Nationality: American. Born: Burchard, Nebraska, 20 April 1893. Education: Studied acting at School of Dramatic Art, San Diego. Family: Married the actress Mildred Davis, 1923 (died 1969), daughters: Mildred Gloria and Marjorie Elizabeth (nickname "Peggy," adopted), son: Harold Jr. Career: 1906—acted with the Burwood Stock Company, Omaha; 1913—joined a stock company playing in Los Angeles; worked as extra at Edison and Universal studios; 1914—made several "Willie Work" comedies for Hal Roach, now lost; 1915—featured actor in Just Nuts; 1915–17—made series of comedies, "Lonesome Luke," often with Bebe Daniels and Snub Pollard; 1917–19—made series of comedies featuring "young man with horn-rimmed glasses," often with Mildred Davis; 1922—began making feature films exclusively; 1923—formed Harold Lloyd Corporation; 1929—first sound film, Welcome Danger; 1949–50—served as Supreme Imperial Potentate of Shriners; 1960s—produced two compilation films of his films. Awards: Honorary Oscar, for being "master comedian and good citizen," 1952; George Eastman Awards, 1955 and 1957. Died: Of cancer, in Hollywood, 8 March 1971.
Films as Actor:
The Old Monk's Tale (Dawley—995 feet) (as extra)
Samson (Macdonald) (as extra); The Patchwork Girl of Oz (The Ragged Girl of Oz) (Macdonald) (as Hottentot)
Love, Loot and Crash (Cogley—one-reeler); Their Social Splash (Gillstrom—553 feet) (as the Minister); Miss Fatty's Seaside Lovers (Arbuckle—one-reeler) (as masher); From Italy's Shores (Otis Turner—two-reeler) (as gangster); Courthouse Crooks (Parrott—two-reeler) (as Tom, youth out of work)
(in one-reel comedies directed by Hal Roach)
Just Nuts (as Willie Work); Lonesome Luke; Once Every Ten Minutes; Spit-Ball Sadie; Soaking the Clothes; Pressing His Suit; Terribly Stuck Up; A Mixup for Mazie; Some Baby; Fresh from the Farm; Giving Them Fits; Bughouse Bellhops; Tinkering with Trouble; Great While It Lasted; Ragtime Snap Shots; A Fozzle at a Tee Party; Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks; Peculiar Patients' Pranks; Lonesome Luke, Social Gangster
Luke Leans to the Literary; Luke Lugs Luggage; Lonesome Luke Lolls in Luxury; Luke the Candy Cut-Up; Luke Foils the Villain; Luke and the Rural Roughnecks; Luke Pipes the Pippins; Lonesome Luke, Circus King; Luke's Double; Them Was the Happy Days!; Luke and the Bomb Throwers; Luke's Late Lunches; Luke Laughs Last; Luke's Fatal Flivver; Luke's Society Mix-Up; Luke's Washful Waiting; Luke Rides Roughshod; Luke—Crystal Gazer; Luke's Lost Lamb; Luke Does the Midway; Luke Joins the Navy; Luke and the Mermaids; Luke's Speedy Club Life; Luke and the Bang-Tails; Luke, the Chauffeur; Luke's Preparedness Preparations; Luke, the Gladiator; Luke, Patient Provider; Luke's Newsie Knockout; Luke's Movie Muddle (Luke's Model Movie; Director of the Cinema); Luke's Fireworks Fizzle; Luke Locates the Loot; Luke's Shattered Sleep
(alternately directed by Hal Roach and Alf Goulding, with several directed by Lloyd)
Luke's Lost Liberty; Luke's Busy Days; Luke's Trolley Trouble; Lonesome Luke, Lawyer; Luke Wins Ye Ladye Faire
Lonesome Luke's Lively Life; Lonesome Luke on Tin Can Alley; Lonesome Luke's Honeymoon; Lonesome Luke, Plumber; Stop! Luke! Listen!; Lonesome Luke, Messenger; Lonesome Luke, Mechanic; Lonesome Luke's Wild Women; Lonesome Luke Loses Patients; Birds of a Feather; Lone- some Luke from London to Laramie; Love, Laughs, and Lather; Clubs Are Trump; We Never Sleep
(one-reelers as young man with horn-rimmed glasses)
Over the Fence (as Ginger, + co-d with Macdonald); Pinched; By the Sad Sea Waves; Bliss; Rainbow Island; The Flirt; All Aboard (as the boy); Move On; Bashful; Step Lively
