Tag Archive: musicals


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

Happy 79th Birthday Elvis!

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock2

I was never a huge Elvis fan, but I appreciated what he did for musical history, especially the history of rock. He was after all The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I think my favorite song of his would probably be A Little Less Conversation, as it is a bit cheeky. The two things I always remembered about Elvis growing up was that he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi (near where my maternal grandparents grew up in the Delta) and that they both listened to him. He was one of the few non-strictly country music stars that they listened to, as when I was growing up I remember finding records of him, along with Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash. It is interesting to note that his music is considered Country, Pop and R&B.

The way I got to know Elvis was through musicals. As I have said numerous times before on the blog, I grew up watching movie musicals from the 1930s-60s. I went through a brief obsession with the 50s and 60s, where I listened to a lot of Beach Boys and other music from that area, and this included movies. So I watched Elvis in movies like Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas. The above photo is from Jailhouse Rock, and shows him with his famous dancing pelvis. Does anyone have any Elvis stories to share?

 Here are some factoids about The King:

  • Elvis is Norse for “all wise.”
  • Elvis’ famous black hair was dyed – his natural color was brown.
  • He was distantly related to former U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter
  • When he was 15 months old, Elvis almost died in a Tupelo, Mississippi tornado, which would have meant that he would have joined his dead-at-birth twin Aaron.
  • Elvis purchased his first guitar when he was just 11 years old. He wanted a rifle, but his mama convinced him to get a guitar instead.
  • At 18, Elvis paid $4 to make his first record, a gift for his mama.
  • In 1954, Elvis auditioned for a gospel quartet named the Songfellows.  They said no.
  • That same year, a local radio DJ played Elvis’ version of That’s All Right.  He went on to play it 13 more times that day, but had trouble convincing his audience that Elvis was white.
  • His breakthrough hit was Heartbreak Hotel, released in 1956 – a song inspired by a newspaper article about a local suicide.
  • When performing on TV in 1956, host Milton Berle advised Elvis to perform without his guitar, reportedly saying, “Let ’em see you, son.”  Elvis’ gyrating hips caused outrage across the U.S. and within days he was nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis.
  • A Florida judge called Elvis “a savage” that same year because he said that his music was “undermining the youth.”  He was subsequently forbidden from shaking his body at a gig, so he waggled his finger instead in protest.
  • Elvis bought his mansion, Graceland, in Memphis, TN in 1957 for $100,000.  It was named by its previous owner after his daughter, Grace.
  • In December 1957, Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army, earning a $78 monthly salary.  During his brief two-year stint on active duty, he was unable to access his music-generated income of $400,000.
  • In 1959, while serving overseas in Germany, Elvis (then 24 years old) met his future wife, 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.  They were married 8 years later.
  • Elvis’ 1960 hit “It’s Now or Never” so inspired a prisoner who heard it in jail that he vowed to pursue a career in music upon his release.  The artist, Barry White, was then serving a 4-month sentence for stealing tires.
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, a 1961 Presley hit, is set to the melody “Plaisir D’Amour,” an 18th century French love song.
  • Elvis recorded more than 600 songs, but did not write any of them
  • Elvis is the only solo performer to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Country, and Gospel Halls of Fame.

 

Resources

Heather Jarvis, Student Loan Counselor at: http://askheatherjarvis.com/blog/25-fun-facts-about-elvis-presley-the-king-of-rock-roll

Connie Wilson on Yahoo Voices, 2010 at: http://voices.yahoo.com/fifty-freaky-flakey-fun-facts-featuring-elvis-presley-5291223.html

CNN Library’s “Elvis Presley Fast Facts” on Aug 30, 2013 at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/30/us/elvis-presley-fast-facts/

