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Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International   |   Aug. 6, 2002 at 6:09 PM   |   Comments

The plunging stock market may well portend what movie fare will be offered during a looming recession.

Ever aware of box-office sensitivity to public pocketbooks, filmmakers reckon bad times call for comedy.

The unemployed, economically pinched working poor need cheering up. What better way to forget woes than laughing it up in theaters?

They figure humor is an antidote for the blues and budget problems, a pick-me-up.

Admission prices may be lowered and $20 million star salaries reduced.

In the past the movie industry counted heavily on comedy and comedians to counteract national poverty before and during World War I when theater tickets cost 50 cents or less.

In those early days of black and white flicks the biggest stars were comedians who earned the highest salaries -- as much as a thousand bucks a picture.

Often, of course, they were two-reel shorts that drew enormous crowds for the time and they did contravene the burden of millions of low-income families.

First and foremost of the great silent stars of the era were Charlie Chaplin, followed by Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Fatty Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, Mabel Norman and the Keystone Kops.

Despondent audiences became winners compared to the luckless, pathetic characters on screen who were infinitely worse off.

Hollywood's contributions could scarcely be undervalued in lifting American spirits in a time of crisis.

So too did film comedies shine during the Great Depression, aided by the advent of "talkies."

The clowns and buffoons of the screen again emerged to cheer the unemployed, the poor and homeless.

Providing sunshine in the '30s and '40s were Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Wheeler & Woolsey, Charley Chase, Joe E. Brown and the Marx Brothers.

They all faded into memory with the return of economic prosperity, replaced on screen by bathos, romance, tragedy and melodrama -- at increased ticket prices, to be sure.

Today on the brink of a possible financial doomsday, Hollywood could do worse than return to the halcyon times of comedic relief.

Few performers fulfilled the need for surcease from fiscal fulmination than Harold Lloyd, who personified the man-in-the-middle, the little guy squeezed into corporate cataleptic conniptions.

Lloyd excelled playing the average young man beset by an unsympathetic society. He coped with tireless faith in himself and his capacity for overcoming life's vicissitudes.

Happily, Lloyd is in the news this week. His granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, contributed the great comedian's trove of memorabilia to the motion picture academy's library.

Donated to the Margaret Herrick Library are some 3,000 original still photograph negatives of Lloyd's career in films as well as personal remembrances.

The treasures span 34 years of scrapbooks involving more than 200 of Lloyd's films.

Said Linda Mehr, director of the academy's Herrick Library, "A collection of this caliber, from a legendary Hollywood figure like Harold Lloyd, is a welcome addition to the library, especially during this time when we are celebrating the rich, 75-year history of the academy."

In many of his films Lloyd played a bespectacled, bungling collegiate character in search of a girl and a smidgen of approval from his superiors.

An athletic actor, Lloyd performed most of his own stunts, many of which were exceedingly dangerous: these in a time when stunt doubles were rare and special effects unheard of.

His characters often wore horn-rimmed glasses, ill-fitting suits and neckties and inappropriate hats.

Lloyd excelled at playing Gentile losers of the sort Woody Allen has made popular in his portraits of Jewish nebbishes. However, Lloyd was essentially a physical comedian whereas Allen is a devout couch potato.

Both, like most great comedians, play losers who triumph in the end through grit, determination, outrageous luck and great good fortune.

These are the elements that give people hope in times of need and national trauma.

Among Lloyd's classic hits were "A Sailor-Made Man" (1921); "Safety Last!" (1923); "Girl Shy" (1924); "The Kid Brother" (1927) and "Speedy" (1928).

Like the heroes in his films, Lloyd became a brilliant success, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Hollywood. His rambling Beverly Hills mansion (Greenacres) -- which included two swimming pools and a nine-hole golf course in Benedict Canyon -- was one of the great showcase homes in Southern California.

His granddaughter's gift to the academy is appropriate. Lloyd was one of the 36 founding members of the academy in 1927.

The academy presented him with an honorary Oscar in 1952. He died in 1971, a revered and respected member of the Hollywood community.

Said granddaughter Suzanne this week: "My grandfather loved the academy. It meant so much to him, especially since he was part of its inception.

"He would be very happy to know part of his film legacy will be preserved at the academy's library."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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