The Tip; The Big Idea; The Lamb; Hit Him Again; Beat It; A Gasoline Wedding; Look Pleasant, Please; Here Come the Girls; Let's Go; On the Jump; Follow the Crowd; Pipe the Whiskers; It's a Wild Life (Pratt); Hey There!; Kicked Out; The Non-Stop Kid (as the boy); Two-Gun Gussie (as Harold); Fireman, Save My Child; The City Slicker (as Harold); Sic 'em Towser; Somewhere in Turkey; Are Crooks Dishonest? (as Jitney Jim); An Ozark Romance; Kicking the Germ out of Germany; That's Him; Bride and Gloom; Two Scrambled; Bees in His Bonnet; Swing Your Partners; Why Pick on Me? (as the boy); Nothing but Trouble; Hear 'em Rave; Take a Chance; She Loves Me Not
Wanted—$5000; Going! Going! Gone!; Ask Father (as the boy); On the Fire (The Chef) (Roach) (as Winkle); I'm on My Way (as the boy); Look Out Below; The Dutiful Dub; Next Aisle Over; A Sammy in Siberia; Just Dropped In; Crack Your Heels; Ring Up the Curtain (as the boy); Young Mr. Jazz; Si, Senor; Before Breakfast; The Marathon; Back to the Woods; Pistols for Breakfast; Swat the Crook; Off the Trolley; Spring Fever (as Billy); Billy Blazes, Esq; Just Neighbors (as the boy); At the Old Stage Door; Never Touched Me (as the boy); A Jazzed Honeymoon; Count Your Change (Step Lively) (as the boy); Chop Suey and Co. (as Officer Harold); Heap Big Chief; Don't Shove (as the boy); Be My Wife; The Rajah; He Leads, Others Follow; Soft Money; Count the Votes; Pay Your Dues (as the boy); His Only Father
(two-reelers, unless otherwise noted)
Bumping into Broadway (as the boy); Captain Kidd's Kids (Roach) (as the boy); From Hand to Mouth (Goulding) (as the boy)
His Royal Slyness (Roach) (as the American boy); Haunted Spooks (Roach and Goulding) (as the boy); An EasternWesterner (Roach) (as the boy); High and Dizzy (Roach) (as Harold Hal); Get Out and Get Under (Roach); Number, Please (Roach and Newmeyer) (as the boy)
Now or Never (Roach and Newmeyer—three-reeler); Among Those Present (Newmeyer) (as O'Reilly, the boy); I Do (as the boy); Never Weaken (Newmeyer—three-reeler) (as the boy)
Sailor-Made Man (Newmeyer) (as the boy)
Grandma's Boy (Newmeyer) (as the boy, Sonny/Granddaddy in flashback); Dr. Jack (Newmeyer) (title role)
Safety Last (Newmeyer and Sam Taylor) (as the boy); Dogs of War (Roach—two-reeler) (as himself); Why Worry? (Newmeyer and Sam Taylor) (as Harold Van Pelham)
Girl Shy (Newmeyer and Sam Taylor) (as the poor boy, Harold Meadows, + pr); Hot Water (Sam Taylor and Newmeyer) (as Hubby, + pr)
The Freshman (Sam Taylor and Newmeyer) (as Harold "Speedy" Lamb, + pr)
For Heaven's Sake (Sam Taylor) (as "The Uptown Boy," J. Harold Manners, + pr)
The Kid Brother (Milestone, Howe, Neal, and Wilde) (as Harold Hickory, + pr)
Speedy (Wilde) (as Harold "Speedy" Swift, + pr)
Welcome Danger (Mal St. Clair and Bruckman) (as Harold Bledsoe, + pr)
Feet First (Bruckman) (as Harold Horne, + pr)
Movie Crazy (Bruckman) (as Harold Hall, + pr)
The Cat's Paw (Sam Taylor) (as Ezekiel Cobb, + pr)
The Milky Way (McCarey) (as Burleigh "Tiger" Sullivan, + pr)
Professor Beware (Nugent) (as Prof. Dean Lambert, + pr)
Mad Wednesday (The Sin of Harold Diddlebock) (Preston Sturges) (as Harold Diddlebock)
Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (compilation) (+ pr)
Harold Lloyd's Funny Side of Life (compilation) (+ pr)
Films as Producer:
A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob (The Navy Steps Out) (Wallace)
My Favorite Spy (Garnett)
By LLOYD: book—
An American Comedy: An Autobiography, with Wesley W. Stout, New York, 1928.
