A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Interact with your favorite SCM authors, producers, directors, historians, archivists and silent comedy savants. Or just read along. Whatever.
Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2202
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Jun 01, 2009 6:05 pm

Just to start the ball rolling, and help plug my upcoming book, PAST HUMOR PRESENT LAUGHTER: MUSINGS ON THE COMEDY FILM INDUSTRY: VOLUME ONE:HAL ROACH, which should actually come out this year from Bearmanor Media, here's a previously unpublished chapter on Glenn Tryon:

Chapter 10: Glenn Tryon

1924 was the year of one of the biggest mystery promotions ever perpetrated at the Hal Roach Studio or certainly any other comedy studio. Glenn Tryon had been a stage performer who had come to Roach that year and made several supporting appearances in some Snub Pollard comedies like IT’S A BOY (December 20, 1923) and THE BIG IDEA (January 13, 1924). His next Roach appearance was as the star of Hal Roach’s feature THE BATTLING ORIOLES (October 26, 1924.)
So what had happened to suddenly propel an unknown and inexperienced movie actor to sudden feature film stardom? Well, Hal Roach had just lost his biggest star. Harold Lloyd had finally left the Roach Studio for good, becoming his own producer first for Pathé, and then Paramount. Although Roach and Lloyd had been at loggerheads various times throughout Lloyd’s years at the studio, by all public reports this final breakup was amicable and Roach and Lloyd remained lifelong friends.
But now Roach found himself in the position of having initiated a feature-film program with Pathé, only to have lost his one bankable feature-film star. Enter Glenn Tryon, a normal-looking leading man sort of comic, reasonably adept at slapstick and characterization, but completely unknown to audiences.
So what one sees with THE BATTLING ORIOLES is essentially a Harold Lloyd comedy starring Glenn Tryon. Lloyd’s departure, though no surprise, was sudden enough to leave Roach with two future Lloyd features on the boards with no Lloyd to star in them. Amazingly, it’s a charming little film, revolving around the title characters, a once-famous baseball team of the 1890’s who are now rich, old, grouchy, and stagnant, hiding out at their private club, unchanged for decades. The Orioles leader, “Cappy” Wolfe (John T. Prince) discovers the son of their favorite player, Tommy Roosevelt Tucker (Tyron, as both Father and Son) working as a small-town barber and invites him to come and work at the Orioles Club. Tommy is happy to go to the city, because his girl (Blanche Mehaffey, also Tyron’s real-life wife), has moved to the city with her Uncle (Noah Young, so go-figure she’s in trouble.)
Of course the infusion of young Tucker’s new blood into the Orioles Club upsets their daily routine, much of Cappy Wolfe’s reason for bringing him there, and when Mehaffey needs rescuing from Uncle Noah’s clutches, Tommy gets the old Orioles riled up into smashing into Uncle Noah’s speakeasy and saving her. It’s all very Harold Lloydish, even co-directed by Ted Wilde, one of Lloyd’s top directors and writers, and Glenn Tryon acquits himself quite satisfactorily in the part, even if one can’t escape the feeling of watching an understudy fill in for the real star.
Interestingly, THE BATTLING ORIOLES was actually the second Glenn Tryon feature shot, but it was released before the first Tryon feature, THE WHITE SHEEP (released December 14, 1924). Directed by Hal Roach himself (with extensive retakes filmed by Roy Clements and Hampton Del Ruth), THE WHITE SHEEP tells the story of Tobias Tyler (Tyron) who is number four low-man-on-the-family-totem-pole below his rough-tough brothers Milt and Mose (Robert Kortman and Leo Willis) and his gigantic blacksmith Dad (Jack Gavin) who is also the mayor of the town. If this situation rings very Harold Lloyd-ish, it’s because Lloyd lifted it for his film THE KID BROTHER in 1927. Here, it’s used for another coming of manhood story with Tryon proving his mettle by saving his Dad when a rival accuses him of murder and the town decides to hang him. Since the town happens to sit on the state line between Kansas and Missouri, Tryon gets a team of horses and pulls the courthouse across the line into Missouri so the court has no authority to and his Father!
As enjoyable as both THE BATTLING ORIOLES and THE WHITE SHEEP are, they never shake the spectre of Harold Lloyd in the mechanics of the plotting, gags, and structural sympathy. It’s almost as if Hal Roach was trying to show that he could create another Harold Lloyd out of thin air with any actor. This was completely unfair to Glenn Tryon, who performs adequately, but is never allowed any personal idiosyncrasies of his own to emerge.
Neither feature did well enough to give Roach reason to continue Glenn Tryon as a feature-star, so the comic was moved over to two-reelers, replacing the Will Rogers series on the Pathé schedule. But Tryon’s character in his early two-reelers is little different from that of Charley Chase, just then starting his series of one-reelers for Roach. In MEET THE MISSUS (released December 7, 1924). Glenn and his new bride (still Blanche Mehaffey, who’d be his leading lady in a number of shorts), have his boss and the company’s efficiency manager over to dinner. Unfortunately Magnesia, the maid has drunk all the gin and replaced it with kerosene, giving us a long sequence in which the dinner party avoids the flammable cocktails.
Tryon is just fine playing the husband, managing a decent bit of slapstick as he does a header into a washtub, but Hal Roach did not need two Charley Chases on the lot, and the tinkering continued as the Roach staff tried to figure out ways to differentiate the two comedians.
More Harold Lloyd riffs are being borrowed in TELL IT TO A POLICEMAN (May 24, 1925) when Tryon does a variation on the parlor scene from GRANDMA’S BOY (1922). Glenn and Copper James Finlayson are rivals for the hand of Blanche Mehaffey, and as Fin boasts about his bravery on the beat, Blanche stuffs him full of candy. Instead of mothballs, Glenn puts chewing tobacco in the candy box, and of course, ends up eating it himself. The original source still claims the material.
MADAME SANS JANE (August 9, 1925) is a title-spoof of Gloria Swanson’s MADAME SANS GENE, and features Tryon in a surprisingly realistic drag performance. In order to follow his girl (Fay Wray, in one of her earliest leading film roles) on her trip to Europe, Glenn dons a dress and applies for the job of traveling companion.
