January 12th, 2006
Harold Lloyd
About Harold Lloyd

“The King of Daredevil Comedy,” Harold Lloyd is best remembered today as the young man dangling desperately from a clock tower in the 1923 classic Safety Last. At the height of his career, Lloyd was one of the most popular and highest-paid stars of his time. While his achievements have been overshadowed by the work of contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he made more films than the two of them combined. With hits like his 1922 film Grandma’s Boy, Lloyd became a strong force in bringing about the advent of the “feature-length” film.

Born in Nebraska in 1894, Lloyd’s stage career began at the age of 12. Although he had none of Chaplin’s or Keaton’s childhood Vaudeville training, Lloyd had a natural talent that led him to make the most dangerous tumbles and falls seem effortless. In 1913 Lloyd moved with his father to Los Angeles, where the motion picture industry was still in its infancy. There he tried desperately to break into show business, taking any small part he

could get. He soon made friends with another extra, Hal Roach, who was putting together his own production company. In a short while the company had taken off and was making movies featuring Lloyd as “Lonesome Luke,” a Chaplin-inspired bumbler. While “Lonesome Luke” was popular, Lloyd knew his mimicry of Chaplin was an inevitable dead end.

In 1917, Lloyd began work on a new character, one that was to remain a signature through out his career. With round glasses, a straw hat, and an unkempt suit, this new invention still had many of the qualities associated with Chaplin’s Little Tramp, but something was different. He seemed both the fool and the fox, able to outsmart the bad guy, but only by a hair. In 1919, at the height of his acclaim, a tragedy struck. While posing for a photograph he grabbed what he imagined to be a fake bomb and lit it with his cigarette. The bomb went off in his hand, costing him a thumb and a forefinger. The story was front-page news and it seemed the end of this daredevil’s career. Never the quitter, Lloyd bounced back and made dozens of more films, among them his best and most highly acclaimed, including Safety Last (1923) and Speedy (1928). Even into the time of the talkies, Lloyd persisted while many other silent movie stars threw in the towel. In 1971, twenty-three years after his last feature film, he died in his Hollywood mansion.

From his early black-and-white shorts to his full-length talkies, Lloyd recognized that humor was nothing without a sense of play. Athletic and rigorous, he could fall from a window as well as he could scale a wall. It was said that Lloyd was not a natural comedian, rather, that he was a great actor playing comedic roles. His ability to create multi-dimensional characters, both funny and moving, has helped to shape our contemporary view of what a comic actor can be.

Lloyd also understood the role fear could play in heightening comedy. One day while on his way to the studio, he watched a man scaling the side of a building. Crowds had gathered around and were completely consumed by the sight of the climber. Lloyd knew that if he could keep an audience on the edge of their seats like this, he could make them laugh even harder. So, using the tricks of photographic perspective, he began to shoot scenes that looked as if they were happening on the sides of buildings, on scaffoldings, or hanging from clocks. These acrobatic hi-jinks seemed amazingly real in a time before special effects. More than simply renewing the audience’s interest in his work, these progressive techniques earned him the respect of others in the film industry.

Looking at the other films of the time and at the progress of comic acting and cinematography since, it is clear that Lloyd’s inspired work was an essential part in the growth of the industry. In his brilliant 1923 epic Girl Shy, Lloyd employed many of the high-action comic bits that made him famous. In its climactic chase scene, we recognize the beginnings of the action film genre, and can see the influence on movies from Ben Hur to Speed. While Harold Lloyd’s name has all but been forgotten and great films like Girl Shy and Grandma’s Boy are no longer in the public eye, Lloyd’s spirit lives on in the movie industry he helped to create.


  • Mary

    Please,please, make this available on DVD for purchase! I think you will find there are many Harold Lloyd fans
    who would love owning this fine documentary. Same goes for the Buster Keaton episode.

  • ChrisMohrSr

    When will someone who has the power to do so release “The Third Genius” on DVD? I know it is available on VHS, so it makes no sense not to release it on DVD.

    Such a fitting tribute to the great Harold Lloyd should not only be made available on DVD, but should also be repeated on television at least annually. I’m sure many young people today who never heard of Harold Lloyd would appreciate that man’s great talent and physical abilities. He was truly unique and there will never be another like him.

    The creative process in Hollywood seems to have withered away and died. This is proven by the fact that all that seems to be “created” these days are remakes and reboots and that is truly regrettable. When all that Hollywood can come up with is comic books, vampires and gory tales of death and destruction, the entertainment world is in deep trouble. At least make such a worthy effort as “The Third Genius” widely avaailable on DVD.

  • kimd

    I agree wholeheartedky with the other two comments.Please release this on dvd.Thank you.

  • Ron Brood

    Upon graduation from high school I entered college majoring in photography. Harold Lloyd made his Beverly Hills home/grounds available to the class for shoots. The property had cascading ponds in the front that went to the edge of a cliff were the water appeared as a waterfall from the street below. He kept a Christmas tree decorated in the house 365d/yr. He also had a small cottage/large doll house for his daughter on the property. I later heard he had financial issues because of the large California taxes (this is different than what I just read in Wikipedia). I had heard he sold the property while still alive, but this is from my memory going back about 45 years. He had part(s) of a finger(s) missing from what I was told was a movie explosion mishap. He would wear a glove, with a stuffed finger(s), for movie close-ups; As I recall this could be seen in the famous “hanging on the clock” movie . After being at his house I was able to easily recognize him and I saw him a number of times taking stereo (3D) still photos of flowers at Descanso Gardens. As I recall he was a kind, generous and unassuming gentleman. Too bad I didn’t take the time to get to know him better.

  • Paul

    Here, here. I second the motion of Mary. Both Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton need to be released on DVD. I have seen photos of Keaton and Lloyd in various movies but have never seen an actual film until the other night. I saw Keaton in “The General” on TCM one night when I could not sleep. I found it very entertaining and wish to see more and any documentary film about their lives would be an awesome addition.

    Please consider.

  • Cathy

    Today TCM is celebrating Harold’s birthday, which lead me to this site. I have been a fan since I first saw some of his films in the late 70s. I hope PBS releases this episode on DVD as well as Buster’s. They are my favorite silent comedians over Chaplin–although I admire his work as well. Lloyd and Keaton had so much heart in their work.
    If anyone is interested in books or films, check out HALF.COM . That is where I have found a treasure of great items on these stars and others.

  • BOB



  • Don

    My father was sales manager for Harold Lloyd for about ten years. Lloyd closed the New York office in/about 1938, and my father went from a pinnacle position to paperwork as a government clerk. This happened during my infancy, but I still have the engraved gold watch that Harold gave my father. I do wish “The THird Genius” could be made available. I have part of it on tape, but I would dearly like to have the rest of the program to share with the rest of the family.

  • James

    I first watched Harold Lloyd on a pbs station back in 1980 called, horray for Harold Lloyd. Since then I’ve been a huge fan of his great comical skills and funny genius. This show needs and deserves to be on dvd. harold Lloyd’ pbs the third genius is a true tribute of a great American comedian.

Inside This Episode

  • About Harold Lloyd


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.