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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Distributor Wanted --- Inquire To Harold Lloyd

This Freshman Graduated Too Long Ago --- Part Two

September 1950 saw Lloyd still immersed in The Freshman as a reissue prospect. The Motion Picture Sales Corporation, having distributed Movie Crazy, would pass on further of his inventory, receipts from their single try not meeting expectation. A “sneak preview” (Variety) for The Freshman was hosted by the California Theatre in Huntington Park, an electric organ “hauled in” to furnish mood. Lloyd announced that he would add a musical score and narration prior to national release. Only problem: no distributors seemed willing to take it on, a release date “still undetermined” according to trades. Mad Wednesday, as finally sent out by Hughes/RKO, gave glimpse of The Freshman thanks to lengthy footage from the 1925 feature that comprised Wednesday’s opening reel. This belated re-edit of The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock took $550K in domestic rentals and $450K foreign, partial recovery of loss sustained by Lloyd’s comeback. There was even talk as of April 1951 that he would return in a comedy using “frozen coin overseas” by “an undisclosed US producer,” but nothing came of the venture. Lloyd again spoke of the score he’d add to The Freshman and plans to revive it for Fall 1951, again in tandem with the start of football season. Also tested for possible revival was early talker Welcome Danger, latter getting no farther than here-there screenings to gauge audience interest.

Harold Lloyd Guests on What's My Line (4/26/53)

Lloyd still had The Freshman on his mind in June 1952 when he promised its return to Variety (“no distribution deals as yet have been made”). There would also be a “documentary,” The Laugh Parade, which would include “15 scenes from Lloyd’s own pictures.” HL was often as not headed to, or coming from, Shriner events when such bulletins were issued. Lloyd made good copy whatever his sketchy plans, insiders ever-intrigued by the always engaged-and-enthused comic. There was follow-through on The Freshman by December 1952, its new score done, and a booking set for Gotham’s Paris Theatre, the run to follow Hans Christian Andersen. Boxoffice announced on 12/20/52 that Lippert would distribute The Freshman, referred to as Lloyd’s “second try at crashing the modern market” (when quizzed about previous Movie Crazy, HL said it was “handled the wrong way”). He was bullish for The Laugh Parade as announced earlier that year, “still in rough form,” but “previewed successfully on several occasions.” Motion Picture Daily reported Grandma’s Boy and Safety Last “under consideration” should The Freshman click. April 28, 1953 saw Hans Christian Andersen finally give way, after 22 weeks, to The Freshman, Lloyd making publicity rounds to pump attendance. His special Oscar, awarded on 3/19/53, went on display at the Paris, and a guest spot on What’s My Line was slated for 4/26/53, latter an opportunity for Harold to discuss The Freshman with the show’s host and panel, calling attention to the fact his revival would unspool at the Paris Theatre.

Initial response was rosy. The Paris, with 568 seats, took a “lively” $6,000 for its opener week, “unusually fine for an oldie, indicating that Harold Lloyd has developed an entirely new audience,” said Variety. Came slippage, however, for a second, and six-day, week, The Freshman having “dipped to (a) mild $3,500.” Nothing more was heard, or at least reported, by trades, let alone mention of further bookings. Lloyd, it seemed, was done with reissue attempts, at least for the present. Next reference to The Freshman (9/23/58) came when Lloyd cautioned Brit producer J. Arthur Rank not to use the title, of which he “claimed ownership.” Rank backed off, his feature going out instead as Bachelor of Hearts. Lloyd’s objection arose from his own plan to remake The Freshman, said Variety. The following year (1959) saw renewed effort to revive The Freshman, Lloyd again talking of a new score (this time by Walter Scharf), plus narration “to make it more amenable to modern conventions.” Lloyd noted several Chaplin features back in circulation (The Gold Rush, Modern Times), and felt the time may be ripe to put his own top earner in competition, a projected open, as before, in tandem with football season (“If he does not feel it is ready by that time, however, he will hold it off,” added Variety). The usual test screenings were arranged, with by now familiar caveat “No distribution deal to be discussed until after renovating is completed.” A European release to precede US dates was considered, “One reason for this is the generally greater acceptance by European audiences of film figures, such as Lloyd, considered timeless in their film work.” (Variety, 8/27/59)

