Wednesday, November 20, 2013

His face at first just ghostly (or, the unknown Harold Lloyd)

In HER PAINTED HERO, Lloyd plays a minister who arrives at a mansion (in reality A.G. Schlosser’s Castle San Souci, the same location used in TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE and several other Sennett films) to preside over a wedding. This was actually the second time Lloyd had played a minister at Keystone—the first time had been in THEIR SOCIAL SPLASH, made the previous month.

From Mack Sennett: A Celebration of the King of Comedy and his Studio, Films and Comedians


I never in a million years thought I'd find anything like this. Goes to show that no matter how many times I go to the well, I always seem to dredge up something of interest about the elusive, enigmatic Harold Lloyd.

And this time, it's a bucket of gold.

I'd heard the story - heard Harold tell it in an archival clip on the bonus disc in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection DVD set - but never thought I'd find any evidence. Back in 1915 - 1915! - Lloyd had a little disagreement with his director Hal Roach about pay. He was getting paid something like $5.00 a week to run around and play any and ever part necessary, but when he found out this other guy (who? Who cares) was getting $10.00 a week, he "walked". I don't for a minute think this is true - he was probably butting heads with Roach in his typical temperamental (some say childish) way, and went stomping off to Mack Sennett for spite.

I don't think Sennett had to think very hard about hiring Harold Lloyd. He had talent shooting out of his fingertips and charisma oozing out of his pores. So for a year Harold went to comedy boot camp, and probably learned a lot of skills (the pratfall being one of them) that he would take back with him when he and Roach kissed and made up.

This is one of many examples of how and why Lloyd became so famous: he made gravy out of everything, squeezed advantage out of disadvantage, learned like crazy, and had the kind of determination it was impossible to knock down. And there was another factor: Fate just kissed him on the forehead and said, "Mein boy." The rest is history.

But look at this! There are actual photos here from one of his Sennett films. He plays a minister in this, which is weird because Muriel in The Glass Character describes him as being "more like a minister than a comedian". I think he may have been slotted into straight-man roles mainly because he just wasn't funny-looking enough for Keystone, though he did an inevitable stint as a cop running frantically around and waving a nightstick.

These photos are ghostly, out of focus, dreamlike, almost unreal - and Lloyd was only 21 or 22, a mere stripling. But take a look at these and tell me they AREN'T Harold Lloyd. Stripling he may be (or strip loin, whichever), but in some ways he is full-blown, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. (I try to work that phrase in whenever I can.) His body posture, his face, even the way he wears the costume - all are Lloyd in embryo, a man who had no idea how famous he was going to be, or what it would cost him.

(But can you tell me, please - is he wearing glasses here? There are so many conflicting stories of the provenance of the glasses that one wonders. Too blurry to tell, but I'd say not. Wait a couple more years for the lightning-stroke.)

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