Tag Archives: harold lloyd

Lunch with Lucy

The other day, Kimi and I got to hang out with the Lone Ranger, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Mae West, Harold Lloyd, Hopalong Cassidy, Ozzie and Harriet, Mae West, Jed Clampett, George and Gracie Allen, and Mr. Ed.

Actually, we got to be at a place where these stars (and hundreds more), used to be found. It’s called Hollywood Center Studios, which, as its name implies, is located smack in the middle of the old studio district, just off of Santa Monica Boulevard.

We were there as a guest of our friend Jeff, who is a cameraman working for a Comedy Central show starring Norm Macdonald.

During breaks from taping, Jeff led us around the studio, which dates back to 1919 and became the home of comedian Harold Lloyd a few years later.

It was here that Howard Hughes made his big budget flop Hell’s Angels that same decade after the place was wired for sound.

During the 30s, Mae West and Hopalong Cassidy made their films here, and in the 1940s, the Marx Brothers made A Night In Casablanca on the lot, and for a time Jimmy Cagney was part owner of the studio.

In the 1950s, new owners made the lot available for television production – something the big studios initially refused to do – and it became the television home of The Lone Ranger, Ozzie and Harriet and Burns and Allen.

In 1951, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz came to Studio 2 to film the pilot episode of I Love Lucy and ended up staying for their first two seasons.

Some of the best loved shows of the 1960s were filmed on the lot, including Green Acres, Mr. Ed, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Perry Mason, and The Addams Family.

Since then, it has appeared in dozens of television shows and films, like The Player and When Harry Met Sally, and was often seen in music videos for stars like Jackson Browne, Prince, and Michael Jackson.

After visiting the sets of Wizards of Waverly Place and So Random!, we met Jeff back on Studio 2.

It was here that Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel first filmed in front of a live studio audience, creating the then revolutionary three-camera filming technique.

On this day it was empty except for the tables set up by craft services to feed the Norm Macdonald crew and guests (meaning us).

While we ate, we could see from pictures on the wall that if we turned the clock back 60 years, we would be dining in the Ricardo’s living room.

It was a place we had been invited to dozens of times over the years. We’d finally made it.

Safety Last! The Life and near-Death of Harold Lloyd

Imagine being one of the biggest film comedians in the business, enjoying immense popularity, while seeing your career head for the stars.

Then visualize yourself waking up the next day to blindness, severe facial burns, a missing thumb and index finger, and the very real possibility that the career you enjoyed hours earlier had disappeared in a fateful instant.

Such was the tragic situation that Harold Lloyd found himself in during late-August, 1919.

Lloyd, silent film’s hilarious “Third Genius,” who stands alongside Chaplin and Keaton in the upper echelon of the medium’s pantomiming funnymen, was in the first week of shooting Haunted Spooks when he posed for a publicity photo with a bomb that he believed to be a fake prop. Seconds after lighting the fuse with a cigarette, the bomb exploded in his hand.


Fate had visited Lloyd before.

Harold Lloyd was born in Nebraska in 1893 and was raised by his father Foxy Lloyd after his parents divorced. Foxy received a large insurance settlement after being run over by an Omaha beer truck in 1912. The two men decided to use the cash to resettle on the beach, letting fate decide which coast they would aim for with a coin toss. The Lloyds moved to L.A., where Harold’s good looks quickly got him work in the flickers.

Harold soon met a struggling young actor and director named Hal Roach, who was in the process of creating his own studio. Lloyd developed comic characters for Roach based on Chaplin’s Little Tramp character and soon became one of the new mogul’s biggest stars.

Lloyd knew that simply mimicking Chaplin could only take his career so far, so he developed a new bespectacled, straw hat-wearing, boy-next-door character who often landed himself in untenable and comically dangerous situations as the result of trying to win the heart of a lady.

His new “everyman” persona was a sensation, and Lloyd’s career was rocketing skywards when his accident appeared to send it crashing back to earth.