Further time passed. July 1960 saw Lloyd at the Berlin Film Festival where he “got an ovation” after screening The Freshman. “Consensus was that, although made 35 years back, it had more entertainment value than many of the in-competition entries.” With joy unbound at every run he attended, how come Lloyd sank at mainstream venues? “Response was so favorable that Lloyd may put it (The Freshman) into release in the near future,” said Variety, but this was tired refrain to trade observers. Needed cheer came with completion of Harold Lloyd’s World Of Comedy, an HL response to success of Robert Youngson excavations of silent laughter. World Of Comedy was polished work, had bright accompany by Walter Scharf, and stood insiders on their ear at a Director’s Guild fete for Lloyd augmented by “hefty press turnout … HL beaming as the house rocked with laffs.” Again he promised The Freshman to follow, and maybe The Kid Brother now that his library was “finding two new film generations worldwide.” In fact, Harold Lloyd’s World Of Comedy got wider play than any revival the star had yet tried, the Youngson audience figuring this guy might be as funny as Laurel-Hardy, the Keystone Kops, and others of distant past.

Columbia One-Sheet For Overseas Release
The Freshman finally made its way into a second compilation called Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life, trade-mentioned first in Army Archerd’s 6/4/63 column for Variety. Lloyd had sneaked the show to what he called “my lost audience --- the teenagers,” and was encouraged by their response. Funny Side Of Life had an on-camera intro by Lloyd done several years before for an archive run, bulk of footage devoted to The Freshman, which was intact but for twelve or so minutes HL shaved. Initial reels were short highlights from Speedy, Girl Shy, others, before Funny Side balance was given over to The Freshman. Lloyd told Archerd that Columbia would distribute the feature in Europe, “mebbe here too,” the columnist back two years later (5/19/65) with an update, over which time Funny Side of Life did not get a US release. Lloyd was “currently searching (for) a distributor … who understands the audience of young adults.” He still wanted to get The Freshman in front of patrons for the coming football season, but it wasn’t to be. The deal Lloyd finally made was with Janus Films in October 1966. They would spot Funny Side of Life at the Chicago Film Festival on November 5, then follow at whatever university theatres might place the film. An “American Premiere” was set for the Bexley and World art houses, these being sister sites located near Ohio State University in Columbus. Harold Lloyd made the Chicago date and was toasted at a reception following the show. Janus arranged for 1920’s style ads with “pop art cartoon illustrations” to make Funny Side of Life relevant for college-age viewership.

A Remarkably Crude Ad For The Ohio Premiere of Harold Lloyd's Funny Side Of Life 

Lloyd Introduces The Funny Side Of Life
General release dates were announced, but I found no evidence of Funny Side getting playdates beyond what Janus arranged. Columbia did one-sheets, but do not appear to have circulated Funny Side among US theatres, their distribution limited to Euro sites as indicated by the Archerd column. Harold Lloyd’s World Of Comedy had been a qualified success in 1962, but Funny Side of Life came, then departed, with the Janus deal. Beyond their handling of the film, it would not appear that Funny Side was available for the remainder of Lloyd’s lifetime. Neither would he again float possibility of The Freshman as a reissue. The feature went through several iterations after his death, including TV via Time/Life, sale on 8mm through Blackhawk Films in the late 70’s, then as a video cassette once technology made these viable. In no instance was The Freshman offered complete. DVD and finally Blu-Ray got that done, UCLA’s recent clean-up a best the film has so far looked. Perhaps what we needed all along was for restoration techniques to catch up with timing and polish Harold Lloyd applied to this jewel among his comedic output. Criterion’s release, loaded with extras and pristine as to quality, is truly a Freshman for the ages.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares his thoughts about Harold Lloyd (Part One):

