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Harold Lloyd in the 1936 film The Milky Way.
|Birth name||Harold Clayton Lloyd|
April 20, 1893|
|Died||March 8, 1971
Beverly Hills, California,
|Medium||Motion pictures (silent and sound)|
|Influenced||Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan|
|Spouse||Mildred Davis (1923–69)|
|Notable works and roles||Safety Last! (1923)
The Freshman (1925)
The Kid Brother (1927)
|1953 Lifetime Achievement|
Harold Lloyd ranks alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the most popular and influential film comedians of the silent film era. Lloyd made nearly 200 comedy films, both silent and "talkies", between 1914 and 1947. He is best known for his "Glass" character,   a resourceful, success-seeking go-getter who was perfectly in tune with 1920s era America.
His films frequently contained "thrill sequences" of extended chase scenes and daredevil physical feats, for which he is best remembered today. Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above the street in Safety Last! (1923) is one of the most enduring images in all of cinema. Lloyd did many of these dangerous stunts himself, despite having injured himself in August 1919 while doing publicity pictures for the Roach studio. An accident with a bomb mistaken as a prop resulted in the loss of the thumb and index finger of his right hand (the injury was disguised on future films with the use of a special prosthetic glove, though the glove often did not go unnoticed).
Although Lloyd's individual films were not as commercially successful as Charlie Chaplin's on average, he was far more prolific (releasing twelve feature films in the 1920s while Chaplin released just four), and made more money overall ($15.7 million to Chaplin's $10.5 million).
Lloyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska, to James Darsie Lloyd (1865–1947) and Elizabeth Fraser (1869–1941); Harold's paternal great-grandparents were both from Wales. Young Harold was named for his paternal grandfather. Harold had an older brother, Gaylord (1888-1943), five years his senior. Like his younger brother, Gaylord acted in motion pictures, but his career was nowhere near as renowned as Harold's. Among other roles, he acted in 1921's "Disraeli" starring the famous George Arliss. With Harold's help, there were even efforts to turn him into a comedy star. He eventually went on to become a film executive. When Harold was a child, his parents divorced and Lloyd chose to stay with his father. Despite this, he and his brother always remained close to their mother. Harold's father was always dreaming up grand get-rich-quick schemes that ended in disasters. They eventually ended up in Omaha where Lloyd had his first acting experience in a local stock company. He attended East High School and San Diego High School and received his stage training at the School of Dramatic Art (San Diego). In 1912, his father J. Darsie "Foxy" Lloyd was awarded the then-massive sum of $6,000 in a personal injury judgment (although this was split evenly between Lloyd and his lawyer) after being run over by an Omaha beer truck. Reportedly, on the toss of a coin ("Heads is New York or Nashville or where I decide!, tails is San Diego"), he and Lloyd moved west.
Lloyd had acted in various Vaudeville acts in theaters since boyhood, and started acting in one-reel film comedies shortly after moving to California. He soon began working with Thomas Edison's motion picture company, and eventually formed a partnership with fellow struggling actor and director Hal Roach, who had formed his own studio in 1913. The hard-working Lloyd became the most successful of Roach's comic actors between 1915 and 1919.
Lloyd hired Bebe Daniels as a supporting actress in 1914; the two of them were involved romantically and were known as "The Boy" and "The Girl." In 1919, she left Lloyd to pursue her dramatic aspirations. Lloyd replaced Daniels with Mildred Davis in 1919. Lloyd was tipped off by Hal Roach to watch Davis in a movie. Reportedly, the more Lloyd watched Davis the more he liked her. Lloyd's first reaction in seeing her was that "she looked like a big French doll!" Davis retired from acting in 1923, the year she and Lloyd were married, and Jobyna Ralston became Lloyd's co-star.
From 1915 to 1917, Lloyd and Roach created more than 60 one-reel comedies.
By 1918, Lloyd and Roach had begun to develop his character beyond an imitation of his contemporaries. Harold Lloyd would move away from tragicomic personas, and portray an everyman with unwavering confidence and optimism. The "Glass" character (often named "Harold" in the silent films) was a much more mature comedy character with greater potential for sympathy and emotional depth, and was easy for audiences of the time to identify with. The "Glass" character is said to have been created after Roach suggested that Harold was too handsome to do comedy, without some sort of disguise; previously, he had worn a fake mustache as the Chaplinesque "Lonesome Luke". Unlike most silent comedy personae, "Harold" was never typecast to a social class, but he was always striving for success and recognition. Within the first few years of the character's debut, he had portrayed social ranks ranging from a starving vagrant in From Hand to Mouth to a wealthy socialite in Captain Kidd's Kids.