For several days, Lloyd’s career and quality of life held by a thread until his sight eventually returned and his burns healed. He entered the decade of the 1920’s by returning to the set of Haunted Spooks with a prosthetic glove concealing his hand injury.

Far from being over, Lloyd’s career was just getting started. He became known as the “daredevil comedian,” famous for his thrill sequences, like the famous human-fly scene in 1923’s Safety Last! where he scales the side of a skyscraper and dangles precariously from the hands of a clock – carrying out his stunts with only eight fingers.

Lloyd went on to marry his leading lady, become the highest paid performer of the 1920’s, and to retire in luxury at his palatial estate in Beverly Hills called “Greenacres,” where he became a world-renowned expert in photography (often employing young starlets like Marilyn Monroe and my friend Dixie Evans as models – Dixie, how are you?).

His accident in 1919 also led him to become the leader of the Shriners, an organization that donates millions to the treatment of children suffering from severe burns.

Harold Lloyd died forty years ago today on March 8, 1971, but his story could have ended decades earlier had he not refused to surrender to Fate, defiantly demanding, “Is this the best you’ve got?”

Fate asked the same question of Harold Lloyd in 1919, and he responded with a resounding “No!” by rising phoenix-like from the tragedy to even greater heights than he had ever scaled before. 

(Look for our friend John Bengtson’s new book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloydcoming soon from Santa Monica Press. Also, I want to thank Leonard Maltin for his wonderful article on ChaplinFest, which Kimi and I helped host last month in Newhall, California. You can see the post here.)

Harold Lloyd and Helter Skelter: The Santa Susana Pass

Harold Lloyd

For over a decade now, film historian John Bengtson has been using his keen investigative eye to find forgotten locations from the greatest films of the silent era’s favorite funny-men. As a huge fan of his previous books about comedians Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I jumped at the chance to help photograph some locations for his upcoming book on Harold Lloyd, silent comedy’s “third genius.”

That’s how Kimi and I found ourselves over the weekend between Chatsworth and Simi Valley along the Santa Susana Pass hunting down locations from films made over eighty years ago.

Many of the world’s warmest cinematic memories were born along this stretch of highway. Lloyd often performed daredevil stunts for comedic effect along the Southern Pacific Railroad line that passes through the area. Keaton also filmed here at the old Iverson Movie Ranch, where he used the stony landscape masterfully in portraying a caveman for a segment of a film called Three Ages. The pass’ rugged, rock-strewn locations also served as backdrops for literally thousands of Westerns over the years, and are the very image of the Old West in the minds of millions around the world.

Charles Manson

There is a site of another film ranch along Santa Susana Pass, the Spahn Movie Ranch, that also provided its share of movie magic to the world, but is known today for the part it played in one of Los Angeles’ most heinous killing sprees.

The Spahn Ranch site today.

Forty-one years ago today, cult leader Charles Manson ordered four members of his “Family,” as his followers were known, to murder everyone in a house in Benedict Canyon. His drug-fueled motive for the killings was to spark “Helter Skelter,” a race war between blacks and whites. The grisly murders of actress Sharon Tate and five others, along with the butchering of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife the following night in similar fashion, were launched from Spahn Ranch, where the fake family lived in an artificial Western town.

The Family arrived at Spahn Ranch in 1968 and took up residence in shacks that had modeled as a Western set for several films and television shows, including Bonanza. The ranch was owned by 80-year-old George Spahn, who let Manson and his followers live at the site in exchange for sexual favors from the female members of the Family.

The ranch during the days of "Helter Skelter."

A week after the killings, Manson and 25 Family members were rounded-up at the ranch on suspicion of auto theft, but were later released on a technicality. They fled to Death Valley where they were eventually apprehended, and several Family members, including Manson, were tried and convicted for their roles in the murders.

Today, nothing is left of the former film ranch after a wildfire burned every building to the ground a year after the killings.

It’s jarring to think that the same stretch of highway can be the birthplace of such laughter … and such terror.

George Spahn's grave at Newhall's Eternal Valley Cemetery.