Santa Claus in Early Cinema

For well over a century,  Christmas and Santa Claus has become a part of popular culture. Although the imagery and traditions can vary in different parts of the world, depictions of Santa are everywhere. This, of course, includes film, which has given us many iconic depictions of Santa (most notably Miracle on 34th Street and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). But Santa has been seen in films perhaps earlier than most people would expect. In fact, Santa has been a part of the film world from the very beginning.

The timing in the United States worked out perfectly. By the time the first films were being created, many of the conventional features of Santa had already been established. Thomas Nast’s first familiar drawing appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1863, and his drawings continued to popularize Santa imagery in the ensuing decades. Although the 1930s Coca-Cola ads provide an even more familiar Santa look, Nast helped give us a lot of Santa we know decades earlier.

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By the time the film world was only a decade old, Santa was already a fixture on the screen. And some of cinema’s heaviest hitters were in on the act from the start. The director of Santa’s first film portrayal in Santa Claus Filling Stockings (1897, Biograph) has been lost to the ages, but the 1898 film Santa Claus is notable for a number of reasons. Directed by early pioneer George Albert Smith, it’s not only an early portrayal of Santa but an example of Smith’s impact. Multiple exposures to “insert” someone into a scene were one of film’s earliest special effects, and Smith was one of first to use it (along with George Méliès). In this short scene, Santa appears first in a bubble, presenting him outside on the roof, before popping into the children’s room to drop off presents. By shooting this way, Smith portrays parallel scenes that eventually converge. As for Santa, the look is a little different. The Santa here is clad in what is essentially a hooded robe, and is much thinner than he would later be. These differences could be attributed to this being a British production.

Smith was far from the only notable early director to take on Santa Claus. Edwin S. Porter, known now mostly for The Great Train Robbery (1903), made two such films for Edison’s company. This included the first film adaptation of The Night Before Christmas in 1905, complete with intertitles from the written story. Telling a now familiar tale, Porter also used another common film technique at the time. Santa waves one hand and a fully decorated tree appears in the room. Most often used by Méliès, this technique involved essentially “freezing” a scene and the actors in place and ending filming. Filming resumes once the new object is in place, and when spliced together, it appears that the object has jumped right into the scene.

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Porter’s next film, A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907), and D.W. Griffith’s A Trap for Santa Claus (1909) both represent a shift in the Santa narratives. With the mythology well established on the screen, the stories began to advance and build upon the knowledge of the character. The latter Porter film involves a boy trying to convince a girl that Santa does exist, a common theme that exists in Christmas films to this day. A sort of gamesmanship exists in the plot too, seeing if Santa can be caught and seen. Santa’s look here is still slightly different, sporting something resembling a wizard’s hat.

Griffith’s film takes the game of catching Santa and adds a further level of complexity: that sometimes the person in the suit isn’t Santa at all. Certainly the most complex plot in a Santa film to that point, there’s a lot going on. The children decide to set up a plot to catch Santa. The man who enters the house isn’t Santa, but rather their long gone father  who is seeking to rob the home. Their mother takes pity on the man and lets him dress as Santa to surprise the children. Robbery is also a theme in the 1914 The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus, where a robber attempts to gain access to homes by dressing as Santa.

Examining these early films goes a long way to not only understand how Santa Claus in media has evolved, but how film technology and techniques evolved. Early special effects were perfect for these kind of stories involving a mythical figure. And the films followed the general trajectory of these earliest films: the products were first more simple in plot and shorter in length. As time went by, plots in general became more layered and complex, just like these Santa films. Perhaps, then, we can see not only the evolution of Santa stories through these films, but the evolution of film as well.