Lloyd's career was not all laughs, however. In August 1919, while posing for some promotional still photographs in the Los Angeles Witzel Photography Studio, he was seriously injured while holding a prop bomb thought merely to be a smoke pot. It exploded and mangled his hand, causing him to lose a thumb and forefinger. The blast was severe enough that the cameraman and prop director nearby were also seriously injured. Lloyd was in the act of lighting a cigarette from the fuse of the bomb when it exploded, also badly burning his face and chest and injuring his eye. Despite the proximity of the blast to his face, he retained his sight.
Beginning in 1921, Roach and Lloyd moved from shorts to feature length comedies. These included the acclaimed Grandma's Boy, which (along with Chaplin's The Kid) pioneered the combination of complex character development and film comedy, the highly popular Safety Last! (1923), which cemented Lloyd's stardom (and is the oldest film on the American Film Institute's List of 100 Most Thrilling Movies), and Why Worry? (1923).
Lloyd and Roach parted ways in 1924, and Lloyd became the independent producer of his own films. These included his most accomplished mature features Girl Shy, The Freshman (his highest-grossing silent feature), The Kid Brother, and Speedy, his final silent film. Welcome Danger (1929) was originally a silent film but Lloyd decided late in the production to remake it with dialogue. All of these films were enormously successful and profitable, and Lloyd would eventually become the highest paid film performer of the 1920s. They were also highly influential and still find many fans among modern audiences, a testament to the originality and film-making skill of Lloyd and his collaborators. From this success he became one of the wealthiest and most influential figures in early Hollywood.
In 1924, Lloyd formed his own independent film production company, the Harold Lloyd Film Corporation, with his films distributed by Pathé and later Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox. Lloyd was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Released a few weeks before the start of the Great Depression, Welcome Danger was a huge financial success, with audiences eager to hear Lloyd's voice on film. Lloyd's rate of film releases, which had been one or two a year in the 1920s, slowed to about one every two years until 1938.
The films released during this period were: Feet First, with a similar scenario to Safety Last which found him clinging to a skyscraper at the climax; Movie Crazy with Constance Cummings; The Cat's-Paw, which was a dark political comedy and a big departure for Lloyd; and The Milky Way, which was Lloyd's only attempt at the fashionable genre of the screwball comedy film.
To this point the films had been produced by Lloyd's company. However, his go-getting screen character was out of touch with Great Depression movie audiences of the 1930s. As the length of time between his film releases increased, his popularity declined, as did the fortunes of his production company. His final film of the decade, Professor Beware, was made by the Paramount staff, with Lloyd functioning only as actor and partial financier.
On March 23, 1937, Lloyd sold the land of his studio, Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Company, to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The location is now the site of the Los Angeles California Temple.
Lloyd produced a few comedies for RKO Radio Pictures in the early 1940s but otherwise retired from the screen until 1947. He returned for an additional starring appearance in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, an ill-fated homage to Lloyd's career, directed by Preston Sturges and financed by Howard Hughes. This film had the inspired idea of following Harold's Jazz Age, optimistic character from The Freshman into the Great Depression years. Diddlebock opened with footage from The Freshman (for which Lloyd was paid a royalty of $50,000, matching his actor's fee) and Lloyd was sufficiently youthful-looking to match the older scenes quite well. Lloyd and Sturges had different conceptions of the material and fought frequently during the shoot; Lloyd was particularly concerned that while Sturges had spent three to four months on the script of the first third of the film, "the last two thirds of it he wrote in a week or less". The finished film was released briefly in 1947, then shelved by producer Hughes. Hughes issued a recut version of the film in 1951 through RKO under the title Mad Wednesday. Such was Lloyd's disdain that he sued Howard Hughes, the California Corporation and RKO for damages to his reputation "as an outstanding motion picture star and personality", eventually accepting a $30,000 settlement.
