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Harold Lloyd’s Silent Partners

There are countless directors, writers and other screen professionals who we know, despite not knowing their names. Their work is incredibly familiar to us, but their identities remain unknown to us, save for noticing their names in credits. Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor are two of those names. If you’ve watched silent films, particularly comedies, you’ve seen their work. And if you’ve seen any of Harold Lloyd’s most popular work, you’ve seen some of their biggest films. At the height of his career, Lloyd almost always worked alongside Newmeyer and Taylor. Together, they co-directed (or in some cases, one wrote and one directed) A Sailor Made Man, Grandma’s Boy, Dr. Jack, Safety Last!, Why Worry?, Girl Shy, Hot Water and The Freshman. That accounts for Lloyd’s first eight features, all of them major. Both before and after these films, the two men had remarkable and interesting careers. Let’s take a look at them both.

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Fred C. Newmeyer’s career inside and out of film is a unique one, and there may not be another one like it. Before entering film, Newmeyer was actually a minor league baseball pitcher, and a decent one at that. From 1911 to 1913, he played for such fantastically named teams as the Bay City Rice Eaters and the Muscatine Wallopers. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, his complete baseball stats can be viewed here.

Legend claims that Newmeyer worked his way up from extra and prop man all the way to big time director. It is true that Newmeyer worked as an actor long before he ever got into directing. His film debut came just a year after he left baseball, in 1914. By 1916, he was already a regular partner of Lloyd’s: as actor. At the time, Lloyd performed under his Charlie Chaplin-esque Lonesome Luke character. Newmeyer continued to appear in small Lloyd roles up until Safety Last!. Of his 71 credited acting roles, almost all were in Harold Lloyd films.

By 1920, Newmeyer began directing comedy shorts, including some with Lloyd. He even directed the first Our Gang short, but his version was canned and never released after a bad test screening.

Newmeyer never truly explored different styles until after his partnership with Lloyd ended. After directing Richard Dix in a few films, Newmeyer ventured out into new realms with the coming of sound. In 1930, he directed two early talkie musicals and as the decade began, and settled into making mysteries his speciality as the decade wore on. In 1937, he finally directed an Our Gang short that got released, and mostly retired after that.

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Sam Taylor’s career both began and ended as a writer. Starting in 1916, he was a regular gag man and writer for the Ham and Bud comedy duo, as well as others. Along the way, he also showed signs of his later career by writing more dramatic screenplays and stories. Taylor established a variety in his styles from the very start.

His connection with Lloyd started not as a director, but as a writer. He co-wrote Lloyd’s 1921 shorts, the final year he made them, before co-directing the next year. He went from writing straight to directing some of the most beloved silent comedies of all time.

When his partnership with Lloyd ended (for the time being), Taylor quickly found himself with a new partner: Mary Pickford. All told, he directed Pickford in four films, including her Oscar winning Coquette performance. Norma Talmadge became a regular actor as well, as he continued to work on dramatic films throughout the early 30s.

Taylor directed Lloyd one more time, the 1934 talkie The Cat’s-Paw. That marked the same period he mostly retired from film, focusing on writing outside the screen. He wrote at least one Broadway play, but is not to be confused with a more prolific Broadway writer of the same name.

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