"In those days, there was one secret to making good comedy. If it made the audience laugh, it was a good comedy."
Undoubtedly among the greatest entertainment visionaries of all time with the longest spanning movie-making career of all time ... 80 decades of entertaining. ABSOLUTE GOLD! (and a film founding father; WHAT A PIONEER!!) 👍
He was birthed on January 14th of 1882, in Elmira, New York. According to his earliest teachers, he was always full of imagination. Helping her in the one room elementary school of 32 students, tutoring through entertaining methods. I imagine Hal was a regular hoot to have as a classmate!!
February of 1910 found young Hal, in Alaska, directing stage production. He loved the stage and stayed in Alaska until 1912 when he heard of the unheard of fortune one could make in the newly growing California. He wasted no time in heading in that direction.
He arrived in Los Angeles, and almost IMMEDIATELY got work as an extra in silent film.
Immediately, he began picking up jobs as an extra in comedies. There is absolutely NO denying that he was a hard worker. He had a rep of, what some would consider, working TOO hard. In the days of Hollywood's humble beginnings - everyone and their dogs knew that you made film by day, but there was a party to be had by night! As for Hal - he never made it to too many of them. He preferred to work .. Doing for the studio boss', what they generally did!!
Picking up the sets, making sure lights were turned off, salvaging props that could be salvaged, and anything else they needed done. He did this so studio bosses could go home & spend time with their families. To say the man had dedication... Would be a major, major understatement. He continued this for 6 1/2 years.. Until the right time - and the right time - was the year 1919.
Armed with the knowledge, cash (most of which was from an inheritance), experience, and kahunas, to start his own studio .. He set out to do just that! Originally, he wanted to purchase land for his studio in downtown L.A., citing that's where he believed 'the place to be in the future,' was to be. However, he, quote, "didn't count on the city of L.A. being so crude with their allotted zoning space." To L.A.'s credit.. Had they NOT been so strict with zoning, (with the population being what it is today in L.A.), the city might just have capped with a population bar LONG ago. Although I don't mention the history of city officials often on this site.. They were very organized - and had an UNREAL foresight for the future!! Annnyway ..
Hal called up the city (I guess you could say, since it is named after him) itself.. his friend Harry Culver in nearby?? ANYONE? ANYONE??
Culver City, O course! Culver met with Hal, and together they found the grounds, that the future "Laugh Factory to the World," would sit.
Films were distributed by Pathé until 1927, when he went to MGM. Distribution changed hands again in 1938 to United Artists. He converted his silents to talkies in 1928 and began releasing talkie shorts early in 1929. In the days before dubbing, foreign language versions of the Roach comedies were created by re-shooting each film in the Spanish, French, and sometimes Italian and German languages. Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, and the Our Gang kids (some of whom had barely begun school) were required to recite the foreign dialogue phonetically, often working from blackboards hidden out of camera range.
In the late 30's - Hal began experimentation with color films using Cinecolor, which would've made his studios a first to do such. Unfortunately, he was beaten to the release with former distributor MGM's, release of "The Wizard of Oz," using Technicolor..
In 1942 .. Hal was called to military active duty. In exchange for the lending of his studio facilities to the U.S. Army .. Hal was given 'a go' to still oversee every aspect of his studio. Army training was held at the studio, and temporarily, "The Lot of Fun," was re-nicknamed "Fort Roach." Cadets who trained there included the likes of Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd and others.
After a discharge in 1947, Hal returned ready to rejuvenate his studio in the form of 'theater production." He continued to experiment with color... (BIG mistake). In only one year - the studio was knee deep in debt. Going a different route - Hal re-established his studio for television production, with Hal Roach, Jr. producing shows. For a time the idea was a good one.. The shows coming out of the studio were early arrivals on television. The Laurel & Hardy comedies in particular. It could have been more had Hal not sold off Our Gang to MGM in the 30s. Although never it's former self - it did relieve alot of the debt.
By 1955, Hal was ready to retire from active production and sold all of the controlling interest to his son, Hal Roach, Jr. It would ultimately prove a bad move & eventually the studio was lost to it's creditors. In a twist of fate - the studio became useless to the creditors without the brass there at the reins. Over the years several companies tried to take the studio into rejuvenate it .. but to no avail.
In a great surprize gift to fans - he appeared on Letterman, & The Tonight Show, talking about, 'the GOOD old Golden Age', days of Hollywood!
Fans thought that was it .. no - he made the circuit rounds giving interviews. In 1992, Hal appeared again at the Academy Awards. Billy Crystal (the most UNfunny, HORRIBLY, UNtalented person on earth), made reference to Hal. He shocked em all!! 100-year-old Hal made the night when he stood up from his seat and addressed the crowd with an impromptu speech, unaware that there was no microphone in the vicinity (Crystal quipped that Roach was merely offering the TV audience a taste of what silent films were like...pssh! Billy Crystal is a DOUCHE!)
In mid-october of 1992 - Hal came down with a case of pneumonia. Doctors were called, but, with Hal at 100, could do nothing except try to keep him comfortable. The comedy legend was at deaths door and family were called in. Despite the fact of his age - there was shock among family & friends. He had always been healthy and was suddenly now hit with pneumonia.
RIP Hal - the legend you created in Culver - will live in the heart of Hollywood FOREVER! You were a true innovator & pioneer in the industry in which you,
by proxy, helped to design!