Hi John,

I didn't give your TWO posts about Harold Lloyd as much time as they deserve since today's schedule is tugging at my sleeve, but I enjoyed (the second one, which I read first and more thoroughly) very much indeed. Lloyd is an interesting figure to me because once I caught up with his movies, WAY late--I'll tell you the truth, mainly through the gorgeous reissues in recent years on Criterion (and all hail to his granddaughter for those)--I was mightily impressed. I knew about Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, of course. Not much about Langdon (though I once visited his son's photo/portrait studio in tow of an actor who had to be photographed there! Of course I'm presuming a guy named Harry Langdon Jr. was probably the son of Harry Langdon, silent screen star.) And I know there were others, quite a few, who caught the public's fancy in the silent days, thanks to books and articles and of course your priceless blog! But, I was amazed how funny and well-plotted Harold Lloyd's movies were, and how engaging and sympathetic his wide-eyed, persevering optimist (that is to say, his revolving screen character) still is, when you watch these movies. On top of that, how superbly made these movies were, in terms of construction, technique, casting, pacing, editing, everything.

Criterion isn't done with Lloyd if I go by their recently announced release of "The Kid Brother", which is described as being Lloyd's own favorite. I may misspeak, but I seem to retain that from browsing the summary at Criterion's webpage. Seems from your recent blog entries that he put more faith in "The Freshman" in hoped for reissue. Could be the businessman in him saw that as his best hope for attracting a new generation but that personally he liked "The Kid Brother". Of course, if that 'best' or 'most liked' characterization was someone else's, never mind! Mea culpa!

I think one thing that's amazing about Lloyd is that he, like so many others (Disney, Chaplin, etc) is an exemplar of the old ideal of "anybody can make it in America". I am not saying that's no longer true, even though the old rules have undoubtedly been re-scrambled for the new millennium. (And as I totally subscribe to the conviction that we are all in Deep Shit with global warming, I don't know if we, as a species, are even going to HAVE a full millennium, let alone a full century.) But here's Lloyd fresh from, what was it, Omaha, Nebraska?---coming out here with nothing but enthusiasm and faith in himself, and building a separate identity in a very competitive young industry, and making a true fortune, which he expertly managed and did not blow (unlike poor Keaton, and presumably Langdon; and unlike poor Laurel and Hardy who mostly made Hal Roach rich!) And, as they say, "before taxes"! Of course, with our current politics, it's now safe once again to be a billionaire and not pay taxes, either. But that's not going to last. I guess--not being educated on the subject--that the original overnight plutocrats of film from the '20s WERE mainly able to preserve their pile of gold.

12:15 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

I got to see the fabulous Harold Lloyd home and estate up close and personal on two occasions, at least, when it was rented as a background for a couple of TV projects I worked on. As best I can remember, one of them was limited to exteriors, but the other (an unsold pilot) had access to the entry of the home, at the very least. Though one could see with the naked eye that some of the stunning woodwork (you would not believe the extent and intricacy of the hand-made inlay work, I'm telling you) in this entry area alone that it was succumbing inevitably to plain atmospheric effects and age. It appeared to be crying out for a little investment of nothing more than some oiling, if nothing else (and of course cleaning preceding that.) I've met friends who somehow or other had access to more of the home itself who told me that there is a complete subterranean swimming pool in the house! That was impressive to learn, as there is already a gorgeous EXTERIOR swimming pool on the grounds of the estate, of course! I mean, what movie bigwig (or middle wig) would be without at least one exterior swimming pool? I have a great book that allows you to view many of Lloyd's 3-D still photographs without a 'special viewer' by using a clever technique that isolates what your left and your right eye can see of the same basic photo (always bearing in mind of course that a 3-D photo is two separate photos which nevertheless simultaneously recorded one still image). One of these testifies to the fact that the young Marilyn Monroe was among the babes the charming Mr. Lloyd inveigled to pose for him around his outside pool! He seems to have been a healthy old man (versus our despicable--in my view--characterization of any sexual interest whatsoever as being "dirty", in the mentally ill 20th century stained with Puritanism, and I'm talking here about harmless attraction, not chaining some teenage girl in a basement and putting cigarettes out on her, which Puritanism would insist is where any sexual thoughts inevitably lead...Jesus.) That's what I'd like to believe at any rate! It would seem that nothing he ever did served to blemish his image in the adoring memory of his granddaughter (and if I should be creating her as his daughter, I apologize, as I am not a Lloyd scholar.)

12:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three and Conclusion from Craig Reardon:

You probably know more than I do about the current status of the Lloyd estate, whether it was purchased by some modern plutocrat or whether perhaps it was deeded to Los Angeles or the State of California as an historical site. I can only say it was a thrill to see it even when I knew NOTHING about Harold Lloyd's films other than having seen 'classic' stills of him appearing to dangle from the face of a large clock on the side of a building, and so on.

Interesting, isn't it, that a film titan like Stanley Donen just died with almost no notice having been taken! All you have to do it seems is to be talented in a general vs very specific sense, and to get very old, to pass away with almost no notice being taken or given. I suppose he'll appear in the annual "TCM Remembers", next year---that is, if they themselves still exist in early 2020! Sigh. It's getting lonely out here, being a fan of 20th century popular film culture, John.



PS Recently I got together with a guy I've gotten to know and like very much, Elijah Drenner. Elijah makes documentary materials for 'extras' on video disc, and that medium itself is getting to be an endangered species. I hope he persists though because he made a real beauty which had its original basis in a 'video extra' for a reissue (in HD/Blu-ray) of "War of the Satellites" in GERMANY...which never actually came to pass. However, Elijah had begun seeking out and interviewing surviving members of the old Roger Corman 'stock company', starting with the ubiquitous and charismatic Dick Miller. He felt that Miller, by himself, was interesting enough to merit a feature length quasi-biographical 'film' himself, and proposed that to the German video company, 'Subkultur'. They okayed it! However, it had to be funded through one of those online funding sites, and I forget which one (there are at least three of them.) The result was and is the delightful "That Guy Dick Miller". It's been out since 2014, and there was briefly an American DVD of it, but it's out of print already. I was able to buy, however, a Blu-ray encoding (in HD, in other words) directly from Elijah the other day. It's so delightful that I hope in the future Elijah might be able to license it to some outfit like Criterion as a LARGE 'extra' (in other words, at full length) for some hypothetical Corman 'classic' that the astute Criterion might license. It could happen, and I hope it does. But when I say 'could', that's me talking, not with any basis or input that it's actually in the works. I just wish this wonderful and entertaining thing could be seen by more movie fans in the future. Then again? Unlike YOU, I haven't yet explored the extent of the world out there as far as streaming is concerned, with HD versions of movies already out on Blu-ray and more to the point, those that are NOT, available to be enjoyed as streaming items. These may well include an HD version of "That Guy Dick Miller". I'm such a confirmed 'disc' guy that I'm thrilled to have been able to get a legit copy of it on BD, but this may simply be in defiance of an inevitable future (verging on the present!)

12:19 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Apologies in advance for a quick, off-topic follow up to part 1 of Mr. Reardon's observation, specifically this: "...unlike poor Laurel and Hardy who mostly made Hal Roach rich!" That's an impression easily obtained if you're going by the recent STAN AND OLLIE, but it's false. As Richard L. Bann has been tirelessly pointing out (on Facebook and elsewhere), Roach paid Stan Laurel more than he paid himself! And Bann has the ledgers to prove it. There was no more beloved studio owner in all of Los Angeles than Roach, as testified in quotes by any employee ever interviewed. (The first of these I ever read, courtesy of Leonard Maltin, was from Patsy Kelly: "The best boss I ever had, and I've had quite a few.") That the new film, as marvelous and loving as it is on the whole, paints this harsh fictional portrait of a truly benevolent man that is being swallowed whole by the unaware, is damned unforgivable.

Had Roach been truly "rich," his studio wouldn't have gone under in 1959. Roach lived comfortably, but not extravagantly, during his long life, undoubtedly thanks to shrewd investing and a lack of marital misadventures. Laurel invested his money, too, but he also married and divorced several times; he still lived in reasonable comfort (by his standards, if not that of the average fan) to the end. As for Mr. Hardy, he too was "well off," despite two divorces and a weakness for the racetrack (that pretty much had been curbed by the time of his third, successful marriage); his savings were sadly consumed by the devastating stroke he suffered in 1956 and the long, lingering illness that followed.


