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Harold Lloyd; His Life, Wife and Comedy

Updated on October 25, 2015

Harold Lloyd with Hal Roach

Harold Lloyd Recovering From the Explosion


Harold After His Accident. His Right Hand Looks Odd

Harold Lloyd's Early Years

Harold Lloyd was born in Burchard Nebraska in 1893. His father, James "Foxy" Lloyd (1865-1941) was an unsuccessful entertainer who always seemed to be trying new business schemes in a perpetual pursuit of wealth. His mother, Elizabeth Fraser, (1869-1941) wanted to settle down to a comfortable life with many children, but she was to only have two sons, Harold and his older brother, Gaylord 1888-1943). She was distraught over the constant uncertainty of life with her freewheeling husband and the couple divorced when Harold was very young.

Harold was young but old enough to choose to stay with his father while Gaylord stayed with their mother. Even though the two brothers were separated they were extremely close throughout their lives and ventured out together often. Harold's father was banking all of his money on numerous shady businesses and Harold eventually developed an entrepreneurial spirit due to his closeness to his dad, and it was decided that Harold develop his talents on the stage. This led young Harold to take small stage roles while continuing his talents in High School drama class. His father made business deals that usually fell through with financial disaster, but things suddenly changed for the Lloyds'

Harold's father never quite made a success through any of his ideas but when he was run over by a delivery truck his lawyer was able to rake in a small fortune for him. "Foxy" and Harold tossed a coin as to which part of the country they would move to next. As luck would have it, the coin turned up "tails" and the two moved west. Harold was soon working in Thomas Edison's motion picture company and then met Hal Roach.

The year was 1912 and Hal Roach was a struggling actor with aspirations of becoming a director. Lloyd befriended Hal and in 1913 when Roach put his funds together to launch his own company Harold went along with him.

Harold was the entrepreneur success story that had always eluded his father. He knew that staying with Roach would ensure that he would have creative control and be able to be the lead star of many pictures. Had he remained with any of the large studios he would have remained a little fish in a big pond. Working with Hal Roach ensured that Lloyd would at the very least gain recognition.

Harold was Hal Roach's biggest star from 1913-1919. He created several different characters, many resembling the Mack Sennett style rough house comics of the mid teens, and Bebe Daniels was brought on to be his leading lady. One of his most successful characters was called, "Lonesome Luke." This character was designed in a Charlie Chaplin fashion.

Harold was successful but he was never satisfied. He didn't feel that he had a firm grasp on his character and did not wish to be an imitation of any other comic. By 1918 Lloyd had morphed into his own. Harold's character wore glasses, looked normal, not freakish as many of his contemporaries. Roach thought that Lloyd was a handsome man and therefore would not be considered to be very funny, but with the simple addition of glasses Harold appeared to be the average guy who is trying desperately to be a success. Harold's character was one that the average American man could realate to. He was ambitious, determined and getting into funny situations. He was a character that Americans could relate to.

In 1919 Bebe Daniels left Lloyd to pursue her career as a dramatic actress, and he replaced her with a demure, Mary Miles Minter type of beauty, Mildred Davis. It was Hal Roach who suggested that Lloyd see a movie that featured Mildred to see if he thought that she may be what he was looking for. When Lloyd saw Mildred Davis for the first time he commented to Roach that she looks like a large sized French doll, and she was hired.

Lloyd's career was looking positive. He was thoroughly on the way up when he posed for a publicity still holding a bomb. Unfortunately, the prop bomb went off as Lloyd was holding it in his hand. After the loud "bang" Harold stood looking stunned and then held his right hand up to see his hand. His forefinger was gone, and his thumb was hanging by a thread and twirling around. Harold's face went white with terror as he viewed the shocking damage. He was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that his face and chest were badly burned and his eyesight was temporarily impaired. The camera man and prop man were also treated for serious injuries.

It was a devastating blow to Harold who wondered if his injuries would mean the end of his career. However, like his film character, Harold was a chronic optimist and he simply could not remain downcast. He began planning alternatives. He could direct and produce, but he realized that his acting career was so successful that he simply had to keep going with the momentum. Lloyd approached Sam Goldwyn who was now a movie mogul and had previously been a glove salesman. Goldwyn devised a special glove that had the middle finger and the forefinger stitched together so that the fingers would appear to be moving normally together normally. There was a false thumb and forefinger in the glove to keep the shape.

When viewing his films it is clear that there is something odd about his right hand, but it is in now way distracting. Harold became proficient with his left and and was so image conscious that even when he was not in character he did not display his right hand. Photos are rare to the point of almost non existence of Lloyd's hand. During interviews he used his left hand for gesturing and posed for photos with his left side to the camera.