By LLOYD: articles—
"My Ideal Girl," in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), July 1918.
"For the People, by the People," in Filmplay Journal, April 1922.
"We Interview the Boy," interview with Gladys Hall and Adele Fletcher, in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), July 1922.
"Comedy Development," in The Truth about the Movies by the Stars, Hollywood, 1924.
"The Autobiography of Harold Lloyd," in Photoplay (New York), May/June 1924.
"What Is Love," in Photoplay (New York), February 1925.
"Harold Lloyd Tells the Most Dramatic Moments of His Life," in Motion Picture, December 1925.
"Hardships of Fun-Making," in Ladies Home Journal, May 1926.
"When They Gave Me the Air," in Ladies Home Journal, February 1928.
"Looking at the World through Horn-Rimmed Specs," in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), September 1933.
"Meeting with Harold Lloyd," interview with M. Calman, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1958/59.
"Interview with Harold Lloyd," interview with Arthur Friedman, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1962.
"The Funny Side of Life," in Films and Filming (London), January 1964.
"The Serious Business of Being Funny," interview with Hubert I. Cohen, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1969.
"Harold Lloyd Talks to Anthony Slide about His Early Career," in Silent Picture (London), Summer/Autumn 1971.
Memoirs in Ciné-Magazine, 1930, reprinted in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1980.
On LLOYD: books—
Cahn, William, Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy, New York, 1964.
Borde, Raymonde, Harold Lloyd, Lyon, 1968.
McCaffrey, Donald W., Four Great Comedians: Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon, New York, 1968.
Lacourbe, Roland, Harold Lloyd, Paris, 1970.
Bowser, Eileen, Harold Lloyd's Short Comedies, New York, 1974.
Schickel, Richard, Harold Lloyd: The Shape of Laughter, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1974.
McCaffrey, Donald W., Three Classic Silent Screen Comedies Starring Harold Lloyd, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1976.
Reilly, Adam, Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy, New York, 1977.
Kerr, Walter, The Silent Clowns, New York, 1979.
Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies, Chicago, rev. ed., 1979.
Tichy, Wolfram, Harold Lloyd, Frankfurt, 1979.
Dardis, Tom, Harold Lloyd: The Man on the Clock, New York, 1983.
D'Agostino, Annette M., Harold Lloyd: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, 1994.
On LLOYD: articles—
Leigh, Anabel, "Specs without Glass," in Photoplay (New York), January 1920.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "What about Harold Lloyd," in Photoplay (New York), August 1922.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "How Lloyd Made Safety Last," in Photoplay (New York), July 1923.
Taylor, Sam, "Directing Harold Lloyd," in Motion Picture Director, November 1925.
Sherwood, Robert E., "The Perennial Freshman," in New Yorker, 30 January 1926.
Current Biography 1949, New York, 1949.
Agee, James, "Boy," in Life (New York), 5 September 1949.
Garringer, Nelson E., "Harold Lloyd Made a Fortune by Combining Comedy and Thrills," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1962.
Borde, Raymonde, "L'Insolence de Harold Lloyd," in Positif (Paris) Summer 1966.
McCaffrey, Donald W., "The Mutual Approval of Keaton and Lloyd," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Ill.), no. 6, 1966–67.
Obituary in New York Times, 9 March 1971.
Sarris, Andrew, "Harold Lloyd 1893–1971," in New York Times, 21 March 1971.
Slide, Anthony, obituary in Silent Picture (London), Summer/Autumn 1971.
Kaminsky, Stuart, "Harold Lloyd: A Reassessment of His Film Comedy," in Silent Picture (London), Autumn 1972.
