Happy 124th Birthday, Harold Lloyd!

Comedy giant Harold Lloyd was born 124 years ago today in Burchard, Nebraska. Here are 10 HL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lloyd’s parents fought frequently when he was a child (due in large part to his father’s penchant for launching unsuccessful, short-lived businesses); they divorced when he was a teenager, after which Lloyd and his dad moved west to San Diego. In 1912, Lloyd, who’d acted on stage since childhood, began to work in one-reel comedies for the Thomas Edison company. His first role was a Yaqui Indian in short called The Old Monk’s Tale.
  • Before long, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles, where he became friends with aspiring filmmaker Hal Roach. Roach told Lloyd that when he was able to produce his own pictures, he’d make a star out of Lloyd. When Roach opened his studio in 1913, the pair began to collaborate on creating Lloyd’s first recurring role, Lonesome Luke, a character influenced greatly by Charlie Chaplin‘s Tramp.
  • Within a few years, Lloyd began to shift toward the character that is better remembered today, often referred to as the “Glass character” for the round specs that he wore. “When I adopted the glasses,” Lloyd said in a 1962 television interview, “it more or less put me in a different category because I became a human being. He was a kid that you would meet next door, across the street, but at the same time I could still do all the crazy things that we did before, but you believed them. They were natural and the romance could be believable.”
  • In his Lonely Luke days, Harold Lloyd gave actress Bebe Daniels his start. The credits usually listed Lloyd’s character as “The Boy” and Daniels’ as “The Girl.” The pair were romantically involved for a time. After five years, Daniels went on to a very successful career as a leading lady. Daniels’ replacement in Lloyd’s pictures was Mildred Davis, whom he wed in 1923. They were married until her death in 1969.
  • In 1919, while shooting some publicity photographs, Lloyd suffered extensive damage to his hand while lighting a cigarette with a prop bomb that he thought was just a smoke pot. The bomb exploded, and Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger. He also suffered burns on his face and incurred damage to one of his eyes (luckily, his sight was unaffected).
  • Lloyd and Roach began focusing on feature-length pictures, rather than shorts, in 1921, and when the pair parted ways in 1924, Lloyd launched his own production company.
  • Though Buster Keaton and Chaplin are today considered the greatest comedians of the silent era, in the 1920s, Lloyd’s pictures made more money than either (in large part because he was so prolific—he made 12 full-length features in that decades to Chaplin’s four).
  • In the late 1920s, Lloyd built a home in Beverly Hills he called Green Acres that boasted 44 rooms, 26 bathrooms, 12 fountains, 12 gardens, and a nine-hole golf course. Though the surrounding grounds have been subdivided, the main house and the estate’s principal gardens are still there, and the estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • It’s been reported that Lloyd was approached to portray Elwood P. Dowd in the original Broadway production of Mary Chase’s play, Harvey. When Lloyd turned the part down, the role went to Frank Fay.
  • Lloyd’s post-cinema hobby was 3-D photography; among his works were portraits of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Sterling Holloway, Richard Burton and Roy Rogers. He also shot a good many nude…er, artistic photographs of more anonymous starlets of the day.

Happy birthday, Harold Lloyd, wherever you may be!

Harold Lloyd

365 Nights in Hollywood: Reckless Reels

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “Reckless Reels” from that 1926 collection.

RECKLESS REELS

(A resume)
 
. . . a jazz band . . . colored spotlights . . . evening gowns . . . and stiff shirts . . . laughter . . . silver flasks . . . smacked lips . . . bluish-grey clouds of lingering smoke . . . The Biltmore ballroom on Saturday night . . . the new playground of the movie folk . . . Art Hickman . . .
Alma Rubens strolls along with Ricardo Cortez . . . softly on the heavily napped carpet . . . her gown of silver cloth and royal blue sparkles . . . Rick with his polished black hair . . . immaculate shirt and carefully fitted Tux . . . sparkles . . . murmurs of the “outsiders” sitting along the sides in deep chairs . . . Alma and Rick smile and speak to one or two couples passing. . . .
A very young chap and “deb” are about to enter . . . he notices a small sign—very small—“Couvert $1.50” . . . feels for his checkbook . . . a forced smile . . . she rambles on with a meaningless chatter . . . he rambles back . . . the gay “hello’s and how-are-you’s.” . . .
. . . the dance again . . . Priscilla Dean and her husband, Wheeler Oakman, are the first on the shiny floor . . . Hobart Henley, director, wanders over to Virginia Valli . . . he and Virginia dance . . . Hobart is amused at the throbbing, hot crowd . . .
Constance Talmadge enters . . . there are smiles . . . whispers . . . gasps . . . she is clinging to Norman Terry’s arm . . . he looks satisfied . . . the flappers’ hearts flutter . . . they join Mr. and Mrs. Earl Williams . . . Constance nods to a few around her . . . her press agent is there with a well known society girl, Dot Hubbard . . . Constance calls to him. . . .
A young man with streaks of grey at his temples sits alone in the far corner . . . he seems to be gazing at the interior decorations . . . they are beautiful and sparkling . . . he shifts to watch the constant stream of humans passing the entrance archway . . . there are actors, writers, business men, members of “The Nothing-to-Do-Club,” stately dowagers bedecked with diamonds, tottering old men still sowing their wild oats; gag men with serious faces; heroes with disgusted countenances, villains with heroine-winning smiles; comedians with Blue Law expressions; extra men and girls with eyes for those who “wonder who they are?” questions. . . .
Colleen Moore and her husband, John McCormick, saunter in . . . Ben Lyon is with Dorothy Dore . . . his latest wise-crack is “Since James Kirkwood made a picture entitled, ‘Discontented Husbands,’ what is Lila Lee doing?” . . . his friend Jack Santoro doesn’t laugh . . . Ben, however, is prepared and does his own laughing . . . he sucks grenadine punch through a straw in a tall, delicately wrought glass . . . Ben tells another one: “Now that the Culver City studio is making ‘The Purple Bathtub,’ can Harry Gribbon play the part of the color-blind plumber?” . . . Jack almost smiles . . . Ben laughs and decides to dance with Helen Ferguson again . . . Jack does ditto with Dorothy. . . .
Georges Jaimaie, expert on Paris lingo, does his stuff in French at the next table . . . Baroness d’Estreilles, American representative for Boue Soeurs in Paris, is displaying a new Parisian creation at Priscilla Dean’s table now. . . .
. . . the hurrying waiters add to the zest of the excitement . . . there is always excitement . . . roving eyes . . . searching for things to talk about . . . catty remarks . . . compliments . . . impromptu speeches on the film slump . . . unanswered questions . . . bits of scandal . . . criticisms on The Modern Girl . . . views on Life . . . invitations for next week’s dinners and parties . . . flirtations . . . lovers’ quarrels . . . slang . . .

