On the Undersung Lloyd Bacon
Today is the birthday of film director Lloyd Bacon (1889-1955).
Bacon was second generation show biz; his father was the actor Frank Bacon, today best known for co-authoring and starring in the smash Broadway hit Lightnin’, which was later made into a movie by John Ford. Like his father, Lloyd started out as an actor, first in vaudeville and on the legit stage, then in films. He started out at Essanay Studios in 1915, playing supporting roles in the films of Broncho Billy Anderson and Charlie Chaplin. He then followed Chaplin to Mutual, playing small roles in many of his classic shorts produced at that studio. Other comedians he performed with in the late teens included Raymond Griffith and Ben Turpin. 1922-1927 was a transitional period for him, continuing to appear in the occasional short starring Lloyd Hamilton, Lige Connelly and others, while directing some of them at at the same time.
His first feature as director was the 1926 drama Broken Hearts of Hollywood with Louise Dresser, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He was to direct several features during the waning days of silents, but it was during the sound era that he truly made his mark, directing numerous films which have either become classics or will otherwise be of interest to vaudeville and show biz bans. Among them: The Singing Fool (1928), Al Jolson’s follow-up to The Jazz Singer; Honky Tonk (1929), Sophie Tucker’s sole starring vehicle; Say it With Songs (1929), also starring Jolson; the Charlotte Greenwood vehicle So Long Letty (1929); 50 Million Frenchmen, with Olsen and Johnson (1931); Sit Tight with Winnie Lightner and Joe E. Brown (1931); Gold Dust Gertie (1931) with Lightner, Olsen and Johnson; Fireman, Save My Child (1932) with Joe E. Brown; 42nd Street (1933) without a doubt his best remembered film today; Footlight Parade (1933) with James Cagney, Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler; Son of a Sailor (1933) with Brown; Wonder Bar (1934) with Jolson et al; 6 Day Bike Rider (1934) with Brown; Gold Diggers of 1937; The Oklahama Kid (1937) with Cagney and Bogart; Knute Rockne All American (1940) with Ronald Reagan and Pat O’Brien; The Fighting Sullivans (1944), inspiration for the film Saving Private Ryan; Give My Regards to Broadway (1948) with Charles Winninger; Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949) with Lucille Ball; The Fuller Brush Girl (1950), also with Ball; Golden Girl (1951), a Lotta Crabtree bio-pic starring Mitzi Gaynor; and The I Don’t Care Girl (1953), the Eva Tanguay bio-pic, also starring Gaynor. His last film was She Couldn’t Say No (1954).
It seems like I listed a lot (it means I like or am just plain interested in a lot of his movies) but it’s really just a faction of his output. In addition to comedy and musicals, he worked across all genres; he made plenty of of westerns, crime dramas and war pictures, as well. Just a good, solid Hollywood craftsman.
Bacon was also the uncle of swing era deadpan singer and comedienne Virginia O’Brien.
To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For still more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.