Lloyd married his leading lady, Mildred Davis on Saturday, February 10, 1923. Together, they had two children: Gloria Lloyd and Harold Clayton Lloyd, Jr.. They also adopted Gloria Freeman (1924–1986) in September 1930, whom they renamed Marjorie Elizabeth Lloyd, but who was known as "Peggy" for most of her life. Lloyd, for a time, discouraged Davis from continuing her acting career. He later relented, but by that time her career momentum was lost. Davis died from a heart attack in 1969, two years before Lloyd's death. Though her real age was a guarded secret, a family spokesperson at the time indicated she was 66 years old. Lloyd's son was gay, and according to Annette D'Agostino Lloyd (no relation) in the book Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian, Harold Sr. took this in good spirit. Harold Jr. died from complications of a stroke three months to the day after his father.
In 1925, at the height of his movie career, Lloyd entered into Freemasonry at the Alexander Hamilton Lodge No. 535 of Hollywood, advancing quickly through both the York Rite and Scottish Rite taking the degrees of the Royal Arch with his father, becoming a 32nd degree Mason. He was vested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honor (KCCH) and eventually with the Inspector General Honorary, 33rd degree. Over the years as his movie work declined, he increased his activity within Freemasonry, being the first actor to become Imperial Potentate within the Shrine of North America. At the installation ceremony for this position on July 25, 1949, 90,000 people were present at Soldier Field, including then sitting U.S. President Harry S Truman, also a 33˚ Master Mason.
Lloyd's Beverly Hills home, "Greenacres", was built in 1926–1929, with 44 rooms, 26 bathrooms, 12 fountains, 12 gardens, and a nine-hole golf course. In August 1943, much of Lloyd's personal inventory of silent films (then estimated to be worth $2 million) was destroyed when his film vault caught fire. Seven firemen were overcome while inhaling chlorine gas from the blaze. Lloyd himself was saved by his wife, who dragged him to safety outdoors after he collapsed at the door of the film vault. The fire spared the main house and outbuildings. The estate left the possession of the Lloyd family in 1975, after a failed attempt to maintain it as a public museum.
The grounds were subsequently subdivided, but the main house and the estate's principal gardens remain and are frequently used for civic fundraising events and as a filming location, appearing in films like Westworld and The Loved One. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In October 1944, Lloyd emerged as the director and host of The Old Gold Comedy Theater, an NBC radio anthology series, after Preston Sturges, who had turned the job down, recommended him for it. The show presented half-hour radio adaptations of recently successful film comedies, beginning with Palm Beach Story with Claudette Colbert and Robert Young.
Some saw The Old Gold Comedy Theater as being a lighter version of Lux Radio Theater, and it featured some of the best-known film and radio personalities of the day, including Fred Allen, June Allyson, Lucille Ball, Ralph Bellamy, Linda Darnell, Susan Hayward, Herbert Marshall, Dick Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Jane Wyman, and Alan Young. But the show's half-hour format—which meant the material might have been truncated too severely—and Lloyd's sounding somewhat ill at ease on the air for much of the season (though he spent weeks training himself to speak on radio prior to the show's premiere, and seemed more relaxed toward the end of the series run) may have worked against it.
The Old Gold Comedy Theater ended in June 1945 with an adaptation of Tom, Dick and Harry, featuring June Allyson and Reginald Gardiner and was not renewed for the following season. Many years later, acetate discs of 29 of the shows were discovered in Lloyd's home, and they now circulate among old-time radio collectors.
Lloyd remained involved in a number of other interests, including civic and charity work. Inspired by having overcome his own serious injuries and burns, he was very active as a Freemason and Shriner with the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. He was a Past Potentate of Al-Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles, and was eventually selected as Imperial Potentate of the Shriners of North America for the year 1949–50.
He was initiated in Alexander Hamilton Lodge No. 535 of Hollywood in 1925 at the height of his movie career. After his Third Degree, with his usual thoroughness and energy, he proceeded through both the York and Scottish Rites, and then joined Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles. He took his Royal Arch Degree with his father. In 1926, he became a 32° Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Los Angeles, California. In recognition of his services to the nation and Freemasonry, Bro. Lloyd was invested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honour in 1955 and coroneted an Inspector General Honorary, 33°, in 1965. As his movie work began to decline, he replaced it with ever-increasing activity in Masonry, especially the Shrine, becoming Potentate of the Los Angeles Temple in 1939. By the time he had stopped making movies altogether in 1949, he had become Imperial Potentate of the Shrine in North America, the first actor ever to be so recognized. He was installed into this prestigious position at Soldier Field in Chicago in the presence of a crowd of 90,000 including the then-President of the United States and fellow Shriner, Ill. Harry S. Truman, 33°.
