There have been the virtually forgotten Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1964) by William Cahn, the sometimes acerbic Harold Lloyd: The Shape of Laughter (New York Graphic Society, 1974) by Richard Schickel, the less-than-exciting Three Classic Silent Screen Comedies starring Harold Lloyd (Farleigh, 1976) by Donald McCaffrey, the commendable Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy (MacMillan, 1977) by Adam Reilly, the pleasant Harold Lloyd: The Man on the Clock (Viking Press, 1983) by Tom Dardis . . . and then came Annette D'Agostino Lloyd!
Annette discovered Harold Lloyd on TV and immediately became a fan . . . well, more than a fan. Several years later, when the fates told her to write a book about Lloyd, she was not a film historian looking for a topic. Therefore, her quest to know more about this amazing man and his incomparable body of work was a desire for knowledge - which grew into a "mission" to share with the world what she had discovered. Her first effort, Harold Lloyd: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994), supplements and goes beyond any of the previous books mentioned above with not only a superb biography of the comedian, but cross-referencing that allows for deeper research and understanding. Was this not enough? No! Next, she produced The Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia (McFarland, 2003) which has been described as "all things Lloyd" - and it is! As the title implies, it's the Funk and Wagnall's of this one man.
So, with these two publications, what's left to be said? Don't fall off your ledge, but we now have Harold Lloyd: Magic in a Pair of Horn-Rimmed Glasses (Bear Manor Media, 2009) which may be this reviewer's favorite Harold Lloyd tome so far (I say "so far" because, after all, it would not be surprising to see her come out with a fourth book!).
And what a wonderful compendium it is - filled with a wealth of tidbits, trivia, history, anecdotes, quotes and vignettes. There are 36 chapters in the book, most averaging 10-12 pages each, which stand on their own to be read individually or from beginning to end as an overview of a great man's life from the early days to today as the legend lives on.
Actually, the first four sections provide introductory material before getting into the book proper. In addition to the "Introduction" and "Acknowledgements," Annette provides a chapter called "Harold Lloyd 101" to give us an overview, followed by a chronology with significant dates in his life.
The most outstanding aspect of the book, by design, is to allow Lloyd to tell his story through his own words, as much as possible. "Having had the good fortune of being a fan of Harold Lloyd for close to 30 years, and a focused chronicler of his life since 1992, I have had the time to digest (and personally transcribe, verbatim) all of his major oral histories, as well as scores of minor and casual interviews . . .," she says. "This gives me the unique opportunity, at this juncture, to allow Lloyd to help me tell the stories behind the major turning points in his life." Therein lies the beauty and enjoyment of his book.
More than ever before, we are able, all in one place, to hear what Lloyd had to say about his birth, the influence of the theatre in his life, the association with Hal Roach, the evolution from Willie Work and Lonesome Luke to the glasses character, the tragic bomb accident in 1919, how he planned and made his films, his family life, the historic Greenacres, the coming of sound, his many hobbies, how he viewed his 'legend,' and much more.
The quotes give us a greater insight than we have had before; however, Annette is a skilled storyteller and adept at holding our interest with little-known facts about the man, too, all told in an intimate and conversational way. For example, we learn how a successful early stage actor named John Lane Connor impacted the acting career of a young hopeful (Lloyd was a comedian, yes, but his films also give testament to a well-trained and very talented actor). To emphasize the importance of Connor's influence in Lloyd's life, Annette notes, "The lessons taught by this man to a future cinematic legend should be recognized as having been a prime guiding force behind film history itself."
In another chapter, we learn the details of Lloyd's film debut - which many believe was with Mack Sennett. But, no, the chapter entitled "Harold Lloyd's Four-Second Film Debut" is about his very brief appearance on the screen in an Edison short. Selected films are seen from a fresh, new perspective with chapters devoted to "Grandma's Boy," "The Freshman," "The Kid Brother," "Speedy" and the early sound films "Welcome Danger" and "The Cat's Paw." The chapter on "Speedy" gives interesting insight into the challenges of filming on location in New York and how Lloyd and his company realized, upon returning to Los Angeles, that they needed additional shots. For some of these, he constructed an exact replica of the Sheridan Square district in Manhattan at his Westwood location ranch (the set was used again in "The Cat's Paw"). "Welcome Danger" was completed as a silent when Lloyd decided it must be remade as a sound film. Although many scenes in the final print are those filmed as a silent, most of the film was remade at an exorbitant cost of $400,000 of Lloyd's own money. The risk paid off, and the film was profitable. Concluding chapters sadly recall his passing but also pay tribute to the great man's legacy.