A Classic Film Fan’s Holiday Gift Guide

With the holiday season fast approaching, there’s plenty of shopping to do. And while there’s always a wealth of classic films on DVD to purchase, there were a number of fantastic new DVD/Blu-Ray releases. On top of that, one site is offering a steal of a sale right now. Here’s a list of some of the classic film releases for that special person in your life, or yourself:

Kino Lorber Silent Film Sale (through 12/06)

As of this writing, there is only one more day to capitalize on an amazing silent film sale at Kino Lorber. In addition to plenty of single film DVD releases, the biggest bargains are the boxed sets. These include Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection, Edison: The Invention of the Movies, German Expressionism and Gaumont Treasures. Also recommended is the innovative and engrossing French serial Fantomas.

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Sherlock Holmes (1916)

Regular viewers of TCM may have seen the television debut of this previously lost film. Either way, this is one well worth picking up, if only  for the historical reasons. William Gillette, who played Sherlock Holmes on stage countless times, plays him on film for the only time. Gillette’s portrayal also led to many of the physical traits commonly associated with Holmes. The print survives in a nice condition, making this DVD/Blu-Ray all the more worthwhile.

Accidentally Preserved Volume 3

Ben Model has done it again, producing and scoring long lost silent films. There are plenty of silent comedy shorts to be seen here, some of them with notable but forgotten stars of the era. This includes the then popular duo of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew and a young Billy Barty. The world of silent comedy is much bigger than is generally known, and this provides a look at some forgotten stars.

The Marcel Perez Collection

Speaking of forgotten silent comedy stars and Ben Model, this is another gem of DVD scored by him. Born in Spain, Perez was an international star and director of around 200 shorts. Now forgotten, this DVD of ten shorts is an introduction to one of the first non-U.S. based silent comedy superstars.

Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9

The long running series of Pre-Code films has another hit, this one with five films in all. There are plenty of big stars to be found in these films, including Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy, Ann Dvorak and Richard Dix. The full list of films: Big City Blues, Hell’s Highway, When Women Meet, I Sell Anything and The Cabin in the Cotton.

House of Mystery

Fantomas is far from the only stellar French serial out there. House of Mystery was lost to time, but thanks to a great looking DVD release, the ten part serial can be explored again. With plenty of fast-paced action, emotion and stunning visuals, this is a must-see.

The Apu Trilogy

Often heralded as the height of Indian cinema and some of the greatest films of all time, the award winning series has finally gotten a Criterion release. With that great treatment, there is now a chance for even more people to see a landmark piece of cinema.

How Television and One Man Saved the Legacy of Buster Keaton

Stop for a moment and think about your favorite Buster Keaton moment. There’s many things that may come to mind: the house just missing him in Steamboat Bill Jr., a train going down in flames in The General, just to name a couple. But it’s safe to say films like Doughboys and What — No Beer? don’t spring to mind many classic moments. And yet, Keaton’s lackluster MGM talkies were far more popular than most of what he did previously in his “classic” period. Luckily, times changed and Keaton’s greatest work became recognized in his lifetime. That Keaton now has the legacy he deserves can be credited to television, and the work of one man.

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Either through a desire or a need to keep working, Buster Keaton didn’t stop when his time at MGM came to a bad end. He kept on working, sometimes in foreign films, bit parts in Hollywood movies or in cheap short films. Perhaps most importantly, Buster Keaton found his way into millions of homes thanks to numerous TV appearances. In addition to his own local Los Angeles show, Keaton showed up time and time again on a bevy of shows: Rheingold Theatre, The Best of Broadway, Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater, Screen Directors Playhouse, The Donna Reed Show, Burke’s Law, The Greatest Show on Earth, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Route 66, You Asked for It and The Twilight Zone. Combined with commercial spots, Buster Keaton was everywhere on the small screen. A whole new audience became exposed to Keaton, an audience that never saw some people like the retired Harold Lloyd.

But that still didn’t expose audiences to Keaton’s classic silent film comedies. Raymond Rohauer is the man who changed all that.

Keaton still had many of his shorts and features in his possession, but without the rights to any of them, they were essentially useless. Upon their meeting, Rohauer set about to change all that. At the expense of high legal fees, he renewed copyrights and put the works back in with Buster Keaton Productions. Just as importantly, he transferred the works from unsafe nitrate film to more reliable safety film. Along the way, Rohauer also scoured the earth for copies of other Keaton films. The films were then re-released, allowing audiences to see Keaton’s classic work for the first time since their release.