Sarris, Andrew, "Harold Lloyd: A Rediscovery," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1977.
Lacourbe, Roland, "Harold Lloyd, 1893–1971," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 May 1979.
Kral, P., "Harold l'insouciant ou portrait du poète en jeune entrepreneur," in Positif (Paris), December 1979.
Fernett, Gene, "A Retrospective: Harold Lloyd," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), March 1983.
deCroix, Rick, "Fighting for Reappraisal," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), November and December 1988, and January and February 1989.
"Gripping Stuff," in the Listener (London), 15 February 1990.
Brownlow, Kevin, "Harold Lloyd: A Renaissance Palace for One of the Silent Era's Great Comic Pioneers," in Architectural Digest, April 1990.
Santilli, Ernie, "Harold Lloyd: The Overlooked Overachiever," in Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), April/May 1992.
Champlin, Charles, "Silent Film's Third Genius," in Los Angeles Times, 31 March 1993.
Brownlow, Kevin, "Preserved in Amber," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1993.
Rivers, Scott, "Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), September 1993.
Siegel, Scott, and Barbara Siegel, "Harold Lloyd," in American Film Comedy, New York, 1994.
Bassan, R., "Harold Lloyd, ou le comique ascenionnel," in Le Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), January 1994.
D'Agostino, Annette, "Harold Lloyd: A Comic Genius Learns Comedy," in Classical Images (Muscatine, Iowa), April 1995.
Hawkins, Geraldine A., "Lloyd, Chaplin, & Keaton: The Big Three Have Big Fans," in Classic Images (Muscatine), April 1996.
On LLOYD: film—
Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, television documentary directed by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, 1989.* * *
The sophistication and maturation of the silent screen comedy feature emerged in only a few years in the early 1920s—a phenomenon that came from the innovative efforts of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. As these three comedians graduated from one- and two-reel films, the scope of the five- and six-reel works dictated a need for a wider range of story material and a variety in acting levels and styles. An article entitled "Comedy Development," by Lloyd in the 1924 Truth about the Movies by the Stars indicated the actor saw the necessity of avoiding the same theme and type of film: "It is our intention to mix up the type of offering we will present. That has been our policy in the past, and it has worked out highly satisfactorily. . . . For no matter how great the appeal of a player, he cannot go on forever giving his public the same kind of picture, release after release."
As a very popular comedian in his one- and two-reelers, the actor first employed a character with limited dimension. From 1915 to 1918 Lloyd used an oddball tramp, Lonesome Luke, closely related to the circus clown and relied on wacky comic material that became the staple of a Mack Sennett slapstick short. When he switched to a character closer to that developed by the light comedians of the time—the young man next door—his acting style changed and his characterization became more appealing. A more realistic mode of acting became evident in his 1919 one-reel, Just Neighbors. The comedian developed incidents of frustration in the beginning of the film as he played a young man from the suburbs trying to catch a commuter train to his job in the city. The struggle of this character, called simply "The Boy," exhibited subtle facial expressions of annoyance, avoiding the broad body gestures of the earlier Lonesome Luke tramp character. Nevertheless, when Lloyd's young man gets into an altercation with his neighbor, a broad, slapstick fistfight shows a return to the comedy acting style of Lloyd's early films.
When Lloyd adopted the story material of the genteel comedians of the twenties—Charles Ray, Wallace Reid, and Douglas MacLean—he surpassed them in acting skills and the quality and quantity of laughable movies. In the development of a comic character in his first feature, Grandma's Boy (1922), the comedian could create a lighter, character-based humor of humiliation set against a stronger, broader, and ludicrous situation when his shy, withdrawn character metamorphosizes into an aggressive young man battling a villain. From hangdog expressions and wilted bodily movements the comedian showed a transition to a bold, erect stature of a man with a jutting aggressive jaw.