During the mid 1920s Lloyd's career was in full swing. He had reached the pinnacle of his success. He even married his leading lady in 1923 and she promptly quit making movies to settle down and start a family. They had two children, Gloria Lloyd and Harold Lloyd Jr. The same year he married, and approximately one year before Gloria Lloyd was born, Harold purchased a historic home site from P.E. Benedict. The family had owned the land for more than sixty years and are the namesake for the famous Benedict Canyon. The canyon that winds up the the home of the most brutal Hollywood murder of all time, that of Sharon Tate and the Manson murders, and then further up to the home of Rudolph Valentino. It is also just around the bend from Mary Pickford and Douglass Fairbanks' famous home, "Pickfair". Harold knew it would be a huge undertaking to build his dream house, but no expense was spared as he hired famous architect, Sumner Spaulding to work with his 15 acre plot.

Moving right along without missing a beat, Harold started his own production company in 1924, The Harold Lloyd Film Corporation, and in 1925 he joined the Freemasons. This was to become a very important level of his life, as he moved up the ranks to eventually become a 32nd degree Mason and "Royal Arch" along with his father.

In 1927 the plans for green acres were released to the public. It was to be an Italian Renaissance Mediterranean Revival style home. Construction began and the 44 room, 45,000 square foot home would not be finished until 1929.

Harold Lloyd When He First Met Mildred Davis

Notice that in this 1919 photo Harold's right hand is still normal. A few weeks later he had a near fatal accident that destroyed his right hand.
Notice that in this 1919 photo Harold's right hand is still normal. A few weeks later he had a near fatal accident that destroyed his right hand.

Harold Lloyd with Mildred Davis

Harold in the 1930s with His Family

Harold Lloyd in the 1930s

In 1930 the Lloyd's adopted Marjorie Elizabeth Lloyd. She was known as simply "Peggy" to friends and family. The talkies had basically dismantled Lloyd's career due to the great depression and the changing of the times. With FDR in office for three terms and Americans basically losing their optimistic views on life, they were no longer so willingly able to identify with Lloyd's "go getter" character who through hard work and determination eventually wins. They were standing in bread lines and facing all too bleak and seemingly never ending struggles. Harold was also ready to settle down to retirement. After a ten year run of enormous success, he was out of ideas and wished to pay more attention to his family.

Always the businessman, Harold sold the land of his studio to a Mormon Church and the site is now the Los Angeles California Temple.

According to close family members, Harold Lloyd had numerous affairs but never had any intention of leaving his wife Mildred. The couple were well respected and admired in Hollywood. It is believed that Harold simply had Mildred in her place at home with the children while he did as he pleased. Harold's granddaughter would later say that Mildred ignored her husband's affairs, however, in the late 1920s and early 1930s Mildred was attempting a comeback. Harold had always discouraged her from any work after they were married but when he finally relented, Hollywood friends assumed it was because of discussions of his infidelities and her insecurities.

Greenacres became a gathering spot for celebrities. Although it was not as well publicized as "Pickfair" it was well loved and known by Hollywood elite. Jeanette Macdonald had her bridal shower at the estate in the mid 1930s with Mildred Davis as the refined and dignified hostess.

Harold Lloyd's Hand Exposed

A rare unguarded moment. Harold's deformed right hand can be seen as he goes bowling.
A rare unguarded moment. Harold's deformed right hand can be seen as he goes bowling.

Harold Lloyd in the 1940s

The 1940s were a decade of turmoil for Lloyd. His mother died in 1941, and Harold's brother Gaylord died in 1943 at the age of 55. He had also acted in movies. His biggest role was in the 1921 film, Disraeli with George Arliss. Harold was at the top of his career when Gaylord made the film and although Disraeli was not a comedy, Harold tried very hard to get recognition for his brother as a comedian. After minor success in a few comedies Gaylord became a film executive, and helped his younger brother with his business plans.

In the 40s Lloyd's acting career had dried up and his wealth was depleting. His enormous estate was falling into neglect due to high taxes that he simply could not pay, and he was becoming more and more reclusive. Not venturing away from his estate very often.

When Lloyd's father died in 1947 he began pursuing his passion for photography. He simply could not stop learning new things and improving himself.

Harold Lloyd Circa 1940 Showing Only His Left Hand

Typical pose of Harold Lloyd posing with his left side dominant.
Typical pose of Harold Lloyd posing with his left side dominant.

Harold Lloyd Biography on Amazon

Harold Lloyd, Mildred, and Granddaughter, Suzanne

Harold Lloyd Later Years

Harold was busy playing Grandfather to Suzanne Lloyd throughout the 1960s. As she tells it, "I actually called him "Daddy" because he did not like the sound of "Grandfather". Being perceived as youthful still meant a lot to him."

In 1971 Harold died of Cancer and in the mid 1970s the Lloyd family lost control of the greenacres. For years it was wasting away while talk of a museum was discussed. Unfortunately, the property was subdivided and in 1992 the Democratic parties billionaires bought the larger parcel of property along with Lloyd's art collection for more than $20 million dollars.


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