Fay’s Father (James Finlayson again) despises Glenn but likes him when he’s a she and pursues her/him (Glenn’s female non-de-plume here is Armadillo Gherkin) while they’re aboard ship.
At the liner’s masquerade ball, Armadillo dances with the captain, but cops to his disguise and asks the captain to help him and Fay get married at midnight. But Fin follows Armadillo to her/his cabin, makes a pass, and after a few minutes of gag situation in which Tryon loses and retrieves his wig in time for the Captain to find Fin in a compromising position with Armadillo. That leaves Glenn and Fay leverage to get married on.
We find Glenn Tryon is drag once again for 45 MINUTES FROM HOLLYWOOD (shot October-November 1925, released December 26, 1926), this time being chased by house detective Oliver Hardy around a hotel. Hardy participated in a number of Tryon shorts in the series second season, and in this one, Babe breaks into the room of a “starving actor” as the subtitle indicates, that is none other than a heavily made-up Stan Laurel! Laurel was back at Roach working mostly behind the camera as writer, gagman, and director on many of the current Roach series, but this Tryon film marks Laurel and Hardy’s first appearance together in a Hal Roach picture.
Stan Laurel was just one of many writers working on the Glenn Tryon series; other writers included James Parrott, Carl Harbaugh, Hal Yates, and Grover Jones, along with supervisor F. Richard Jones. Fred Guiol had directed the majority of the first season and all of the second season, Guiol was a talented comedy craftsman, not perhaps the most inspired comedy director on the lot, but one who handled things efficiently while the Roach staff still struggled to create an effective comedy character for Tryon.
But even in its second season, the Tryon series failed to jell as attempts were made to move the comedian light-years away from the Harold Lloyd/Charley Chase mold. LONG PANTS (filmed September-November 1925, released January 13, 1926) was shot a full year or more before production began on Harry Langdon’s film of the same name, yet it still bears on odd similarity or two to the later picture. Once again, or shall we say, for the first time, the comic lead (Glenn Tryon) plays a young fellow of questionable age enjoying his first pair of long trousers way beyond the years when he should be doing so. Once again, the now long-trousered comic is picked up by a worldly woman (Vivian Oakland) whose intentions may or may not be honorable. But this LONG PANTS explores these comic possibilities with even more unevenness than its sort-of-remake. Glenn ends up taking this woman home to meet the folks, where his rather odd and unlikable Father tries to fight Glenn for her attentions. But the film passes on the promise of this situation after the first reel, as the second switches to straight slapstick as Glenn poses as Robin Hood for Vivian (who’s a painter) and gets chased by a bull.
Speaking of Langdon, even odder still is THE COW’S KIMONO (released June 20, 1926) in which Glenn Tryon performs an obvious Harry Langdon impersonation, very similar to the one Eddie Quillan was doing for Sennett after Langdon’s departure. Here Tryon is another innocent stuck on a farm with an odd assortment of dangerous characters, including a gun-toting female farmer.
By this point, it became patently obvious that Hal Roach had given up on his Harold Lloyd replacement, and Tryon left the lot in Spring of 1926. Happily, his story is not a tragic one. Tryon found a berth at Universal, who made him their second light-comedy star after Reginald Denny. For the rest of the Silent Era and into the early years of talkies, Tryon made a number of successful feature farces for the studio. HERO FOR A NIGHT (released December 17, 1927) teams him with the charming Patsy Ruth Miller, and is quite delightful. Tryon ground out feature after feature, frequently under the direction of William James Craft, the textbook definition of a journeyman director, but occasionally Tryon found himself in a film helmed by comedy talent like Del Lord, as in the somewhat-more-wacky film BARNUM WAS RIGHT (released September 22, 1929).
Tryon plays an up and coming promoter trying to make the crumbling, swamp-looked Louke Mansion into a successful hotel by spreading rumors of buried treasure somewhere on the property, thus bringing dozens of greedy looneys in to dig the place up looking for it.
Very occasionally, Glenn Tryon got the opportunity to work with a very talented director, like Paul Fejos in the touching New York slice-of-life film LONESOME (released September 30, 1928). Tryon and Barbara Kent play lonely everyday people who meet at Coney Island, fall in love, get separated, get despondent, and then discover they live in the same boardinghouse all on the same day. That’s the entire story, but it’s sensitively told in a beautiful cinematic style by Fejo’s and Glenn Tryon delivers an extremely effective performance. It’s easily the role of his lifetime, and although he adds comic touches here and there, it’s basically a romantic straight role, rivaling that of James Murray’s in MGM’s THE CROWD, the film that LONESOME is obviously emulating.
After Universal cut him loose in late 1930, Glenn Tryon freelanced for a couple of years as a star of low-budget action thrillers for the independents like Mayfair or Action Pictures, but he was a bit to savvy to ride the downward road many silent actors took when talkies came in. Tryon moved behind the camera, first becoming a comedy writer back in his old stomping grounds at Hal Roach, working on pictures like SONS OF THE DESERT (1933) with Laurel and Hardy. He then moved to RKO, working first as a writer, then associate producer, then as director of interesting B pictures like THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE (1938), a comic western starring Harry Carey and Tim Holt.
Tryon then moved back to Universal, where he produced comedies like HELLZAPOPPIN (1941) with Olsen and Johnson. Tryon continued successfully enough as a producer to be able to retire comfortably in the late 1940’s. His career was similar to comedian Raymond Griffith, who also moved to production when talkies came in and found more success there than he’d had as an actor. For Glenn Tryon, this was a deserved happy end for a comedian whose only career-flaw seemed to be that he wasn’t Harold Lloyd.