1:28 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

There's a CD of Walter Scharf's music for both Lloyd compilations available on Amazon. Scharf conducts the Brussels Symphony Orchestra in three long suites: "Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy" (the title of the CD), "The Funny Side of Life", and "The Freshman". At least some of it was released as an LP in 1977, which I suspect was more a result of somebody's interest in Scharf than in Lloyd. I've got in on my iPod and it's agreeable stuff, only occasionally in definite 1920s style but rarely anachronistic. There is a very 1950s love theme in the "Freshman" suite, reprised at the end with vocal chorus.

"World of Comedy" is floating around in the gray market. Weirdly, it feels more dated than Youngson's features. Youngson was more emphatic about evoking the era beyond the clips themselves, which mutes the 50s vibe.

I remember that PBS -- locally, at least -- ran the Time-Life Harold Lloyd series, which was a more lavish version of the old "Charlie Chaplin Comedy Theatre": slicker credits, fresh twenties music, better source material, but still with an annoying narrator. Did it get any traction in syndication, or was PBS its only airing?

At least one college showing of "Hot Water" featured the Time-Life television intro, but mercifully the film itself was uncut with a nice score and no narration.

4:07 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

This is an ad for the original release of THE FRESHMAN in Spain being distributed by Paramount in 1928.

This an ad for the original release in Argentina of HAROLD LLOYD'S WORLD OF COMEDY

Here is an American printing press for the above mentioned film which proves that it was actually released in the States.

I can go way back in time and get this from a magazine published by Max Glücksmann in 1920.

I could get chocolate from Barcelona.

There are many aspects about Harold Lloyd that are never covered by film historians if those did not happen in the United States. With many hemerotheques available I'm not seeing English speakers doing an attempt to rescue what they actually contain.

I do it occasionally... and I get an image like this one that was published when this film was originally released.

10:46 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

There is this recording and the other side of the disc, from Perú. The ensemble is actually from Argentina (I had a picture of the ensemble, all of them wearing glasses).

1:28 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Not really on topic, but I find it interesting that Lloyd never opted to be a genial character actor in later life, much the way Buster Keaton kept himself connected with changing times, especially the '60s. instead, Lloyd was always up against the antiquated look (and silent film nature) of his best movies. If he had become well known again as a contemporary comedian/actor, maybe interest in his silent movies would've been that much more keener? Maybe he just felt too burnt by the Mad Wednesday experience, and young Harold was then figured to be the only Harold to promote.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I had a 16mm print of HAROLD LLOYD'S WORLD OF COMEDY. He ended it with the human fly routine from his sound picture FEET FIRST. Altho I knew he did not die the thing had me gripping my chair in terror. Ditto the audiences I screened it with. SAFETY LAST, being silent, allows for detachment. FEET FIRST, being a sound film, allows for no such detachment.

I bought the Warner set of Harold Lloyd films a few years ago plus the Criterion SAFETY LAST. Those are swell.

But nothing before or since has held me in the grip of terror HAROLD LLOYD'S WORLD OF COMEDY did (except FEET FIRST itself).

This is a great post. One of your very, very best.

4:29 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

After reading your two posts and thinking about Harold Lloyd's screen persona, a few things came to mind.

I think one of the reasons the reissue campaign by Lloyd might have fallen flat is that this kind of optimist character felt out of place in the more cynical post-War period. A character like that could be popular as a foil for Jack Benny in the form of Dennis Day on radio and tv, but not necessarily as a stand-alone character.

Then I got to wondering what would have worked to bring back that recognition in that time and place and it struck me that Lloyd should have talked with Disney or UPA.

I could see Lloyd's bespectacled optimist being a perfect character leading a series of cartoon shorts. That could have been the "in" Lloyd could have used to get the reissues out there - a cartoon Lloyd would have been a perfect way to decontextualize that character for the modern age.

Heck, if it worked, I could see the character starring a series of live-action comedies for Disney in the late 50s and through the early 60s. Things like "Flubber" are the 20s optimist reborn in Disney form for a pro-USA way of life suburbia. And Lloyd could have played one of the supporting parts as a nod to his influence.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That idea of Lloyd working at Disney makes me want to invent a time machine and arrange it.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@Barry Rivadue, Lloyd having the money he did meant that he didn't have to work, so unlike Keaton (who blew his fortune on a big house and alimony) he could retire and just bask in the admiration of the public.

2:27 PM  

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