It didn’t come easy, getting these films back in theaters. MGM, who claimed copyright over much of Keaton’s films, sued after The Navigator was screened. Many other court cases, injunctions and lawsuits would follow. Rohauer even clashed with Keaton over securing the troublesome rights to Seven Chances. Keaton, not a fan of the film, didn’t even want him to bother. But Rohauer persisted anyhow.

The revival of the films paid huge dividends. Keaton found more steady work in big Hollywood films like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The accolades rolled in too: a George Eastman House award, a star on the walk of fame, a Sutherland Trophy from the British Film Institute, and a surprise honorary Oscar. The 1960s were his best decade since the 20s.

To this day, Keaton retains the legendary status he so rightfully deserves, with Sherlock Jr. and The General seen as some of the best films of the era. And to that, we owe a great deal of thanks to television and Raymond Rohauer.

The Battle Against Censorship in Early Sound Films

1929 was a huge year for films, a year of transition. Talking pictures were rapidly becoming the must-see attractions, putting an end to silent films very quickly. But with that transition came a lot of decisions, a lot of growing pains and a lot of uncertainty.

Take, for instance, the kind of technology that was to be used. Debate raged on as to what would end up being the preferable way of playing sound: sound-on-film, or sound-on-disc. So many aspects of technology were still in play in 1929, as well aspects like production costs, just as an example.

Another battle was fought in 1929 when sound entered the equation. This one, although not well known now, had major ramifications for free speech in early talkies. It also found its way into many courtrooms and state houses throughout the country. It is the issue of censorship of early talkie films, and whether or not the government could intervene in those matters.

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It appears that the first major instance of occurred at the start of 1929, with the release of Sal of Singapore. The film, released originally as a silent in 1928, later was re-edited to include new talking scenes. And that’s when the New York censors stepped in and tried to set quite the precedent. The censors tried to block the film, based on a perceived power to censor sound and dialogue in films.

Production company Pathé wasn’t about to let that slide, though. After getting a temporary reprieve from the censorship, they then sought to have a court battle over the issue—which they did, beginning that same month in January. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first time Pathé went to bat for freedom of speech in film. Several years earlier, 1923, Pathé successfully won a Supreme Court battle stating that newsreel footage could not be subject to censorship.

For its part, the film industry offered unanimous support against censors wiping out dialogue. In quite the odd turn of events, even Will B. Hays was outspoken against the censorship. Hays, who was just a short a way from enforcing his namesake code that put a stranglehold on Hollywood freedom, said that “no reasonable person could claim there was any need for censorship.”

The result of this specific case in New York is a little hard to track down. Although it was a for a time the biggest story Film Daily covered, the forming of 20th Century Fox soon dominated the headlines, pushing this specific film censorship case aside.

But this was not the only battle for free speech in talkies that year. There were many, many more throughout the country. Also in New York, legislation to further regulate sound in films to pass. In Pennsylvania, a high court actually ruled in favor of more censorship control. Censorship laws also failed to pass in Kansas.

And the most interesting state of all in this battle may be Ohio. Much like in other states, legislation failed to pass in the state house. Specifically, the powers that be in Ohio wanted to be able to censor lines of dialogue as they wish. Although in most states it ended there, things in Ohio went to extreme measures. Of particular contention was a Clara Bow talkie The Wild Party. There were apparently some bits of dialogue censors wanted cut out. But since they didn’t have that power, in some showings the screen just went black. Whole scenes were cut out, since they couldn’t censor individual lines of dialogue.

Of course, this battle over the censorship of films didn’t continue on, and there was no need to. Hollywood’s own regulations thanks to the Production Code would soon get rid if the kind of content censors were wringing their hands over.

