But the actual subject of this post is actually to point up something I've noticed thanks to the new book I'm reading: The Man on the Clock, by Tom Dardis. It is, so far, not a great book, but it was the only remotely portable biography of silent-film actor Harold Lloyd I could find. Lloyd was a great comedian, and was the basis of my base character in Silent Lives. Not nearly as many people know him as do Chaplin and Keaton. I wanted to learn more about him because I dig these guys as pioneers of art, entertainment and media, and because I'm lagging a bit in the idea department in completing my clown silent film outline (see 3/27/08). As I read, I discover (assuming Mr. Dardis' writing is to be believed) that I have far more in common with Lloyd than I was aware of. He seems to have been a very careful sort who loathed making mistakes, and something of a frustrated actor in the beginning, trying to find his own way. I've also noticed a remarkable potential connection between two things I love.
Harold Lloyd apparently had some difficulty early in his film career in establishing a memorable, unique character upon whom the production companies could bank. He was just a few career footfalls behind Chaplin, and only one or two behind Keaton, but it could be argued that he was a lot more behind in experience to the two. He grew up on stage, but as a regular actor who took what roles he was given, rather than the kind of innovative vaudevillians Charlie and Buster had to be. In an unfortunate turn, he even made a character called Lonesome Luke that was so derivative of The Tramp that it's a little difficult to believe as an honest mistake. (Then again, it's a pretty human tendency to "borrow" -- sometimes without even realizing it -- from those around you when starting something new.) At any rate, audiences liked Lloyd because he was daring, easy on the eyes and a good actor, but they didn't really identify with him until he figured our his glasses character, or Glass Man.
The glasses were pivotal in Lloyd's effectiveness as a character. The Glass Man worked because of the expectations implied by his appearence with the glasses. They made him accessible and identifiable, sure, but in a very specific way. The films Lloyd made after 1918 and his discovery of the Glass Man began to evolve his stock progression. A goof, a klutz, and hopeless boy gets in over his head in adventures that have him thrown this way and that, until just at the end, seemingly miraculously, he overcomes every adversity, usually through some incredible act of bravery, strength and cleverness. It must have been as though one were going to a Buster Keaton movie that switched at its climax to a Douglas Fairbanks. As he established his character, Lloyd even bested Chaplin (in my humble opinion) at incorporating pathos and empathy. A conglomeration, to be sure, but a very effective one that may have been responsible for moving movies toward still more sophisticated forms.
Nevermind whether or not that was a good idea.
Siegel and Shuster began a long process of creating the Superman(TM) we all know today in 1932. He went through a lot of revisions over the six years before they sold him to Action Comics (the initial comic they wrote featured The Super-Man as a psychic bad guy), at which point his appearence and general origins are at least similar to what we know today. It's just possible that they were sunconsciously influenced by Lloyd films. Many of the names they used in their creation were references to movies, and though they've never mentioned him by name, they have included silent films amongst their influences. Shuster: "But the movies were the greatest influence on our imagination: especially the films of Douglas Fairbanks Senior."
Harold Lloyd was tall, brunette, athletic and charismatic, but it was all belied by those glasses, and his own relatively reserved persona in real life. Superman certainly was a zeitgeist comprised of too many elements of society and culture predating him to point to any one as a significant source. It is precisely because of this conglomerative nature that I'm inclined to believe that Harold Lloyd's character had some influence on the creation of at least Clark Kent, if not Superman himself. And hey: Even if I'm wrong, it's clear that American audiences love a good underdog scenario.
Which gives me hope.