The key to understanding the comic character created by Lloyd lies in the leading figure's zeal. The enthusiasm of this character gives it distinction. Leading comedians of the time—Chaplin, Keaton, and Langdon—seldom used this trait in their comic characters. Lloyd, on the other hand, used this trait as the basic facet of his portrait. Some of the best comic moments of his films occur when Harold's zeal leads him into situations that backfire. His eagerness to be successful socially or financially leads him into the path of a rival who is a villain or into a scheme with many pitfalls. The comedian's acting ability comes into play as he attempts to cover his distress with a twisted smile. Attempts to impress a college clique in the 1925 The Freshman show the comedian exhibiting overeagerness to the point that he becomes the subject of the group's ridicule. As the character is humiliated, Lloyd provides a variety of humorous, pained expressions. But eventually the character's enthusiasms turns the tide in his favor. The fault that gains laughter is also the virtue that wins the victory. And victory quite often is achieved with the assistance of luck.
One of the misconceptions that has distorted the evaluation of Harold Lloyd's comic abilities is the view of some critics that he merely used a string of clever gags in his features—that he was in the same league as the lightweight, genteel comedians such as Ray, Reid, and MacLean who were popular actors in the silent features of the twenties. In the essay "Harold Lloyd: Comedy through Characterization" in Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy, Leonard Maltin refutes this concept. Maltin considers the comedian's acting talent to be an integral part of the characterization in the pictures he created: "For in order for that character to succeed as he did, there had to be a basic credibility . . . in his disarmingly natural performances. Like so many great performers who make their work look easy, Lloyd suffered the natural consequence of having certain critics believe that he wasn't really contributing much to his own films—that he was simply a likable fellow surrounded by funny incidents, and therefore a success by circumstance. This does a great injustice to a major comedy talent."
There is little doubt that Harold Lloyd has the credentials to be ranked as one of the kings of comedy of the silent period. A showing today of his Grandma's Boy, Safety Last, The Freshman, and The Kid Brother brings high praise from sophisticated audiences. Not well known are his sound films. Lloyd made the transition to sound pictures more easily than the other three kings of comedy: Chaplin, Keaton, and Langdon. Like the eager, adventurous character he portrayed, Lloyd plunged into sound films with Welcome Danger in 1929. Under his own supervision he did five more feature in the thirties: Feet First, Movie Crazy, The Cat's Paw, The Milky Way, and Professor Beware. His last feature in 1947 under the direction of Preston Sturges, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (renamed Mad Wednesday), did not meet with Lloyd's high standards. Nevertheless, this forties film and his sound films of the thirties were a match for if not superior to other comedies created in these two decades.
Beginning his career in motion pictures in 1914 and quickly moving under the direction of Hal Roach, Harold Lloyd (1893-1971) developed a bespectacled "nice-guy" persona that transformed him into one of the most popular comedians of the silent film era.
Apair of dark, oversized horn-rimmed glasses providing him with a recognizable trademark comparable to Charlie Chaplin's black mustachio and Buster Keaton's deadpan expression, silent film actor Harold Lloyd matured from a film extra into one of America's most popular comedians, embodying as he did the mythos of the hard-working, optimistic, all-American boy-next-door. He exhibited physical agility and courage while performing the daredevil stunts that appeared in many of his films throughout the 1920s and the early 1930s. Yet, Lloyd's primary role on-screen was as a shy, somewhat nervous young man who, through misadventure rather than any fault of his own, was constantly confronted by circumstances threatening to thwart his efforts at a quiet, happy life. More recent generations of film fans still recognize Lloyd from the movie stills that depict his conservative character in some sort of incongruous predicament. He may have been hanging many yards from the ground, from one hand of a huge clock face, or clinging to the side of a skyscraper, with no way down. Among Lloyd's most notable films were The Freshman and Safety Last, both made before the advent of talking pictures.
Bitten by the Acting Bug
Born in Burchard, Nebraska, on April 20, 1893, Lloyd inherited a stubborn pioneering spirit from his grandfather, owner of one of the state's first general stores. His family moved frequently due to his rootless father's shifting career choices. At one point, J. Darsie Lloyd dabbled in photography, while another year found him running a pool hall. Young Harold managed to stay in school and completed his high school education in San Diego, California. By 1911, the start of his senior year, Lloyd had demonstrated his intelligence through his skill on the debate team and his physical agility in the boxing ring. Because of the extensive acting experience he accumulated over his teen years, Lloyd was awarded leading roles in all the school plays, as well as in several local theatre productions.