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Hollywood Undressed, Chapter Two

The second chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood, tells the story of how actress Marie Dressler became Sylvia’s first client from the motion picture industry. The book was actually ghost-written for Sylvia herself by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker.

OUR FIRST LADY STRIPS FOR ACTION

Marie DresslerMARIE DRESSLER is the one woman whose name is in the date book as far back as 1925, who doesn’t give me a pain. I guess everyone likes her. Even these cats that come in here with gastritis every time somebody else makes a hit in a picture can stand the idea that Marie Dressler is knocking them dead with every release. Maybe it’s because Marie is nobody’s rival for a beauty prize. What really burns them up is having new cutie breeze into town hunting for a lap to climb on. Nobody got alarmed when Miss Dressler began squeezing through the doors of casting offices. And now it’s too late to do anything about it.
The nightly prayer of the Hollywood female is: “Please, Lord, don’t send us any more lookers.” Heaven heard them once, and sent Marie Dressler.
Sylvia was giving Dressler her daily tumble before Hollywood ever did. Back in 1925, in “The Callahans and the Murphys,” Dressler was just one of the supporting crowd—an aunt or something. Nevertheless, she was Sylvia’s first movie client and her entering wedge into the film colony.
Yes, if Marie Dressler hadn’t been loaded up with fourteen quarts of near-beer a day back in 1925, Sylvia might have gone back to Chicago. And me? I suppose I’d still be holding the towel for that dentist who couldn’t pay my wages. But for Marie Dressler, Sylvia might never have hung on in Hollywood.
The boss told me about that first call to Marie Dressler’s suite in the Ambassador Hotel. You see, in those days, being just a squareheaded immigrant, Sylvia knew no more about the Hollywood film world than you can find out walking down Vine Street at lunch hour, and reading the press blurbs. And what you see from that angle is all front—the big Hollywood front. It took her a couple of years to work around to the other side of Hollywood.
The call to attend Marie Dressler came quite unexpectedly. I don’t need to say I wasn’t yet on the scene. An unknown masseuse doesn’t need a secretary to handle the appointment book and the collections. One of her patients was a Chicago woman visiting Los Angeles and staying in the Hotel Ambassador. This same woman was getting treatment by the hotel doctor, who was an A-No.1 M. D. and was on the level. So when Marie Dressler called the doc to her suite in the same hotel and showed him the symptoms of gastritis, the doc recommended Sylvia.
And so Mae Murray and Alice White and Bebe Daniels and Mary Duncan and Ramon Novarro and Ronald Colman and Norma Shearer and Ruth Chatterton and Ann Harding and Norma Talmadge and Grace Moore and Connie Bennett and Gloria Swanson followed in rapid succession, and today Sylvia stands at the top of her profession and has an electric refrigerator and a hired girl in the kitchen.
Well, meanwhile, before going up to the Dressler suite, Sylvia stopped in to thank the hotel doctor for the boost. And she got to telling him how this was like a dream coming true—
“Because I worked a year in Chicago to save up enough money to come out to Hollywood,” she told him. “I doped it out, doctor, that the one thing they want out here is to hang on to their good looks, which they can’t do without some professional help. Now, this Marie Dressler—tell me confidentially, doctor. She isn’t so sick, as she’s afraid she’s lost her shape or her complexion. Isn’t that it?”
You see, Dressler was just a name to the boss, who hadn’t been spending much money or time on the movies. The doctor got wise that Sylvia thought she was to go to work on the alabaster surface of a piece of living Hollywood statuary. He let it ride.
“The poor girl’s a little overweight,” is all he said—with a poker face.
“Any bets I can’t take it off? said Sylvia.
“I’m not a betting man,” he replied.
So Sylvia went on up to suite A3 to get her first peek at Hollywood beauty languishing luxuriously in its lair.

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