Grease is the word

I just finished watching the latest episode of Glee, well the last one I can view on Hulu anyways which was on Nov 15, “Glease“. I have no cable TV so sometimes takes me awhile to catch up with shows. Now I’m a huge Glee fan and an even bigger Grease fan, so I was very excited to see this episode, which featured many of my favorite songs from the movie musical. My history with Grease goes back to my middle school days. Yes, I am aware that the movie came out in 1978, which was a few years before I was even born. But for some reason, the movie regained its popularity in the early 90s, probably in the same way that I grew up watching sitcoms from the 50s and 60s, like My Three Sons and The Monkees. Anyways, when I was about 12, I had this group of girls that I hung out with and we liked to call ourselves “The Pink Ladies,” just like the girls in the movie did. My best friend, the first guy I was ever in love with, got me the soundtrack for my birthday. I didn’t fault him the fact that it was a single from the Broadway musical version, though I was a little disappointed truth be told. This was the version of the song that I wanted. And yes, I know that the movie is very outdated in its ideals and the fact that most of its co-stars were way over the age of teenagers when they took the roles, but it is still a fun movie to watch and sing along to. I think there is probably a tie between Sandy and Rizzo for my favorite characters in the movie, although I gotta say that the characters they picked for those roles in “Glease” were excellent as well (I think Unique would’ve been fun for Rizzo, though Santana, as she said, was made for the role). And Grease is honestly the only movie I can really stand John Travolta in, with the possible exception of the Look Whose Talking? movies (what can I say? I’m a child of the 90s). Here are some fun factoids I found on the movie, with some of my commentary:

  • Due to a zipper breaking, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into the trousers she wears in the last sequence (the carnival at Rydell). [which makes sense given how tight the pants are]
  • Henry Winkler, who became a sensation as “Fonzie” on Happy Days, was considered for the role of Danny Zuko. However, he turned down the role for fear of being typecast.
  • Carrie Fisher was considered for the role of Rizzo. [I think she might’ve worked for the role, but I loved Stockard Channing in the role, she’s more feisty; plus honestly, I’m not sure most people would have any idea who she was if not for the movie]
  • It was released again in theaters in 1998 for a couple of reasons: to mark the 20th anniversary of the original and because the year before, a dance mix of songs from the soundtrack became a big hit on radio. [a couple of years after I first discovered Grease]
  • Danny’s blue windbreaker at the beginning of the film was intended as a nod to Rebel Without a Cause.
  • The original stage play had more sexual references than the censors wanted to allow. Among these was the use of plastic wrap as protection. To overcome the censors, there weren’t any blatant references but Danny rubs plastic wrap over his crotch during “Greased Lightning”. [which makes sense given the amount of censorship they do to it even now in the “Glease” episode and in high school musical versions everywhere]
  • The scene in Frenchy’s bedroom while Rizzo is singing the line about Elvis was actually filmed the same day that Elvis Presley died.
  • The dance contest scene was filmed during the summer, when the school was closed. The gym had no air conditioning and the doors had to be kept closed to control lighting, so the building became stifling hot. On more than one occasion, an extra had to be taken out due to heat-related illness.
  • The official premiere after-party was at Studio 54.
  • “Greased Lightning” was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway‘s character, Kenickie, as it is in the stage version. John Travolta used his clout to have his character sing it. The director felt it was only right to ask Conaway if it was okay. At first he refused, but he eventually gave in. [this makes Travolta look a bit like a douchebag in my opinion]
  • The original Broadway production opened at the Eden Theater on February 14, 1972 and ran for 3,388 performances, setting a record. Adrienne Barbeau and Barry Bostwick were in the original Broadway cast. John Travolta appeared at some time as a replacement on Broadway in the role of “Doody”. Marilu Henner, an alumna of the original Chicago production, appeared as a replacement in the role of “Marty”. Patrick Swayze and Treat Williams were both replacements as Danny Zuko. Richard Gere is also listed as an understudy to many male roles, including Danny Zuko. Gere played Zuko in the London production in 1973. [Richard Gere as Danny Zuko? Not sure about that, though he was definitely good looking enough in An Officer and a Gentleman made 9 yrs later; heck let’s be honest, he is still an attractive man now]
  • “Hopelessly Devoted To You” was written and recorded after the movie had wrapped. The producers felt they needed a strong ballad and had Olivia Newton-John come back to film her singing this song. This song ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination.
  • Stockard Channing was not the first choice for the role of Rizzo; Lucie Arnaz was allegedly dropped from consideration when her mother, Lucille Ball, called Paramount and said, “I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!” (Ball actually owned the studio Desilu which was bought by Paramount). The part went to Channing when the casting director remembered seeing her with Lucie in the play, “Vanities” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (the third member of the cast was Sandy Duncan).
  • Jeff Conaway stated in an episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew that while filming the scene/song “Greased Lightning” he was dropped by his fellow cast members and injured his back leading to his addiction to prescription painkillers.
  • The highest-grossing movie of 1978.
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