All the same, the battle that took place in the early days of sound is still important. These legal fights set an early and always important precedent: that government can’t regulate the content of film. And in this time of transition, the fight wasn’t easy–but it had the right result.

Recommend an Obscure Film: The Sin of Harold Diddlebock

This is part of an ongoing series looking at obscure/little talked about good films.

Frequent readers of this blog are well aware of the fondness I have for Harold Lloyd. His films still stand out as some of the funniest and most charming of all time, and watching more of him only makes that more obvious. He made some successful sound films too, but ultimately chose to retire. Today we’re going to talk about the one film he made when he came out of retirement. It has a troubled history and is rarely mentioned now, but it shows just now talented Harold Lloyd was.

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If you happened to see The Sin of Harold Diddlebock around the time it came out, you probably know it under a different name, Mad Wednesday. That’s because the film as originally made was barely seen by anyone. Producer Howard Hughes panicked after early bad reviews and pulled the film from theaters quickly. It then took him years to release it under that different title, and with a shorter runtime. With a history like that, things aren’t looking good for this film. Add to it that the film when badly over schedule and over budget, and this sounds like it must have been a disaster.

In reality, it wasn’t a disaster on film, even if it was a disaster in production and release. On paper alone, it looks like the film should work as a great comedy. After all, Preston Sturges is directing Harold Lloyd here. Indeed, it was Sturges that convinced Lloyd to come out of retirement for a loose sequel to The Freshman. Does the combination of these two working together turn out well?

It sure does. Sturges clearly knew how to create a Harold Lloyd-like film. It certainly feels like one, particularly with a typical zany, dangerous climax. The film has a tough act to follow considering it opens with the final ten minutes of The Freshman, but the material is strong enough to work.

And Harold Lloyd is strong enough too. As with his other talkies, this film makes it clear that sound different hurt Lloyd’s charm or abilities at all. Lloyd, still looking as youthful as ever, brings the same kind of presence and performance found in his silent films. In fact, the best extended scene in the film relies partially on Lloyd’s voice supplying a huge punch line. He’s still the same comedic genius, delighting as always. This film really hammers home how unfortunate it is that he chose to retire.

And it’s also unfortunate that Lloyd’s swan song has been mostly written off or ignored. While some stars met with sad ends where they didn’t have it any more, that is clearly not the case with Lloyd. What we have in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is Lloyd proving to still be at the top of his game, all these years later. A couple more classic Lloyd moments can be found here, along with one final great comedy.

Roller Disco and the Unexpected Fun of Cheesy Films

I have a confession to make.

By now, I think my tastes in films are pretty well known. We’ve covered silent films and early talkies here extensively enough that it’s very obvious I have a great interest in that era. But my tastes aren’t that limited, though, of course. And everyone has their guilty pleasures in movies, music and TV. Now, let’s take a look at one if my own guilty film pleasures. It, can of course, only be one thing:

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Roller disco films!

Roller disco films skated their way into my heart when I first saw Roller Boogie. Sure, part of that was because Linda Blair was absurdly charming in it, but who wouldn’t be charmed by her in this film? It also helps that Jim Bray is incredibly talented and showcases his skills incredibly well. Because of that, the film features honest to goodness great musical numbers. The rest of it is just cheesy retro fun, and isn’t that just the thing you need sometimes? The vintage 70s fashion is sometimes wacky and sometimes adorable, and the songs to go along with it are fun too. It has just the perfect cheesy plot, too: young people wanting to save a roller rink as if it’s the most important thing in the world. It’s just cheesy fun that left a smile on my face the whole time.

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Next came the much maligned Xanadu. I came into this knowing that the film carries with it quite the reputation. And it certainly is a different experience than Roller Boogie, because Xanadu is just so out there. It sounds bizarre on paper, but it’s even more bizarre in reality. Above all else, it’s still very fun. The musical numbers are still enjoyable to watch, along with the added bonus that anything can happen at any time. And boy, does it ever happen. To me, the film’s out of left field weirdness is precisely what makes it so charming. It’s wacky and bizarre, and the whole time that just makes it very unique and fun trip.

