Today's Video Link
Here's the Mystery Guest spot on What's My Line? for April 26, 1953 and the Mystery Guest is the great silent film comedian, Harold Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd spent the fifties and much of the sixties trying to re-release and otherwise market some of his old movies but never quite had the success with them for which he hoped. Many who've written about him say that he was less interested in making money off them than he was in recognition. A world that only seemed to recall Chaplin and sometimes Keaton from that era had forgotten that he was at times bigger than both of them. His appearance on the game show was because he was in New York in '53 promoting a reissue of his 1925 masterpiece, The Freshman.
I actually have a story about meeting Harold Lloyd and I thought I'd told it here before but I can't find it so maybe not. It was around 1964 and I was attending Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles. I didn't know it at the time but Emerson was apparently built on land that Mr. Lloyd had once owned and he was visiting the campus for some reason connected to that. The principal, Mr. Campbell, had Harold Lloyd in his office and it dawned on him that there was one person on campus who would know who that was and would be thrilled to meet him. That one person was 12-year-old me.
I was sitting in Mr. Cline's English class when someone came in and gave Mr. Cline a "summons slip" (that's what they called them): Mark Evanier to the principal's office, A.S.A.P. I knew I wasn't in any kind of trouble because I was never in any kind of trouble but I couldn't imagine what this was about.
I reported to Mr. Campbell's office where he introduced me to his visitor and my immediate thought was, "Oh, this man has the same name as the great comedian." I mean, he didn't look like the Harold Lloyd I knew from the films, nor was he hanging off a big clock. There was an awkward moment because I didn't immediately go, "Oh my God! The greatest comedian in the world!" Mr. Campbell looked disappointed and Mr. Lloyd looked disappointed. I'm guessing the principal had assured his guest that, yes, there was a 12-year-old kid on campus who knew who he was and now they both thought I didn't.
Trying to salvage the moment, Mr. Campbell said, "I thought you'd enjoy meeting him because you're such a fan of silent movies." I then did a double-take worthy of anyone who ever worked for Hal Roach and I said, "Harold Lloyd from Safety Last?" and Lloyd broke into a big grin. The principal continued, "And I thought you might like to ask him some things about his films."
If I'd had that opportunity a few years later, I'd have deluged the man with curiosity. At that moment, I couldn't think of a thing. I was unprepared, I was scared to be in the presence of Harold Lloyd…and I really didn't know that much about him. He owned most of his major films and rigidly controlled their exhibition so I hadn't seen most of them. There were then few books about him, either. When we shook hands, he grasped my right hand in his left and I didn't know why he did that. A few years later, I obtained a biography that explained. An accident during a photo shoot — a prop bomb turning out to be real — had cost Lloyd a couple of fingers on his right hand so he wore a flesh-colored glove with prosthetic fingers and he hid the hand as much as possible. (The physical feats he did in his films are even more impressive once you know that, along with the fact that he was right-handed.)
The only major Lloyd film I had then seen, I'd only seen in part. A company called Atlas Films sold 8mm versions and, almost certainly with no legal right to do so, they'd released Safety Last in a one-reel, 12-minute abridgement. The entire movie was 70 minutes but the Atlas folks got it down to twelve…and it played fine at that length. You wouldn't have sensed there was ever more to it than that. So I asked him a few obvious questions about that movie without mentioning that I'd only seen (and had purchased) an unauthorized and seriously-trimmed print of it. About all he said was that he'd worked real hard on that film and was very proud of it, which is pretty much what you'd assume.
At Mr. Campbell's suggestion, I walked Mr. Lloyd to his car and we chatted a bit about how Hollywood had changed and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life…and that was about it. I'm sorry, as much for my sake as yours, that the conversation yielded no quotable tidbits. He shook hands with me left-handed again, then got into a big Cadillac (I think) and drove off. Later that day, I told some of my classmates that I'd met Harold Lloyd and they didn't know who that was. So I tried telling a few teachers that I'd met Harold Lloyd and they didn't know who that was, either. No, wait. I believe Mr. Cline said, "Is he still alive?"
Here he is in 1953. He doesn't seem to be trying to conceal his right hand. He does seem pleased that people know who he is and that panel guessed. Actually, in '53, it had only been six years since the release of his last movie, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, and two years since it had been re-released briefly under the title, Mad Wednesday. So he wasn't that forgotten. That would come later…