People say laughter will always be the best medicine. Laughter is a medicine that no mere doctor can prescribe yet a comedian can. Hal Roach was among the pioneers of the American film industry. Roach spent most of his youth in Alaska and was greatly influenced by Mark Twain. Roach was a muleskinner and gold rusher in Alaska. He began his career as a humble stunt man in some films at Universal, upon arriving in 1912 in Hollywood. By the time he received his inheritance, He started producing films with his friend Harold Lloyd.
Roach aspired to expand his studios in downtown Los Angeles yet was not successful because of “zoning” at that time ( John Brennan, Biography of Hal Roach,2002). The Culver city was purchased instead. It became the flagship studio of Roach Studios. Roach had a penchant for humor. Whenever the audience did not laugh, sadness engulfed him. It was this trait that lead to Harold Lloyd’s first extended film, the four-reel A, considered to be Lloyd’s first feature film. The success of the film convinced Roach and Lloyd to move Lloyd’s character limited to features only.
Roach and Lloyd made some of the best full-length comedy features of the era, including the comedian’s best-known film, “Safety Last”. An intriguing disagreement developed over Lloyd’s feature “Grandma’s Boy,” a disagreement that sheds some light on Roach’s working methods. Although there were friends, the two clashed with their own artistic preferences and differences as well. In the film, a comedy, of course, there was a lengthy Civil War flashback sequence. The sequence, important as exposition, was filmed straight without gags.
Roach thought that it stopped the picture cold and wanted it cut, while Lloyd thought it was essential to the film’s story. Roach felt that audiences would stop laughing during the flashback sequence then it would take too long for them to warm up to the comedy scenes that followed. Lloyd was adamant that the sequence was crucial for the picture. Both men were correct, but rather than pull rank as producer and have the sequence ejected over Lloyd’s objections, Roach and his star worked out a compromise.
The duo would film little gag scenes that could be spliced into the sequences without disrupting the flow of the story, Such compromise was exactly what the film needed. Eventually, it went on to be a huge success. Roach released his films through Pathe until 1927, when he went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He would transfer to United Artists in 1938. I He transformed his silent movie studio to a sound one in 1928 and started producing talking shorts early in 1929. Bringing the Roach Comedies to the World
In the days before dubbing, foreign language versions of the Roach comedies were created by re-shooting each film to create Spanish, French, and sometimes Italian and German dialogue phonetically ( John Brennan, Biography of Hal Roach,2002). Roach was bent on the proliferation of his films even abroad. In 1931, with the release of the Laurel & Hardy film Pardon Us, Roach began producing occasional full-length features alongside the short product. Short subjects became less profitable and were phased out by 1936.
The Our Gang series continued until 1938, when Roach sold the contracts of the Our Gang cast members and the series name to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Roach comedies were not only popular in America, but also overseas, something Roach capitalized on in 1930. Some shorts, such as Laurel and Hardy’s “Blotto” were filmed and edited, and then the cast and crew would remake the entire short in Spanish, German and Italian, with the main actors reading their lines phonetically while supporting actors were replaced by native speakers. This arduous and expensive process only lasted about a year.
Yet it showed how serious and hell-bent Roach was when it came to his comedies. In some case, separate shorts were combined into films that played as features overseas. Roach Innovations in Film Making From 1937 to 1940 Roach concentrated on producing glossy features, abandoning low comedy almost completely. Most of his new films were either sophisticated farces like Topper and The Housekeeper’s Daughter or rugged action fare such as Captain Fury and One Million B. C.. Roach’s one venture into heavy drama was the acclaimed Of Mice and Men.
The Laurel & Hardy comedies, once the Roach studio’s biggest drawing cards, were now the studio’s least important product and were phased out altogether in 1940. Yet Roach was not discouraged with such shortcomings. He competed with other film outfits by seeking alternatives. In 1940, Roach experimented with medium-length features, each with a 50-minute running time.. He contended that these “streamliners,” as he called them, would be useful in double-feature situations where the main attraction was a longer-length epic. Exhibitors agreed with him, and used Roach’s mini-features to balance top-heavy double bills.
Roach’s streamliners were in demand in 1943.. By this time Roach no longer had a resident company of comedy stars, and cast his films with familiar featured players. He was is own person already. Perhaps, built his own empire with such alternative ingenuity. Upon World War II, military films were rampant. Roach’s streamliners were outlasted by his military training short films that he produced as well. The studios were leased to the U. S. Army Air Forces, and the First Motion Picture Unit made 400 training, morale and propaganda films at “Fort Roach.
” Members of the unit included Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd and others. In 1947, Hal Roach resumed production for theaters, with former Harold Lloyd co-star Bebe Daniels as an associate producer. Roach was the first Hollywood producer to go to an all-color production schedule. He was the linchpin of colored film making. He was making four streamliners in Cinecolor, although the increased production costs did not result in increased revenue. The Lot of Fun The Roach yard was a busy place, and you never knew who was going to show up for work.
Paulette Goddard and Boris Karloff are just a few instances of performers who got some instant work at Roach’s before moving on to stardom. There was also a ambiance of community and spirit of camaraderie unlike any other studio at that time. Whenever Laurel and Hardy were finished for the day, they might visit the Our Gang set, or Charley Chase would drop by the Laurel and Hardy set. Comedians would suggest gags for each others’ films at the drop of a hat. Roach’s comedians complement each other which played a role in honing their craft.
Between takes, impromptu sing-alongs were the usual, with Chase, Laurel, Hardy, McCarey and others singing three and four-part harmony while Roach musical director T. Marvin Hatley pounded the piano or played any instrument that was handy. Roach Studios was a very festive and ecstatic environment. The Roach Studio has been dubbed “The studio built from laughter”. “There just wasn’t a nicer job in the world than getting together with a great bunch of people and working your whole day so you could make people laugh I used to love going there every morning, and at night I always hated to leave.
” (Stan Laurel, On the set of Laurel and Hardy,1927). Turning Predicaments to Success In 1948, with his studio at the verge of being drowned in debts, Roach revamped his studio for television production with Hal Roach, Jr. producing shows such as The Stu Erwin Show, The Gale Storm Show, and My Little Margie, and independent producers leasing the facilities for such programs as Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Life of Riley, and The Abbott and Costello Show. By 1951, the studio was producing 1,500 hours of television programs a year, this was thrice as much as Hollywood’s annual output of feature movies.
In 1955, Roach sold his share of the debt-ridden studio to his son, Hal Roach, Jr. , who in 1962 lost it to creditors. The 14. 5 acre studio, once known as “The Lot of Fun”, containing 55 buildings, was torn down in 1963 and replaced by light industrial buildings, businesses, and an automobile dealership, where a plaque marks the studio’s location (Richard Lewis Ward, A History of Hal Roach Studios, 2005). Hal Roach Studios was reduced to a film library and was bought by a Canadian company that primarily handled the business of keeping the library in the public eye and licensing products based upon the classic film series.
Television and Music Endeavors Roach engaged into producing records as well. He had a knack for musical comedies as well. Hal Roach has been the star of Jury’s Irish Cabaret in Dublin for over 20 years. His unique style of story telling brings joy and happiness to millions of families all over the world. Honored by the Irish government as an Ambassador of Mirth for his contribution to tourism, he has been instrumental in attracting countless thousands of visitors to the Emerald Isle (Richard Lewis Ward, A History of Hal Roach Studios,2005).
Princess Grace of Monaco described him as one of the jewels of Ireland (Richard Lewis Ward, A History of Hal Roach Studios,2005). Listening to Hal can be habit forming and dangerous to your health. Roach came up with Culver Studios as well. It produced most TV series in full color. Just northeast of the giant Sony Sony/M-G-M Studios, you’ll find the smaller, but equally historic Culver Studios. Over the years, this film lot has been home to such names as RKO, Laird, Howard Hughes, and Desilu studios. Ironically, like its giant neighbor M-G-M, this studio isn’t even located in Hollywood.
Instead, it’s in Culver City, a sleepy little town with a big Hollywood history. It was at Culver Studios that some of the greatest movies of all time were filmed: Orson Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane” (1941), the original “King Kong” with Fay Wray (1933), Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, “Rebecca” (1940), and yes, the unforgettable “Gone With the Wind” (1939). They even staged the famous “burning of Atlanta” scene from “Gone With The Wind” here on the back lot of Culver Studios, on December 10, 1938.
The city of “Atlanta” was actually made up of various old sets from previous films made on the lot, which David O. Selznick set ablaze to make room for the construction of the exterior of Tara. (The fire consumed old sets from “King Kong,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Little Lord Fauntleroy. “) Yet the key role of Scarlett O’Hara still had not been cast. As Selznick watched from atop an observation tower as the red flames consumed “Atlanta,” his brother Myron introduced him to Vivien Leigh, with the words: “I’d like you to meet your Scarlett O’Hara.
” These television endeavor even made Roach more prolific in his field. He was a man of genius in his own right. As the cliche goes, good things never last and that was the case for the Roach Film Empire. Hal Roach sold the Our Gang franchise to MGM in 1938. Laurel and Hardy continued to work for Roach until 1940, but they were receiving less attention from Roach than ever, and their final film for the studio, Saps at Sea in 1940 looked like what Roach probably considered it to be a cheaply-made although still amusing B-picture.
Following the film’s release, the team left Roach and signed with Fox. The loss of Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy did not concern Roach much, as he had been attempting to make more prestige pictures such as Of Mice and Men (1939), as fine a drama as anything that ever came out of one of the bigger studios. Other later Roach films fondly recalled today include the ghost-comedy Topper in 1937 and the dinosaur epic One Billion B. C. In 1940.
During World War II, The United States Government used Roach’s studio to make training films while Roach, now in his fifties, rejoined the service and was stationed overseas as a lieutenant colonel (John Brennan, Biography of Hal Roach, 2002). After the war, Roach continued to make features, but his heart was no longer in it. He switched to television production in 1948, with Amos and Andy, Groucho Marx and Abbott and Costello just some of the popular performers who filmed their shows at Roach. Roach retired in 1955, and, under the poor management of his son, Hal Roach, Jr. , the studio went bankrupt in 1959.