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There was only one other entry into the Roller Disco Holy Trinity left: the never officially released Skatetown USA. And the fact that it will never be released is such a shame, likely due to a soundtrack featuring a bevy of hits. Although the film never strays far from the roller disco hall, it packs the same “bizarre around every corner” punch that Xanadu has. From a white Afro wearing DJ to a roller skating Uncle Sam, one never knows what sparkling surprises Skatetown USA will deliver next. In fact, it may be the most cheesy fun of them all, thanks also to an all star cast and total nonstop roller disco action.

By now, it’s obvious what all these films have in common, aside from just roller skating. The other common theme is that they’re incredibly cheesy and incredibly fun. Just as watching a swinging roaring 20s party on film makes me want to be there, so does a roll around the rink to an ABBA song. Everything from the disco tunes to the hair and the music is like stepping into a time machine. It’s a brief slice of life into a scene in the 70s, and every moment of it is pure up adulterated joy. Are these films good in many of the usual metrics at which we judge movies? Often, no. Does that make them any less entertaining? No.

Sometimes all we want from a film is a fun escape, something to put a smile on our face. That’s why I have always been enchanted by musicals in general, for the joy and pleasure they give when a spectacular musical number is going on. These roller disco films provide that same kind of fun– just with hot pants, roller skates and high socks thrown in the mix.

Give these films a chance if you’re so inclined. You might just find yourself dreaming of rollerskating too. In the meantime, I’m off to look for a satin jacket.

The Uncomfortable Moments in Classic Film, and Why We Need to See Them

Two of early film’s most popular, influential and important pieces are a little hard to watch now. These are films that cannot just be written off. They are, after all, integral pieces in telling the history of film. They also happen to have racist elements.

The Jazz Singer features Al Jolson performing in blackface, something that was part of his regular routine. It would be easy to ignore the film for this fact, if it weren’t for the significance of the climactic scene and the whole film. The man in blackface is singing on screen in the first talking picture, one that would very quickly lead to a seismic shift in the world of film.

The Birth of a Nation is even more egregious, so profoundly racist in its portrayal of African Americans and the KKK that it caused great controversy when released. But it also just happens to be the biggest blockbuster film up to that point in movie history, and also a landmark film in terms of complexity and directorial/narrative structure.

Both of these films, particularly The Birth of the Nation, clearly contain elements, or even whole plots, that would be unacceptable today. But they can’t just be written off or ignored, in large part because of how important they are to the history of film. On anyone’s chart of film’s most important points, these two films would stand out as bold, huge events.

Because these are such important films, they aren’t ignored, censored or swept under the rug. And as a result of that, meaningful discussions about the racial elements of the film are always ongoing. We’ve continued to look at these films and have learned a lot about our history and our culture.

And that is how we should look at all classic films, unedited and unapologetic, discussing and learning from them. If we can do it with The Jazz Singer and The Birth of a Nation, we can do it with all other classic films as well.

That is the optimal way to handle it, as any classic film fan knows it’s hard to avoid unpleasantness of the past. Blackface was once hugely popular as a performance style in the United States, and that’s not even including the common practice of white men playing Asian stereotypes in early films. Classic films with racist and sexist elements are all over the place, with examples and instances too numerous to name. If we remove these elements, what are we really removing? Only the opportunity to understand, learn and discuss.

Editing out blackface from film, for example, tries to erase what was a strangely mainstream and common practice for a number of decades. It’s jarring and shocking to see to see Bing Crosby saunter out in blackface in Holiday Inn and other films, but trying to act like it didn’t happen doesn’t help us understand why it happened.

It’s easy to romanticize and idealize the past. In fact, most film blogs such as this one are guilty of that to a certain extent. But not all things were better then. The truth of the matter is that African Americans, women, Asians, Italians, Jews and all other kinds of groups were often portrayed horribly and offensively in films of yesteryear. And while it’s especially horrible to see now, erasing these ugly parts does not fix anything. It erases a look at an unfortunately all too true part of our history.

