Tag Archive: comedians


The Genius of Harold Lloyd

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, 1952

While I was at my parent’s house for Thanksgiving, I decided to stay the night so I could more easily go to the famous Sun City Arts & Craft Show the next day. That night, I stayed up with my dad and we got to watch a compilation film done by silent film comedian Harold Lloyd in 1962, that featured all of his best work. I will admit that other than his most famous film Safety Last, and really only the clock tower scene, I hadn’t really watched anything of his. My husband is less appreciative of classic Hollywood movies than I am, so the only time I really get to watch good old movies is when I am with my parents, and more specifically with my dad. He really got me interested in Old Hollywood films circa 1890s-1950s, and it was because of him that I took some film history classes during my undergraduate career. My parents are the reason I grew up watching film stars like Gene Kelley, Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Howard Keel, Leslei Caron, Ann Miller, Frank Sinatra and Bob Fosse instead of more traditional 80s and 90s stars like Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick or Jennifer Grey. The last star at least I made up for in Graduate School the first time as my friends and I went through an obsessive Dirty Dancing faze.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last!, 1923

Anyways, I enjoyed watching the compilation movie Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy, not only because it prompted an in-depth conversation, with my dad, about the three great silent film comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and of course, Harold Lloyd. We talked about the differences in their style of comedy, but my dad didn’t know all that much about Lloyd’s background so I thought it might be fun to research it. Harold Clayton Lloyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska on April 20, 1893 and from an early age, had an interest to perform on stage. He enrolled in the School for Dramatic Arts in San Diego, CA. He originally snuck onto the Universal Pictures studio lot and met famous producer Hal Roach, who would later go on to produce Laurel & Hardy movies, who let Lloyd join his new production company. Lloyd starred in many “Lonesome Luke” films, where he played similar to Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. He knew this would not go far with early silent film audiences, so he completely changed his persona. He became the everyman with his trademark round horn-rimmed glasses, straw boater hat and messy suit. According to his official biography from Harold Lloyd Entertainment “Harold was the first film comedian to portray a character that looked and acted like someone sitting in the audience – an average guy, the boy-next-door. With this “glass” character as Harold called it, He could experience the humor in everyday life. And, as an average fellow, Harold’s boy-next-door could have a romance. It was the beginning of romantic comedy in films. As his new character grew more popular, the one-reel comedies became two-reels.” I should first explain a little bit about the terminology one-reel and two-reels. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the early days of motion pictures, each reel ran about 10 minutes, and the length of a picture was indicated by the number of its reels.” Therefore it was possible for early film comedians like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd to literally makes hundreds of films during their extensive careers. By 1922, Lloyd had progressed from making two-reel films to five reels (modern full-length movies).

In August 1919, Harold Lloyd was posing for a photographer with a cigarette, which he was lighting with what he thought was a prop bomb. Only it wasn’t a fake and it went off, temporarily blinding him and taking off his pointer finger and thumb of his right hand. The doctors believed his career was over, but he recovered and had a prosthetic hand made so he could continue working in film for a further 29 years and making a total of 200 films. So it is pretty crazy to imagine him only holding on to the famous clock hand on the side of a building in Safety Last with his left hand and only three fingers on his right hand! Even more so because apparently despite all his crazy stunts involving tall buildings, he was afraid of heights.

Harold Lloyd3

The reason he is a genius stems from his knowledge of his audience. He knew just how to be both funny and moving. According to the PBS American Master’s webpage, he also knew how much fear helped heighten comedy. “One day while on his way to the studio, he watched a man scaling the side of a building. Crowds had gathered around and were completely consumed by the sight of the climber. Lloyd knew that if he could keep an audience on the edge of their seats like this, he could make them laugh even harder. So, using the tricks of photographic perspective, he began to shoot scenes that looked as if they were happening on the sides of buildings, on scaffoldings, or hanging from clocks. These acrobatic hi-jinks seemed amazingly real in a time before special effects. More than simply renewing the audience’s interest in his work, these progressive techniques earned him the respect of others in the film industry.” My dad and I watched several snippets of his films, including Safety Last and Why Worry? that use these “thrill comedy” techniques. When Safety Last opened in 1923, it was immediately a huge success and he was nicknamed “The King of Daredevil Comedy”. According to his biography from Harold Lloyd Entertainment, “By the mid 1920’s, Harold had left Roach and was producing all the films in which he starred. Of all the silent film comedians, Harold Lloyd was the most profitable. His films out grossed the movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and he made more films than both of them put together.” I find this film gross fact to be particularly fascinating as I would say most people nowadays have never heard of Lloyd, but have heard of Chaplin and may have heard of Keaton. The biography goes on to say that “In 1928, Variety proclaimed him the highest paid film star. When talking pictures came along, Lloyd was one of the first filmmakers to embrace the new medium. He was the fifth film star to immortalize his hand and footprints in the pavement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and he has two stars on the “Walk of Fame.” So go check him and his movies out!

