It’s easy to forget in today’s world of intricately detailed animation that there was a much simpler time in the movie business. As with all industries, filmmaking didn’t just come into being equipped with top of the line CGI and refined storytelling. It evolved over decades as directors, producers, and actors all honed and polished their craft.
Back in the days of black and white and soundless cinema, there were some actors that gained prominence for the level of finesse they portrayed on screen, much like today. We’re all familiar with beloved Charlie Chaplin, but there were quite a few other people that had their own time in the spotlight.
Who Was Harold Lloyd?
Harold Lloyd, born on the 20th of April in 1893, was an American actor who specialized in comedy and performing stunts. Harold Lloyd is among Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the most influential actors during the silent film era, and an influential actor overall; as he is probably the progenitor of the modern action film genre. Harold Lloyd was also the highest paid star in the 1920’s.
Harold didn’t only feature in silent films however, and starred in a few of the earliest films that included sound. Harold Lloyd’s character on screen was an energetic youth that was always hatching new schemes to achieve success, whatever success may mean. His films were popular for their action sequences, many of which Harold Lloyd liked to perform himself rather than offloading the role to a stunt double. Though Harold Lloyd’s films never reached the popularity Charlie Chaplin’s films did, Harold did release quite a bit more of them and ended up making much more money than Charlie Chaplin.
Early Life And His Career Start
Harold Lloyd was born to James Darsie Lloyd and Sarah Elisabeth Fraser in Burchard, Nebraska. He liked to act from a young age, and did so in theatre multiple times as a child. In the year 1910, Lloyd’s parents divorced following multiple business ventures of his dad’s failing to take off. After the divorce James moved to San Diego, California with his son. It was here Harold started acting in one-reel comedy films in the year 1912.
At first, Harold worked with Thomas Edison’s motion picture company. His first ever role was that of a Yaqui Indian, in “The Old Monk’s Tale”. After he turned 20, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles and had roles in multiple comedy films by the Keystone Film Company. He also worked as an extra for Universal Studios.
Soon after, Harold Lloyd became friends with Hal Roach, an aspiring filmmaker. And when Hal Roach opened up his own studio in 1913, Harold Lloyd wasted no time in collaborating with him. The first film they created together was named “Lonesome Luke”. The next year, Lloyd hired Bebe Daniels as a supporting actress. Though they were romantically involved and worked together for a good few years, Bebe Daniels ultimately ended up leaving in 1919 to pursue her own goals and desires. She was replaced with Mildred Davis, an actress Harold Lloyd took a liking to after Hal Roach told him to watch a movie of hers.
The Emergence Of The Glass Character
Up until now Harold Lloyd had merely been mimicking the acts of other greats at the time. Mostly focusing on comedy, Harold had taken great inspiration from Charlie Chaplin, who was quite famous around that time. In 1918 Lloyd and Roach decided to take a more personal approach, and wanted to make up a new character with new traits and his own identity. Thus, the Glass character was born.
After Roach declared Harold too handsome to continue doing just comedy, Harold Lloyd started playing the Glass character. This character, often named Harold in his films, adorned lens-less horn-rimmed glasses and took a slightly more mature take. Harold started mixing up comedy with believable romance and fast-paced action sequences. Harold’s character was known for always striving for success, and Harold played a variety of different characters portraying differing social classes and how he would struggle for some semblance of fame and recognition.
The Bomb Incident
Life has a not so funny habit of throwing stuff at you when you’re least expecting it, and something like this happened to Harold Lloyd as well. On the 24th of August, 1919, Harold was at the Los Angeles Witzel Photography Studio. Harold Lloyd was visiting for an event and was posing for promotional pictures and material. It was during this when he picked up what he thought was a bomb prop.
Intending for a photograph where he was holding a bomb with a lit fuse, Harold lit a cigarette and the bomb. The bomb however, was not a prop and had a real charge housed inside it. As Harold lowered the bomb away from his face it went off. Harold lost his right hand’s thumb and index finger and was blinded for a short time. When asked about this incident later, he said he was just glad that he lived and managed to retain his eyesight. Harold Lloyd promptly continued his acting career, disguising his injury so audiences would be none the wiser.
Seeing as Harold Lloyd had slowly been gaining popularity and quite the following, he couldn’t be expected to continue working in short films. In 1921, Harold moved on to feature-length comedy films permanently. During the next three years Lloyd produced many successful films including “Grandma’s Boy”, “Safety Last!”, and “Why Worry?”. Harold Lloyd preferred performing his own stunts wherever he could, making use of his one good hand and cleverly hiding or disguising the other. When the stunts proved too challenging for him however, a certain Harvey Parry acted as his stunt double.
In the year 1924 Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach finally parted ways, leaving Harold as the independent producer of his films. Harold formed his own film production company named “The Harold Lloyd Film Corporation”. The rest of the decade saw many great features from Harold Lloyd, including but certainly not limited to “Girl Shy”, “The Freshman”, “The Kid Brother”, and “Speedy”. Speedy was Harold Lloyd’s final silent film as the next one – “Welcome Danger” – was changed into a sound feature midway through production. Riding on the success of all these films, Harold Lloyd became the highest paid film performer of the decade.
Losing Popularity And Lloyd’s Retirement
Although “Welcome Danger” had been a success, the following years slowly saw Harold Lloyd losing popularity with the masses. He released a good number of films; “Feet First”, “Movie Crazy”, The Cat’s-Paw”, and “The Milky Way”, but his character on screen simply did not cut it anymore. As the Great Depression settled in, people’s likes and dislikes changed as well.
By the time he released his final film of the 1930’s – “Professor Beware” – his production company’s fortunes had been dwindling and he didn’t have nearly enough say in the film as others before it. Harold sold the land of his studio on the 23rd of March, 1937. In the early 1940’s Harold Lloyd produced a few comedies for RKO Radio Pictures. Then, after a long absence, he returned to act in “The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock”, a homage to Lloyd’s career. The film was never a success, saw arguments during production, and ended up with Harold Lloyd suing Howard Hughes, the producer.
Harold spent a few years working on radio and enjoyed a semi-quiet life with his family; Mildred Davis (who he had married on the 10th of February, 1923) and his three children, one of whom was adopted. Harold Lloyd died on the 8th of March, 1971, aged 77. His cause of death was attributed to prostate cancer.
Actors throughout the history of filmmaking have led interesting lives. After all, juggling multiple characters on screen and their own personal life can’t be the easiest thing to do. Consequently, their life histories make for some fascinating reads, and offer an insight into what goes on behind the mask, or in this case, the camera.