Films are, after all, more than just entertainment. They are a cultural scrapbook, a time capsule of who we are, who we were and where we came from. That includes not only the good things and the beautiful things, but the ugly and shameful things as well. Those awful things tell an important story too, of how far we’ve come and grown.

Much like our own world history, we can’t only choose to remember the good parts of our film history. That doesn’t tell the whole story.

Recommend an Obscure Film: The Last Performance

This is the first in a one week series highlighting lesser known great films. There’s also the possibility this could be adapted into a podcast, so if you’re interested in that format, let us know!

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THE LAST PERFORMANCE (1927)
Directed by: Paul Fejos
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin

We’ve previously talked about Paul Fejos’ classic Lonesome on this site. When that film received the Criterion collection, along with it were a couple of other Fejos selections–including The Last Performance. While the former may be a touching, moving love story, The Last Performance conveys a whole different set of emotions: horror, shock and terror.

Conrad Veidt stars as an unsettling magician, one who has entered a relationship with a much younger woman. When she falls in love with the new apprentice, it’s only a matter of time before Veidt finds out and decides to get even.

Although no spoilers will be given here, viewers will likely figure out where this is headed once Veidt springs into action. That does not lessen the impact of what follows. The film’s climactic scenes are not only unsettling and unnerving, but almost scary as well. The inevitable path it heads on only adds to the tension. The viewer knows things will only get worse for the characters in this love triangle. It’s just a matter of when.

Making the film all the more unsettling is the harrowing performance by Conrad Veidt. In a way, Veidt was almost the prototypical silent film actor: an expressive an unforgettable face. The anger and torment in his eyes tells a greater story than most actors ever can.

Much like Lonesome, which also came at the end of silent films, The Last Performance later got a touch of sound as well. It appears the partial talkie version may have been released in 1929, but the film was released on a staggered schedule over the course of a couple years. It wasn’t until 1930 that it was finally released everywhere. Interestingly enough, Bela Lugosi dubbed Veidt’s voice in the Hungarian version.

While The Last Performance is somewhat predictable, it only makes the film all the more harrowing. You’ll be able to see what’s around the corner before it happens–and you’ll be hoping that you’re wrong. The Last Performance further shows that Paul Fejos was a master at whatever emotions he wants to tackle. He makes you smile in Lonesome, and in The Last Performance, he’ll make you squirm in your seat.

TCM Silent Film Schedule: July

5th
The Cry of the Children: This short showing the evils of childhood labor is just powerful and shocking now as it must have been when it was released. Part of what makes it so shocking then and now is the footage of children working at a mill, which caused controversy at the time.
The Evidence of the Film: Another short, this crime film actually involves film itself. The film was considered lost until a copy was found in 1999.
Petticoat Camp: The final short of the night is a comedy, also starring the same actor in The Evidence of the Film.

7th
The Toll of the Sea: For those that love their film history, this film is a must see. This is only the second ever Technicolor feature, and the first that didn’t require a special projector. Early Technicolor films are always interesting to watch.

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12th
Grandma’s Boy: Just Harold Lloyd’s second feature film, this was also longer than his first feature. One of the first to jump into comedy features, Lloyd was revolutionary. Plus, it’s a funny film.
For Heaven’s Sake: A later Lloyd silent feature, this one ended up being one of his biggest hits. While most of Lloyd’s films were wildly successful, this one ended up one of the most profitable silent films.

19th
Metropolis: What more can be said about this classic? Make plans to see it if you haven’t yet.
Spione: Also directed by Fritz Lang, this is another sprawling film that must be seen to be believed. This was the second to last silent film Lang would make.

26th
The Phantom Carriage: This film has been reviewed on the site before, but it bears repeating again: few films are as haunting as this one. Death and sin are handled extraordinarily in this haunting film.

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.