Already At the Very Top: January 16-31, 1922

Harold Lloyd, 1921

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley announced that Harold Lloyd had arrived as a top comedy star when she wrote up his first long interview with the L.A. Times. There was only one other to compare him to:

Harold Lloyd has a personality much like that of Charlie Chaplin, except for Charlie’s moodiness. He kids about like Charlie and has Charlie’s magnetism and charm. He is reserved and shy with strangers, just as Chaplin is, but when he knows people well, he likes to talk.

Of course, Lloyd had turned up in her columns before, like when he got a new contract in March 1919 and when he injured his hand later that year. Kingsley also occasionally mentioned his shorts when the played with features she reviewed; for instance in 1918 she said his Sic’em Towser was “a lot of laughs.” She adored his final two-reeler, Never Weaken.

Lonesome Luke, 1915

Harold Lloyd had been acting in films since 1913, when he was hired as an extra for The Old Monk’s Tale. He met another extra, Hal Roach, and in 1915 when Roach started his own company he hired Lloyd to make one-reel comedies. Like many others, they began by making shorts similar to Chaplin’s, first featuring a Little Tramp-like character called Willie Work, then a similar one called Lonesome Luke. Luke was very popular, and they made 71 one-reelers. In 1917 they got tired of him and moved on to an original character, Lloyd’s “glasses” character, a hard-working boy next door who was always on his way to success. His films kept getting better and better, and now their years of work were paying off.

Kingsley’s article began with something surprising: people didn’t recognize Lloyd without his character’s glasses! She called them “those magic specs of Harold Lloyd’s” and she told her readers:

The Harold of the pictures is a serious young man in tortoise-rimmed glasses. The Harold Lloyd of real life is a smiling youth who has a friendly grin on his face most of the time…He is, in fact, as different in looks as possible from his comedy appearance. People do not recognize him readily, meeting him for the first time. I heard him kidded unmercifully at a party one night.

“Do you think you’re Harold Lloyd?” somebody asked him. He rose to the occasion and turned the joke.

“Sh!” he exclaimed. “I’m pretending to be!”

He told her that he was able to use this to his advantage.

“At the theaters where his pictures are being shown, usually nobody recognizes Lloyd, and he talks to people about himself and many a time with a view to finding out what they think of his work—what they like and what they dislike about it. The system is a good one, judging from the results, as Lloyd is now one of the two or three at the very top comedians.

“Yes, lately I’ve been fortunate in what I have overheard about myself,” said Lloyd. “But when I was playing Lonesome Luke—well, I felt pretty lonesome sometimes on overhearing people’s remarks. I want to forget that phase of my career!”

Harold and Gaylord Lloyd

This was Kingsley’s only reference to how he did his work, other than a mention that he could be a bad dancer when he was too busy thinking up gags. Her article’s purpose was to tell about his personality, so she visited him at home where he lived with several members of his family, including his brother Gaylord, his sister-in-law Maye Belle Gates Lloyd and their newborn son Gaylord Harold. Kingsley said that his hobbies were solving puzzles and doing parlor magic, and he hated fishing, but he went along with his friends when they went. But what he really enjoyed doing was home renovation. She observed:

The Lloyd’s house is really homey to the last degree.  You might just expect this comedian to spend the last of his days there, judging from his enthusiasm about improving it, and the atmosphere of comfort it gives out.

Kingsley was premature in her predication: this house at 369 S. Hoover Street was just practice, and he didn’t start building his dream house, Greenacres, until 1926. You can read all about it on Mary Mallory’s blog.

His permanent Christmas tree

Nevertheless, Lloyd in 1922 was very much the person he continued to be. He always insisted on having a Christmas tree. “That’s partly because when he was a little fellow, the family, which had always had a tree, was too poor to purchase one. He wept himself to sleep. Ever since that time, no matter what happened, there was a Christmas tree in the house.” After he moved to Greenacres, he put up a permanent Christmas tree there. Lea Stans at Silent-ology wrote all about it.

Lloyd was able to make his real estate dream come true because he stayed at the top until sound came. His first feature, A Sailor Made Man, had opened in Los Angeles on January 1st and it set an attendance record in its seven weeks at the Symphony Theater of 78,500 ticket-buyers. The record was promptly broken in June by his second feature, Grandma’s Boy, with 85,000 attendees, and all the rest of his films were incredibly popular. To learn more about Lloyd, visit Annette D’Agostino Lloyd’s blog, Harold Lloyd dot US

“Raises his own Attendance Mark,” Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1922.

2 thoughts on “Already At the Very Top: January 16-31, 1922”

  1. “Lloyd is now one of the two or three at the very top comedians.” Tantalizing to wonder who else she’d have included? She mentioned Chaplin, so if it’s only two, that’s it, but who might be no.3? Naturally now we think Keaton, and his shorts were certainly out and successful at the time…but did Kinglsey and her readers think of him or someone else? If so, who? I guess we’ll never know.

    Liked by 1 person

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