Seeing the 1903 showing of The Great Train Robbery fixed forever in Lloyd's mind an exciting possibility: working in the movies. Fascinated by acting and the theatre since he was a small boy, Lloyd had developed a collection of useful skills ranging from stagehand and makeup artistry through a range of talents gained from a series of backstage apprenticeships. While films raised his interest, the stage continued to be Lloyd's home until his late teens. His first acting experience came on the stage, with his debut that of Fleance in a small-town production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. In 1907, 11-year-old Lloyd began a relationship with the Burwood, Nebraska, Stock Company that enabled him to go on stage whenever a production called for casting a young boy.
After graduation from high school in San Diego, Lloyd established a new working relationship to replace that which he had lost by leaving Burwood. He put his make-up skills to use at the New Grand Theatre Stock Company, by disguising his youth and playing old men and other unusual characters. A small part in a silent film shot in San Diego by the Edison Company in 1913 rekindled Lloyd's interest in movies when he was cast as a Yanqui Indian and paid $3 for a day's shooting. In 1913, he traveled to Los Angeles, where he found roles in several stage productions. Lloyd also pursued his dream of working in films by donning full makeup and sneaking into one of several film studios by mixing in with groups of working actors returning from their lunch break. This technique gained him more small parts with Edison and eventually got him a position with Hollywood's Universal Studios.
Casting Calls at Hal Roach Studios
While waiting for casting calls at Universal, Lloyd became friends with Hal Roach, a fellow film extra and an aspiring film director. Benefiting from a family inheritance in 1914, the fortunate Roach achieved his dream and established his own studio the following year. He hired Lloyd to act in several of his one-reel productions as a comedian. Together the two film buffs created a character they called Willie Work, which Lloyd performed. While Willie wasn't that successful with audiences, his next character, Lonesome Luke attracted a following as a film character. Lloyd's growing comedic skills became increasingly noticed. Finally, Pathe studios approached Roach and he lost exclusive use of his friend. The bigger studio lured Lloyd into their stable of actors with promises of better pay—$50 per week, as opposed to the $5 per day he was earning from Roach—and significant leading roles. Under contract to Pathe, Lloyd further developed the Lonesome Luke character as a misfit—inspired by Chaplin's character—garbed in clothing a size too small who ambled, a reel at a time, through short films characterized by little or no plot balanced against a heavy dose of 100-percent improvised slapstick.
While the Lonesome Luke character continued to be successful, Lloyd soon realized that the extensive frenetic chase scenes and impromptu pratfalls comprising such films were not enough to make him the recognizable star Chaplin was. In 1917, in a one-reel film titled Over the Fence, he finally donned the pair of round, horned-rimmed spectacles, low-key suit, and straw boater hat that would become so familiar to film audiences. Roach and Pathe made their star's new "college boy" look well known to moviegoers, producing an average of a film a week over the next five years. Stumbling along the road to the American dream, Lloyd's "Glass" character proved to be one that audiences identified with. He was not as well endowed with looks, money, or clout as his more successful co-stars. Yet, through sheer determination and quick thinking, Lloyd's character ultimately achieved his goal of modest happiness, spurred on by the attentions of a succession of co-stars that included Bebe Daniels, Mildred Davis, Jobyna Ralston, and Constance Cummings. Pathe produced more than 100 one-reel films featuring the "Glass" character between 1918 and 1919. They switched to two-reel films following the success of Bumping into Broadway.
Crowned King of Daredevil Comedy
Because of films like High and Dizzy (1920) and Safety Last (1923)—famous for the scene where the actor, billed here as a timid store clerk, dangles from the face of a clock tower—Lloyd developed a reputation as a risk-taker. Like Buster Keaton, Lloyd performed his own stunts, despite the fact that he had received a disabling injury as early as 1919, when a prop bomb created for a special film effect, exploded in his hand during a publicity photo session, blowing off his thumb and almost blinding the actor. However, Lloyd proved wrong any and all predictions claiming his career to be at an end. Back on the job within six months, he expanded his roles and made longer films, starring in his first five-reel feature, Grandma's Boy, for Pathe in 1922.