Resources

Biography Section from Harold Lloyd’s Entertainment website

PBS American Masters biography section about Harold Lloyd

Encyclopedia Britannica article on reels

I have been composing this post for a couple of days, ever since Thursday night when I was gathering music for DiscoveryTime, and afterwards was listening to the songs I had downloaded off of Freegal. For those, who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the description: “Freegal is a downloadable music service from your library. All you need is your library card number and, if your library requires it, a PIN. Freegal offers access to about 3 million songs, including Sony Music’s catalog of legendary artists.” While this E-library music program is not without its problems, i.e. hard to search and only Sony artists, I am enjoying get free legal music. I was actually listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s song Word Crimes off his most recent album Mandatory Fun, which by the way I think is one of the best and funniest of all his music. The way he rhymes is just incredible and although I’m sure some people will be offended by the song, others like those who appreciate correct words and spelling will enjoy it.

Spike Jones

I have been listening to parody music for ages. When I was little, my dad had Spike Jones albums and those were pretty hilarious. My favorites were the opera parodies of Bizet’s Carmen and Leoncavallo’s Il Pagliacci. Spike Jones influenced other comedians like Dr. Demento, who later influenced Weird Al, so I guess moving to him was a natural progression for me. I started listening to Weird Al probably when I was about ten or eleven. My younger brother, probably courtesy of my dad, was the first one to listen to him. We started watching the music videos and bought a couple of the video tapes. Honestly, for awhile there, if it wasn’t for Weird Al’s parody versions of songs, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the originals. For example, “Eat It” was better than Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, “I Love Rocky Road” in my opinion is better than Joan Jett’s “I love Rock ‘n Roll” , “Like a Surgeon” was better than Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” instead of The Offsprings’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”. If anyone is interested, here’s a full list of his parody songs and polka mash-ups.

amish-paradise

My favorites of his are “Smells Like Nirvana” (parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and “Amish Paradise” (parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”). Weird Al mentions on his website that he asks permission from the artist before doing all parody versions, and Nirvana commented that they “knew they had made it after hearing about his parody of their song”. In all honestly, I never listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” until after lead singer Kurt Cobain killed himself, and really not until my undergraduate years when I had friends that listened to that kind of music. The marble part of the song makes me laugh every time. As for “Amish Paradise”, it’s all about Florence Henderson, Amish guys rapping and butter churning. Need I say more? My new third favorite is “Word Crimes,” a parody of the very controversial “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I will admit the original song is really catchy, despite its subject matter, which makes the parody version even more awesome. For other great songs on his newest album Mandatory Fun, check out the artist’s homepage and scroll down a bit.

RIP Rik Mayall

Drop Dead Fred

Comedy genius and actor Rik Mayall passed away today at age 56. I’m sure most people have no idea who he was and I probably would’ve been the same about 10 years ago. I actually first discovered him in the corny, bizarre, but really funny 1991 film Drop Dead Fredthough I had no idea it was him until years later. In fact, I for some reason always confused him with Aussie comedian Yahoo Serious. I didn’t really appreciate him until I saw him in the BBC Comedy Blackadder from the 1980s, where he played the outrageous and hilarious Lord Flashheart in the second Elizabethan-era season of the show, as well as in the fourth season as WWI flying ace for the RAF. He’s such a great character because he only appears for a short amount of time but is always more popular and steals the ladies from the main character Blackadder (masterfully played by Rowan Atkinson). Mayall is quoted as saying this after being offered the part of Flashheart, “I was surprised when they asked me. Very honouring that they asked me. ‘Alright,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it as long as I get more laughs than Rowan.'” Mayall is one of the reasons season two of Blackadder is my favorite one. He’s also really famous for the alternative comedy shows The Young Ones, The New Statesman, and Bottom. He will be missed. To see more of his best work, check out this article from The Independent. Below is my favorite clip of his:

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