Captain Kidd's Kids
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The Nebraska-born Harold Lloyd came to Universal in 1914 where he met Hal Roach, a director and producer whose later claim to fame as the originator of the Little Rascals overshadowed one of the most prolific and long-lived careers in Hollywood. At the time, Roach had come into a $3,000 inheritance and was looking to start producing his own pictures, while Lloyd was looking to find his unique comic voice after several years in the trenches making shorts at Edison Film Company. Lloyd and Roach had great comic rapport, and even though Roach had never been an actor, he could think of successful gags easily. By 1919, Roach-directed Lloyd shorts were a bankable enough commodity for industry buzz to anticipate the release of Captain Kidd's Kids, with the managing director of the Strand theater writing "There is no question Harold Lloyd will make good in two reel comedies." and industry rags like Motion Picture News praising its "cleanness", "wit" and "snappiness of action."
The snappy action starts after a wild bachelor party, when The Boy (Lloyd's bespectacled on-screen persona) wakes up hung-over in the bedroom bureau drawer. His butler (Lloyd short regular "Snub" Pollard) does his best to make him presentable for his nuptials, but the day is ruined when The Girl (Bebe Daniels, who at this time was also Lloyd's off-screen love), calls to say that the wedding's off and that her mother is taking her to the Canary Islands by boat. A lovesick (and seasick) Lloyd decides to pursue her, but his ship is overtaken by a suspiciously familiar band of female pirates. They capture him and put him to work, but soon he's making them all dance the hoochie coochie to the ukulele.
Lloyd's All-American comedic persona differed from two of his contemporary rivals Chaplin and Keaton in its unpretentious optimism. (Earlier in his career, Lloyd abandoned a sad sack character named "Lonesome Luke" after hearing a child in the audience watching one of his films remark how he recognized "that fellow who tries to do like Chaplin.") Lloyd was nearly as athletic as Keaton, and as almost as swooningly romantic as Chaplin, but he had an assured, virile confidence that, as Lloyd himself put it, made his on-screen romances "believable. I could win the girl." That prowess with women -- an attribute Lloyd exercised gleefully off-screen -- could have been a detriment for a sympathetic comic actor, but an owlish pair of horn-rimmed glasses (costing Lloyd seventy-five cents at an optometrist's office) transformed the rather handsome comedian into "the normal boy you meet on the street": a gee-whiz everyman an audience could root for. (Lloyd would often preview his movies on double bills against Chaplin or Keaton's shorts. If the audience liked his better, then he was satisfied with the result.)
Captain Kidd's Kids is one of the last opportunities to see Lloyd paired against his longtime leading lady Bebe Daniels. Daniels, who was already part of Roach's stable of actors (after being hired for $50 a week at age 14), made over 140 one- and two-reelers with Lloyd. But their collaboration came to an end one night when Daniels, Roach and Lloyd were having dinner and Cecil B. DeMille approached their table and asked if she'd like to be in his movies instead. Daniels demurred, saying she wouldn't move until her contract with Roach was up. But as soon as it was, DeMille signed her for $1000 a week -- first appearing in Male and Female (1919), then signing to Paramount and appearing in over 50 films over the next decade, including 42nd Street (1933). At Paramount she acquired skills in production that led to a later career in film editing and writing for radio and television. Despite their long and successful partnership, Lloyd had no hard feelings about Daniels jumping ship, gushing about her in a 1970 interview as a "wonderful individual" and how he'd "always loved Bebe . . . I felt terrible when I lost her."
That wasn't all Lloyd would feel terrible about losing. Around the release of Captain Kidd's Kids, he'd brokered a deal with Pathe to produce nine two-reelers. Pathe contracted publicity shots of Lloyd, one of which was a posed gag shot of him holding a prop bomb and rakishly lighting a cigarette from its lit fuse. The shoot was going well, and at one moment Lloyd lowered the bomb to say something to the photographer. Suddenly the bomb - not a prop, but a real smoke bomb accidentally mixed in a box with empty bomb shells - detonated. The explosion blew the thumb and index finger off of Lloyd's right hand, as well as seriously injuring his eyesight and burning his face. He spent nine bleak months recovering, assuming his days as an actor were over. Miraculously, Lloyd had fully recovered by November 1919. His hand was permanently maimed, but he was able to attend the opening of Bumping Into Broadway (1919) in New York City. Later films such as Safety Last! (1923) would camouflage his hand with a special prosthetic glove.
By Violet LeVoit
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