He appeared as himself on several television shows during his retirement, first on Ed Sullivan's variety show Toast of the Town June 5, 1949, and again on July 6, 1958. He appeared as the Mystery Guest on What's My Line? on April 26, 1953, and twice on This Is Your Life: on March 10, 1954 for Mack Sennett, and again on December 14, 1955, on his own episode. During both appearances, Lloyd's hand injury can clearly be seen.
Lloyd studied colors, microscopy, and was very involved with photography, including 3D photography and color film experiments. Some of the earliest 2-color Technicolor tests were shot at his Beverly Hills home (These are included as extra material in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection DVD Box Set). He became known for his nude photographs of models, such as Bettie Page and stripper Dixie Evans, for a number of men's magazines. He also took photos of Marilyn Monroe lounging at his pool in a bathing suit, which were published after their deaths. In 2004, his granddaughter Suzanne produced a book of selections from his photographs, Harold Lloyd's Hollywood Nudes in 3D! (ISBN 1-57912-394-5).
Lloyd also provided encouragement and support for a number of younger actors, such as Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, and particularly Jack Lemmon, whom Harold declared as his own choice to play him in a movie of his life and work.
Lloyd kept copyright control of most of his films and re-released them infrequently after his retirement. Lloyd did not grant cinematic release because most theaters could not accommodate an organist, and Lloyd did not wish his work to be accompanied by a pianist: "I just don't like pictures played with pianos. We never intended them to be played with pianos". Similarly, his features were never shown on television as Lloyd's price was high: "I want $300,000 per picture for two showings. That's a high price, but if I don't get it, I'm not going to show it. They've come close to it, but they haven't come all the way up". As a consequence, his reputation and public recognition suffered in comparison with Chaplin and Keaton, whose work has generally been more available.
Also, Lloyd's film character was so intimately associated with the 1920s era that attempts at revivals in 1940s and 1950s were poorly received, when audiences viewed the 1920s (and silent film in particular) as old-fashioned.
In the early 1960s, Lloyd produced two compilation films, featuring scenes from his old comedies, Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy and The Funny Side of Life. The first film was premiered at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where Lloyd was feted as a major rediscovery. The renewed interest in Lloyd helped restore his status among film historians. Throughout his later years he screened his films for audiences at special charity and educational events, to great acclaim, and found a particularly receptive audience among college audiences: "Their whole response was tremendous because they didn't miss a gag; anything that was even a little subtle, they got it right away".
Following his death, and after extensive negotiations, most of his feature films were leased to Time-Life Films in 1974. As Tom Dardis confirms: "Time-Life prepared horrendously edited musical-sound-track versions of the silent films, which are intended to be shown on TV at sound speed [24 frames per second], and which represent everything that Harold feared would happen to his best films".
Through the efforts of Kevin Brownlow and David Gill and the support of granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd Hayes, the British Thames Silents series re-released some of the feature films in the early 1990s on home video, at corrected projection speeds and with new orchestral scores by Carl Davis. More recently, the remainder of Lloyd's great silent features and many shorts were fully restored, with new orchestral scores by Robert Israel. These are now frequently shown on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable channel. An acclaimed 1990 documentary (Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius) by Brownlow and Gill, which was shown as part of the PBS series American Masters, also created a renewed interest in Lloyd's work in the early 1990s. A DVD Collection of restored versions of most of his feature films (and his more important shorts) was released by New Line Cinema in partnership with the Harold Lloyd Trust in November 2005, along with limited theatrical screenings in New York and other cities in the US, Canada, and Europe. Silent film historian Annette Lloyd (no relation to Harold) has also said that if there is a large-enough show of support by fans, a second collection may be released in the future.
In 1953, Lloyd received a special Academy Award for being a "master comedian and good citizen". The second citation was a snub to Chaplin, who at that point had fallen foul of McCarthyism and who had had his entry visa to the United States revoked. Regardless of the political overtones, Lloyd accepted the award in good spirit.
Lloyd died at age 77 from prostate cancer on March 8, 1971, in Beverly Hills, California. He was interred in a crypt in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Harold Lloyd has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1927 his was only the fourth ceremony preserving his handprints, footprints, autograph, and outline of his famed glasses (which were actually a pair of sunglasses with the lenses removed), at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, directly in front of the Hollywood Masonic Temple, of which he was a member. In 1994, he was honored with his image on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
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