The movie-going public clamored for more full-length films from Lloyd, and his future as a major film star was assured. Working with the Roach and Pathe studios through the early 1920s, the actor also founded the Harold Lloyd Corporation to produce many of his films between 1924 and 1930. He would continue to do work under contract for Pathe, Fox, and Paramount throughout his career.
Advent of "Talkies" Dampened Lloyd's Appeal
In the typical Lloyd film, the actor played his characteristic persona: a slightly bumbling, naive, quiet fellow— variously a shop clerk, soda jerk, professor, water boy, or milkman—who gets in one fix or another during his pursuit of a disinterested love interest. In Why Worry (1923), Lloyd played a rich young man who has shied from life due to a host of imagined illnesses. Ultimately, he manages to secure the affections of a initially unenthusiastic Mildred Davis. (Interestingly, Miss Davis must have felt quite differently about her co-star off-screen for she and Lloyd were married while the film was being shot at Roach's studio.) In The Freshman (1925), considered by many to be Lloyd's best effort, the bespectacled actor serves as a shy water boy working for his college football team. In typical Lloyd fashion, the geeky freshman ends up saving the game through a freak touchdown just before the game is called. One of the most profitable silent films ever made, The Freshman grossed $2.5 million at the U.S. box-offices.
The introduction of sound to motion pictures ended the career of many silent film stars—particularly romantic leads—whose voices contained accents or other inflections that contradicted the on-screen images they had created during the silent era. While Lloyd's career, which had flourished during the 1920s, did not suffer with the introduction of his voice—characterized by one reviewer as "bland and boyish"—the introduction of dialogue eventually wrought a change within his motion picture audience. In short, the coming of sound supplanted film audience's desire for over-the-top stunts in favor of dialogue and more in-depth characters whose psychological interactions became central to film plots. Despite the success of films such as his 1932 talkie Movie Crazy, by the mid-1930s Lloyd began to consider retiring from the film business. Professor Beware (1938) dissatisfied the actor to such an extent that he retired from acting for several years, devoting his talents to producing several films for RKO.
In 1945, Lloyd once again moved briefly back in front of the camera. The 1947 release of The Sins of Harold Diddlebock as a tepid sequel to the popular The Freshman would mark the end of Lloyd's acting career. Produced by Howard Hughes and directed by Preston Sturges, the film was a screwball comedy typical of the 1940s, featuring a 52-year-old Lloyd still wearing the same horn-rimmed glasses and conservative attire but now uncharacteristically maintaining both feet on the ground. Rereleased as Mad Wednesday, the film did little to spark either audience enthusiasm or its star's desire to resume life as an actor.
After retirement from film, Lloyd remained active in both California's Republican political arena and within his local Hollywood community. Active in the Shriners, he was elected Imperial Potentate of the Shrine in 1949, and served in this national post as a good-will ambassador to the many children's hospitals supported by that organization. The father of three children, Lloyd and his family lived in a large home in Beverly Hills. Retired by age 60, he reaped the benefits of a large income earned both through a strenuous acting career, in which he appeared in more than 500 movies, and from a responsible approach to investing his earnings. A savvy businessman, Lloyd wisely kept control of the film rights to many of the motion pictures he starred in over his lifetime. At the time of his death in Hollywood on March 8, 1971, he left an estate estimated to be one of the largest in Hollywood at that time, its value drawn in part from the fact that much of Lloyd's money was made prior to the establishment of Federal income taxes.
In the early 1960s, Lloyd made compilations of scenes from several of his films. They were released as Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (1962) and Harold Lloyd's FunnySide of Life (1963), with cuts of Lloyd suspended at a precarious height featured prominently in each. Today Lloyd's films are little shown, with only The Freshman and Safety Last occasionally screened for film buffs. However, his reputation among scholars of motion pictures and fan of early American films remains secure. In 1952, to honor his work as one of the first great film comedians, a special Academy Award was presented: "To Harold Lloyd, master comedian and good citizen."
D'Augustino, Annette M., Harold Lloyd, Greenwood Press, 1994.
Kerr, Walter, The Silent Clowns, Knopf, 1975.
Lloyd, Harold, An American Comedy, 1928.
The Oxford Companion to Film, edited by Liz-Anne Bawden, Oxford University Press, 1976.
Shipman, David, The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, Crown, 1970. □