Saturday, July 08, 2006

Harold Lloyd On the Air

Of the three top comedians of the silent era, Harold Lloyd was easily the most comfortable with sound. Unlike Chaplin, for whom sound was anathema, or Keaton, whose innovative ideas about sound would have permitted him to remain a silent comic in a talking world, Harold Lloyd wanted to embrace the technology and become a fully-fledged Talking Comedian. In 1929, realizing that talkies were to be more than a passing fad, he reshot the bulk of the finished but unreleased silent Welcome Danger, making it the first talking feature from a major silent comedian (Keaton would have beaten him to the punch. He had wanted to shoot Spite Marriage as a talkie but MGM balked and it was released as a silent in April, six months before Lloyd's picture). Lloyd quickly established a voice for his famous "glass" character, thin, uncertain, but emphatic. The voice didn't add very much to Lloyd's characterization, but it certainly didn't detract, and I'm probably one of the few people who thinks that Harold's desperate calls for help during the building-climbing climax of Feet First (1930) effectively add to the tension rather than spoil the sequence. So comfortable was Lloyd with sound, in fact, that he was even prepared to cast off visuals altogether and move into radio, a bold move for a comedian with only a few years stage experience and a reputation built exclusively on pantomime. Negotiations for a radio series had begun in 1938, but Lloyd was understandably shaky about making the jump. From Billboard:

As it happened, Lloyd needn't have worried about injuring his film standing with a lousy radio series. The picture then in release, Professor Beware, was such a box office disappointment that Lloyd quit movies altogether. Probably having second thoughts about continuing as a performer in any medium, Lloyd nixed the radio deal.

But by 1944, Lloyd was ready for a second go. Instead of a starring role in a series of his own, Lloyd opted to play it safe.. too safe. The Old Gold Comedy Theater was inspired by the overwhelming success of long-running dramatic anthology Lux Radio Theater. While Lux featured adaptations of major movies then in release, usually starring the actual casts, the Old Gold Comedy Theater concentrated exclusively on adaptations of comedies. The show was hosted by Lloyd in much the same capacity as Cecil B. DeMille on Lux. DeMille hosted Lux with such overwhelming authority that, in the words of one Tune In reviewer, he sounded like the voice of God. As host of OGCT, Harold Lloyd was similarly a legitimate voice of authority but, as the "director" of the Comedy Theater, a mild spoof of DeMille as well. "Director" Harold Lloyd opened each show with silly question and answer sessions or games to "cast" that week's adaptation. The material Lloyd had to work with was, if the episodes I've heard are any indication, extremely weak and would have been hopeless no matter who the host, but Lloyd's ineffectual and not terribly interesting voice is no help. Without visuals, Lloyd could be just about anybody (and even being Harold Lloyd in 1944 may not have carried much weight with an audience). The Old Gold Comedy Theater ran for one season only and is mostly of interest for those with a taste for screwball comedy (which I don't). Courtesy of Jerry Haendiges' Same Time, Same Station comes these two episodes of OGCT; A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob (2/11/45) and Vivacious Lady (11/19/44). The adaptation of Lloyd's 1936 feature The Milky Way announced at the end of A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob is included on the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection DVD set. If anyone here has heard it, I'd like to read your assessment.

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