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As brilliant as he was, it seems that Harold Lloyd will forever be defined as the "third comic genius" of the silent era, right behind Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton...or behind Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, depending on your personal preferences. Still, casual film viewers are more likely to simply remember that Lloyd's wide-eyed, everyman character wore horn-rimmed glasses. Even though he had already enjoyed considerable success playing a Chaplin knock-off known as Lonesome Luke, Lloyd couldn't have imagined what donning those frames would do for his movie career. His popularity grew so vast in the 1920s, he's even been credited with changing America's attitude toward corrective lenses, never mind that the frames he wore didn't contain any glass.
Safety Last! (1923) is probably Lloyd's best-known film, mainly because of the indelible image of our hero hanging precariously from the hands of a giant clock. But the biggest moneymaker of Lloyd's career was easily The Freshman (1925), a college football comedy that wraps up with some improbable heroics at a big game. In fact, The Freshman was one of the major financial successes of the silent era, and it still drew audiences years later when it became a popular feature at college campuses across the country.
In The Freshman, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a bespectacled go-getter who heads off to college thinking his experiences will be just like the ones he saw in a college-based movie. He even learns a little jig that he saw in the picture, imagining that it will make him one of the more popular guys on campus. Unfortunately, reality intrudes, and Harold finds himself being laughed at by the other students. He decides to re-invent himself yet again, by trying out for the football team. But he evolves into more of a tackling dummy than a real player. Luckily, he gets a chance to set things straight, and even win the affection of the girl he loves (Jobyna Ralston), by starring in a climactic game that was partially filmed during a real contest at Pasadena's Rose Bowl!
Now, about those glasses: A 1995 article in the Journal of the American Optometric Association by Byron Y. Newman, O.D. is actually titled, "Harold Lloyd, the Man Who Popularized Eyeglasses in America." How's that for getting to the point? Newman wrote: "For optometrists in the 1920s,(Lloyd) was the man who popularized the use of glasses, especially horn-rimmed glasses, to a population who resisted the use of spectacles.Suddenly, there he was on the silent screen, demonstrating for all to see that the wearing of eyeglasses added to one's personality."Lloyd broke the mold for screen comedians when, in 1917, he devised "the glasses character," as he liked to call the protagonist of The Freshman and so many other films. Before Lloyd, popular comics wore overtly theatrical costumes and some form of outlandish makeup when working in films. But, outside of the glasses, Lloyd looked like any other Joe on the street. He was especially pleased that this allowed him to change the attitudes of his signature character from film to film, a stunt that even Keaton and Chaplin had trouble managing. By standing out less as a physical presence, Lloyd was capable of inhabiting a somewhat broader range of roles than his illustrious peers.
Lloyd chose the horn-rims because they had become a bit of a fad among the young. He felt that the suggestion of vibrancy and youth suited the kind of character he was imagining. After shopping around for a while, he eventually found the perfect pair of rims at an optical shop on Spring Street in Los Angeles. The first set, which cost him 75 cents, managed to last for a year and a half. After vainly trying to patch them up himself for several months, Lloyd wound up sending them to Optical Products Corporation, which sent back his un-used check and a box containing 20 pairs of frames. They couldn't imagine taking money from the man who had given them such an unexpected economic boost.
The Freshman made a surprise return to the entertainment pages in 2000, when Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd Hayes, sued the makers of Adam Sandler's The Waterboy (1998) for stealing elements from her grandfather's picture. The courts eventually ruled against Hayes, but, more significantly, the lawsuit gave writers across the country a reason to type "Adam Sandler" and "Harold Lloyd" in the same sentence. Now, if the Laurence Olivier estate would only sue Keanu Reeves...
Directors: Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Producer: Harold Lloyd
Screenplay: John Grey, Sam Taylor, Tim Whelan, Ted Wilde (Harold Lloyd,uncredited)Cinematography: Walter Lundin
Editor: Allen McNeil
Cast: Harold Lloyd (The Freshman), Jobyna Ralston (Peggy), Brooks Benedict (The College Cad), James Anderson (The College Hero), Hazel Keener (The College Belle), Joseph Harrington (The College Tailor), Pat Harmon (The Football Coach).
by Paul Tatara