impressions of Buster Keaton. However, there is a third comedic icon whose image and name has been shrouded in mystery and anonymity for decades until recently re-discovered by a new generation of film fans.
Harold Lloyd of Burchard, Nebraska was the second son of James Darsie and Elizabeth Lloyd.
" I never had any other idea. And when my family moved around, as it did frequently, I began to play in amateur theatricals. When I was only twelve years old, I was playing Little Abe in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.”
Staged school productions would eventually evolve into stock theatrical productions. But it would take the Edison Film Company looking for extras in San Diego that would push him into a film acting career, albeit a four-second spot as an Indian in “The Old Monk’s Tale".
On breaking into the Universal lot off Lankershim Blvd. in Universal City, CA:
“The gatekeeper was a crabby old soul who let me understand that it would be a pleasure to keep me out. As I lurked about I noticed that at noon a crowd of actors and extras drifted out in make-up to eat at a lunch counter across the way, passing the gatekeeper without question each way. The next morning I brought a make-up box. At noon I dodged behind a billboard, made up, mingled with the lunch-counter press and returned with them through the gate without challenge.”
While at Universal, Lloyd joined Hal Roach, who produced the films of Laurel and Hardy and the Our Gang comedies. It was here that history was made. The character we readily identify Lloyd as is the boy next door. The average Jo with no particular style, talent or skill placed in extraordinary circumstances. Case in point the now infamous silent film "Safety Last" where Lloyd climbs a 20 story building ultimately reaching the roof only to find himself hanging on for dear life from the hour and minute hand of the building's clock, perilously suspended above street level as onlookers gawk and traffic moves at a steady brisk clip. Here's what he had to say.
“One afternoon in downtown Los Angeles I stopped to watch Bill Strothers, who called himself the Human Spider, scale the sheer walls of a high office building. The higher he climbed the more nervous I grew, until, when he came to a difficult ledge twelve stories up, I had to cut around a corner out of sight of him and peek back to see if he was over the ledge. If it makes me this jumpy, what would it do to a picture audience, I asked myself.”
"Safety Last" opened in theaters on April Fool’s Day in 1923 and it was a blockbuster. Harold Lloyd was hailed as ‘king of daredevil comedy.’ His films would eventually out gross Chaplin and Keaton.
He was the top box office draw two years straight. In 1928, Variety proclaimed him the highest paid film star.
Harold Lloyd was also an innovator and a pioneer. He created new camera techniques and was one of the first filmmakers to preview his comedies to a test audience, and then re-shoot, re-cut and preview them again. At a time before unions, Harold paid his crew year-round, even when they weren't shooting a film.
When talking pictures came along, Lloyd was one of the first filmmakers to embrace the new medium.
“Welcome Danger” opened in 1929 and was Lloyd’s highest grossing film. The stock market crash shortly thereafter radically altered his trajectory. American audiences weighed down by the depression found it difficulty relating to Lloyd's All-American Persona.
It was 1947 before the curtain fell on his acting career. That is when he would make his final film, “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.” It was written and directed by Preston Sturges, and produced by Howard Hughes.
Harold Lloyd died in 1971 at his home in Beverly Hills, CA at the age of seventy-seven. Yet the simplicity and commonality of his characters and plot lines remain timeless classics. But don't take my word, read what the artist said a few years prior to his death in summary of his vast 200 film body of work:
“It has been amazing to me that these comedies can still strike a responsive note of laughter with audiences of all ages and in all parts of the world. Laughter is the universal language. It establishes a common identity among people—regardless of other differences. It is the sweetest sound in the whole world.”
Quotations and biographical facts from http://haroldlloyd.com
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