Harold Lloyd: The Glasses
(reprinted by permission from The
Lloyd Herald, Vol. 3, No. 2, ApJun, 1998, the official fanzine
of H.E.L.L.O! - The Harold Lloyd fan club.)
by Annette M. D'Agostino
and author of "Harold Lloyd: A Bio-Bibliography"
(This book can be ordered from Amazon.
Click on the link below and type the author's name or book title
in the search field.)
"There is more magic in a pair of horn-rimmed
glasses than the opticians dream of, nor did I guess the half
of it when I put them on in 1917."
Harold Lloyd is generally recognized as the man who singlehandedly
made fashionable eyeglass-wearing in this country. I don't say
that lightly: In Volume 66, No. 5 (1995) of the Journal of the
American Optometric Association, an article by Byron Y. Newman,
O.D., headlined "Harold Lloyd, the Man Who Popularized Eyeglasses
in America," Newman, on optometrist, stated of Lloyd, "For
optometrists in the 1920's, he was the man who popularized the
use of glasses, especially horn-rimmed glasses, to a population
who resisted the use of spectacles. Suddenly, there he was on
the silent screen demonstrating for all to see that the wearing
of eyeglasses added to one's personality."
Lloyd's glasses were one part of his new "Glasses Character,"
a screen persona which was a most daring break from the comedy
standard. For the first time, a major character in a screen comedy
series, Lloyd, shed the traditions of grotesque and unusual makeup
and costume. Beginning in June, 1917, the "Harold Lloyd Comedies,"
produced for Rolin (Hal Roach's first company), featured a normally-dressed,
everyday-appearing youth. He looked like any guy who could live
down the street from anybody. It was only his glasses, his horn-rims,
that set the character apart from its portrayer.
Harold happened upon the idea for spectacles mainly to provide
this separation between actor and role. As Harold wrote, ":.
. . When I came to choose a pair of my own, the vogue of horn-rims
was new, and it was youth, principally, that was adopting them.
The novelty was a picture asset, and the suggestion of youth fit
perfectly with the character I had in mind."
To find the glasses that were just right, Harold shopped around.
He tried two sets of frames - the first pair were too heavy, the
second too large. Finally, in a little optical shop on Spring
Street in Los Angeles, he hit upon the perfect pair. They were
thin enough as to not be overwhelming; they were diametrically
perfect for expressiveness. His first pair of the horn-rims,
which cost him seventy-five cents, lasted him a year and a half.
As Harold wrote, "When the frame broke from wear and tear,
I went on patching it with everything from paste to spirit gum
for three months until progressive dissolution forced us to send
them east to an optical goods manufacturer for duplication."
This manufacturer, Optical Products Corporation, sent Lloyd the
check back and included in the package twenty pairs of frames.
"The advertising," wrote Harold, "we had given
tortoise-shell rims, they wrote, still left them in our debt."
For the rest of his career (after his Glasses Character debut
in "Over the Fence" in 1917, Harold would never again
act without the horn-rims on), Lloyd replaced the frames six pairs
at a time.
The frames were lensless. The eliministion of lenses meant
no glare from the studio lights. Harold Lloyd, the man, didn't
need corrective lenses until he was in his 60's.
The frames were not actual tortoise shell, but plastic. Historian
Joseph L. Burneni, in his article "Looking Back: An Illustrated
History of the Ameircan Ophthalmic Industry" (1994), noted
that early plastic frames were created as an inexpensive substitute
for European frames made by hand from tortoise shell. As plastic
frames grew in popularity, they came to be called "shell"
by the public and within the trade. And, there was a very enthusiastic
public: Harold Lloyd, already a popular favorite as Lonesome Luke,
hit gold with glasses and inspired a horn-rim frenzy. Lloyd's
consideration for youth, voiced above, did translate to the youthful
consumer - college students, in particular, couldn't snap up the
Lloyd-like frames fast enough.
Harold realized the magic of the glasses for his new character's
possibilities. "They make low-comedy clothes unnecessary,
permit enough romantic appeal to catch the feminine eye, usually
diverted from comedies, and they hold me down to no particular
type or range of story."
In addition to this, Harold understood another unique-to-him,
positive aspect of on-screen eyeglasses: "With them, I am
Harold Lloyd; without them, a private citizen. I can stroll unrecognized
down any street in the land at any time without the glasses, a
boon granted no other picture actor and one which some of them
would pay well for."
Yes, the clothes make the man. But, in the very special case
of Harold Lloyd, the glasses made the character. And, what a diverse
character the glasses allowed . . .
copyright 1998 by Annette M. D'Agostino. All