Two of this reviewer's favorites chapters are on the building of Greenacres, which has fascinated most silent movie fans, and the chapter on his many hobbies. In the Greenacres chapter, there is a sketch of the layout of the grounds (very interesting, indeed) and several photos of the house which this reviewer has not seen before. There is much information about the various rooms inside the house and Lloyd's planning and use of each, films that were made there, the famous Christmas tree, Lloyd's desire to make it a home and not a museum, and more - and most fans are curious about the state of the home today. Annette gives us all those details about how the acreage has been reduced, how the family tried unsuccessfully to keep the house up in the early 1970's, and its subsequent sales. However, the good news is that it's on the Historic Register, and its present owner values the home's history and is committed to preserving it for posterity.
Of course, all that is mentioned above just touches on the many interesting stories Annette has shared with us in this book from her years of dedicated and loving research on Harold Lloyd. As she notes in the introduction, she never had the privilege of knowing Lloyd personally since he passed away about eight years before she ever saw her first Lloyd film; however, she has become close friends of the family, especially daughter, Gloria, and granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd. By the way, Suzanne Lloyd is quoted generously in this book (deservedly, a chapter is devoted solely to her) and should be considered by all silent movie fans as one of our true "heroes." If not for her drive and commitment, it's almost a certainty we wouldn't have the privilege and pleasure of enjoying Harold Lloyd's films in the way we can today. Single-handedly managing the Harold Lloyd Estate and Film Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment, she has dedicated her life to preserving her grandfather's legend. She has ensured that his name and image have been used tastefully, that his films are presented in a manner in which he would approve, and that silent movie fans around the world have been able to access and enjoy Lloyd's cinematic legacy. Several years ago, when word began circulating that Suzanne Lloyd was working on a DVD set of her grandfather's films, silent movie fans began salivating. Finally, in 2005, a seven-disc DVD set entitled "The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection" was released, a superb, high quality offering that was well worth the wait and a fitting tribute of which Lloyd would most certainly have been very proud. Thank you, Suzanne!
And, of course, Annette - as Lloyd's most ardent and revered biographer - is a part of this DVD release.
One last delightful feature of the book that deserves mentioning is the scattering of "Fun Facts" - a page or less in almost every chapter that shares some supplemental bits of trivia. For example, in "The Glass Character" chapter, the "Fun Fact" points out that the short "Over the Fence" was filmed at Washington Park, June 18, 1917. The Park, we are told, was the home of the Los Angeles Angels minor league team from 1912 until 1925 - followed by quote from correspondence discussing the charges for use of the field. Another "Fun Fact" entry relates how Lloyd beat out Chaplin in a 1921 Moving Picture World popularity poll, and another gives some statistics about the great loss of many of Lloyd's films in a 1938 fire at Pathé's warehouse in New Jersey. The dozens of "Fun Facts" are all a delight to read and a great addition to the book.
No matter is you've read every previous book published on Lloyd, all periodicals and everything that's on the Internet, you'll find Annette's book to be refreshing, engaging, entertaining, informative and just plain hard to put down. Read one chapter, look at the title of the next chapter, and you won't be able to stop. Kudos, Annette, for another tribute to a "master comedian and good citizen!" (By the way, you'll have to read the book to find out why this inscription on a special Academy Award for Lloyd was NOT a good thing for him!)
Copyright 2011 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.
Be sure and read Mrs. Lloyd's engaging narrative outlining her reasons for another book on the silent comedy legend on our "Articles and Essays" page entitled "The Magic Behind 'Harold Lloyd: Magic in a Pair of Horn-Rimmed Glasses'".
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