Copyright 2006 by Richard M Roberts All Rights Reserved

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Brent Walker
Capo
Posts: 150
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:06 am

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Brent Walker » Tue Jun 02, 2009 1:16 pm

Thanks Richard! I just saw LONG PANTS at UCLA's Preservation Festival a month or two ago, and found it curious about it having the same title and similarities to the Langdon feature. This article clarifies that the Tryon film was indeed first.

Steve Massa
Capo
Posts: 258
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 10:55 pm

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Steve Massa » Tue Jun 02, 2009 10:49 pm

Richard
Thanks for sharing the chapter. Can't wait to see the whole book. Any ballpark for when it may be out?

Steve

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2202
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Richard M Roberts » Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:31 am

Steve Massa wrote:Richard
Thanks for sharing the chapter. Can't wait to see the whole book. Any ballpark for when it may be out?

Steve



I never quote a ball park figure to anyone, but with no Slapsticon (or Slapsticon Program Book)looming this year, I just told Steve Haynes (who's doing my layout) that we're going to finish the layout between now and the end of Summer. Then we drop it in Bearmanors lap and see what happens.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Louie Despres
Associate
Posts: 335
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 3:31 pm
Contact:

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Louie Despres » Wed Jun 03, 2009 1:37 pm

What's REALLY gonna suck about this book is that I will be drooling to see all the films that are written about! Can't wait to read it, Richard.

Bill Cassara
Associate
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2009 2:24 pm

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Bill Cassara » Thu Jun 04, 2009 1:36 am

Just saw "Dragnet Patrol" tonight for the first time. It starred Glenn Tryon in a good role as a boot legger. It also featured Vernon Dent as his friend "Cookie." Vernon is more of a mug in this one than Walter Long, who is also in this flick.

Bob Birchard

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Bob Birchard » Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:38 pm

Just to be a cranky nit-picker, shouldn't it be "A Chapter on Glenn Tryon From My Upcoming Book"? The other way it sounds like the book is about Glenn Tryon alone. Also, I found there was one "too" too few in the posted text.

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2202
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:00 pm

Bob Birchard wrote:Just to be a cranky nit-picker, shouldn't it be "A Chapter on Glenn Tryon From My Upcoming Book"? The other way it sounds like the book is about Glenn Tryon alone. Also, I found there was one "too" too few in the posted text.



Yeah, yeah, yeah........

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Eric Stott
Cugine
Posts: 37
Joined: Mon Jun 08, 2009 2:38 pm

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Eric Stott » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:56 pm

It took me a moment to figure that one out too. I thought "Great chapter- but a whole book on Tryon?"

Thomas Reeder
Cugine
Posts: 137
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 8:40 am

Re: A Chapter From My Upcoming Book on Glenn Tryon

Postby Thomas Reeder » Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:44 am

"Mr. Roach has discovered and thoroughly tested Mr. Tryon. He is certain that here is a real 'comer,' destined to make his mark as a comedy star." Moving Picture World, undated.
Image


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests