The Death of Lonesome Luke

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Chris Snowden
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The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Chris Snowden » Fri Feb 16, 2018 7:31 pm

We all know how, in 1917, Harold Lloyd began supplementing his usual Lonesome Luke comedies with one-reelers featuring his new glasses-wearing character. I can see Pathe giving Rolin the green light to try out a new series. But why did the Lonesome Luke series go away?

We've heard that Harold was sick of the character. Okay. But Rolin was a business, and Pathe had something to say about the product it was handling. The Lukes were getting full-page ads in the trade papers. And since they were all two-reelers at this point, they were presumably bringing in higher rents than the single-reel "glass" shorts.

From a business standpoint, killing off the well-established Luke series doesn't make sense, unless the films were no longer as popular as we've assumed they were. Could it be that Luke's popularity had been slipping? Could it be that the "glass" character was created because Pathe demanded something fresh?

It's possible that the "glass" films were such a hit that the most profitable use of Lloyd's time was to have him making "glass" films rather than Lukes. Yet less than three months passed between the release of the first "glass" film and the final Luke comedy. And from what we can see of the seven "glass" comedies released in that period, they were less than revolutionary. So I still wonder: why did the Lukes come to a halt?

Richard M Roberts
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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:06 pm

I think you've basically answered your own question Chris, The glasses character caught on pretty quickly with the public, and the two-reel Lukes did not really justify their extra expense (and if you've ever seen the surviving ones like CLUBS ARE TRUMPS, they do not seem to have been very good), so I think Pathe' saw the handwriting on the wall for the demise of the Lonesome Luke series, and just let Lloyd transition pretty seamlessly. I'm also not convinced that Pathe' was really all that interested in two-reelers from Hal Roach at the time, neither the Lukes nor the Toto two-reelers did all that well, and Pathe' seemed to really depend on Roach for one-reel comedy product. Even in the early-mid 20's, when Roach wanted to branch out into more two-reelers, Pathe' continued to demand single-reels even to the point where Roach was giving them more reissue product and scraping his vaults to supply them with single-reels into early 1926, when he was getting fed up with Pathe' and put his foot down and said no more one-reelers period.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Bill Sprague » Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:11 pm

Lonesome Luke was an obvious Chaplin imitation and the powers that be at Rolin thought Harold Lloyd was capable of doing better, even though his very first "glasses " comedies were his obvious attempts to form a different more likeable character. While no one wants to see a character "die " as so to speak there was obviously more money in the change of character of Harold Lloyd . Lloyds character became more of a character as he continued to issue films and as proved by his feature work, this character was supreme. The problem with Lonesome Luke is that the character really was not really going anywhere, and when the series expanded to two reels they were probably losing money. On the other hand it is sad to what happened to these films , as many of them were destroyed in a fire.

Chris Snowden
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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Chris Snowden » Sat Feb 17, 2018 10:56 am

Well, I think I understand this issue better now than I did yesterday.

It seems the only party unhappy with the Lukes was Lloyd himself, who by 1917 was so sick of the character that he was threatening to leave Rolin and work elsewhere. Richard Bann says Hal Roach wanted to continue making Lukes (and understandably so, as it was his only successful series at the time), but that Lloyd "pushed hard" for a change.

Pathe seems to have been happy with the series too. Annette Lloyd says that Pathe contracted with Rolin specifically for fourteen two-reel Lukes; Lloyd got a 50% bump in salary but remained unhappy doing the character.

So once the last of the contracted Lukes was in the can, the character was seen nevermore. And here's what's really extraordinary: when filming wrapped on that final two-reeler (LONESOME LUKE IN WE NEVER SLEEP), no "glass" character films had yet been released. in fact, none had yet been shot! The final filming on WE NEVER SLEEP took place on June 2, 1917 (according to studio records cited in The Lucky Corner's online Roach filmography), and filming on the first "glass" short began on June 7. Presumably Rolin and Pathe had already contracted for a new series of Lloyd one-reelers and Roach forged ahead, staking the future of his studio on the success of a series that audiences wouldn't see a glimpse of until September.

Imagine all the films and series that would never have been made, had those "glass" one-reelers failed...

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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Tommie Hicks » Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:13 pm

Some of the early "glass" films were advertised as Lonesome Lukes.

CYNICISM ALERT!

In 1943 one of Lloyd's film vaults caught fire. It was the vault that contained mostly Lonesome Luke comedies. I speculate that Lloyd bought these negatives from Roach to keep them out of public view despite the fact that Lloyd had donated some positive Lonesome Lukes to MOMA circa 1936. Lloyd received a sizable insurance payment for his loss during a creative lag in his career. The amount was obviously above and beyond the films worth commercially in 1943. Coincidentally, Mrs. Lloyd was found burning in the vault as well, was rescued, and suffered serious injuries.

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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Steve Massa » Sun Feb 18, 2018 10:35 am

Don't forget that Luke wasn't completely dead in 1917, as Roach tried to resuscitate him in 1921 with Gaylord Lloyd in the role. This group, that included THE LUCKY NUMBER, A ZERO HERO, TROLLEY TROUBLES, and ROUGH SEAS, really put the nails in Luke's coffin.

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Re: The Death of Lonesome Luke

Postby Joe Moore » Sun Feb 18, 2018 1:21 pm

It was very interesting reading through the surviving correspondence from 1917-18 in the Roach files at USC some years back.
The impression I took away from it was that neither Rolin or Pathe wanted to drop the Luke character. The series was doing well enough that their attitude seemed to be "if it ain't broke don't fix-it." It really seems that Lloyd was the only one strongly pushing for the change.

Since Lloyd was dead set on the change, in order to placate Pathe Roach really sold them big on Toto. A good deal of money was thrown into the Toto films. Toto's salary was considerably more than Lloyd's. Something that did not go over well with Harold.

The Toto series pretty quickly began to run into trouble with Pathe requesting retake after retake (all this adding to the costs of producing the series) and then demanding the series' leading lady, Kathleen O'Connor, be replaced (also costing Roach more money as he still had to pay off O'Connor as she had a contract).

You could tell the series was really not going well as Roach and his partner, Dwight Whiting, begin to try to sell off Toto to other film companies. This act of desperation seems to have come about as they feared that Pathe was likely to drop them.

After months of production the Toto film began to be released in early 1918 and despite a good deal of promotion and hype really don't do that well, especially considering their costs. All seems lost.

Except... Harold Lloyd has been steadily churning out his one-reelers on the smaller stage at Rolin. Learning as he goes along. Some are duds but even on those Lloyd learns from his mistakes and they get steadily better and better. Pathe has so little faith in these that they held up the release of the later Lukes and alternate their release with those of the early glasses character films in the Fall of 1917.

But as the public gets used to Lloyd's new character they find they like him. They really like him.

By the Spring of 1918 the tone of the correspondence between Rolin and Pathe has completely changed. Roach is now in the catbird seat. The Lloyd one-reelers are doing very well, much to the surprise, apparently, of everyone but Lloyd and the public.

The Toto series is allowed to switch to one-reelers and when Toto, generously, releases Rolin from his contract a young (and much cheaper) Stan Laurel is hired to finish up the contracted number of pictures for Pathe.

The Lloyd series grows more and more popular so that by the following year Lloyd is now near the top in popularity in the comedy field. The Lonesome Luke films are already becoming a lesser memory.

Joe Moore


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