Fred Guiol: George Stevens Doppelganger

For the longest time, it seems, I mixed up Fred Guiol (1898-1964) with Buster Keaton’s problem solver, the man who found an ocean liner for him for The Navigator. But that was Fred Gabourie. Rest assured he’ll get his own post here in future. But you can see how a person might mix those names up, I hope.

If anything, this morning’s subject has an even greater claim to a place in classic comedy history, and early cinema in general. In fact, I can think of few individuals with as well-rounded a career in cinema as Fred Guiol: director, producer, writer, and many subsidiary jobs on his way up the ladder. He had started out as a prop boy for D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett at Biograph. By 1919 at least he was at Hal Roach studios, where he began his long association with George Stevens, then a Roach cinematographer. Initially, Guiol worked on Harold Lloyd pictures: he was camera man on Spring Fever and Just Neighbors, both in 1919, and technical adviser on A Sailor Made Man (1921) and Safety Last (1923). By 1923 he began directing Frank Butler comedies for Roach, and then directed and often co-wrote, shorts starring Will Rogers, Glenn Tryon, James Finlayson, Martha Sleeper, Vivien Oakland, Cissy Fitzgerald, Katherine Grant, Sally O’Neil, Mack Swain, Max Davidson, and others, and eventually, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, separately at first and then together, becoming part of the team that developed the historic comedy duo.

Guiol directed the early Laurel and Hardy shorts Duck Soup (1927), Slipping Wives (1927), The Second 100 Years (1927), Love ‘Em and Weep (1927), Why Girls Love Sailors (1927), With Love and Hisses (1927), Sugar Daddies (1927), Sailors Beware (1927), Do Detectives Think? (1927), and Their Purple Moment (1928). Guoil went on to direct comedy shorts for Roach into the early ’30s, starring many of the other folks we have named, in addition to Harry Langdon, Thelma Todd, Daphne Pollard and others.

By the mid ’30s he was directing features at RKO, including the Wheeler and Woolsey comedies The Rainmakers (1935), Silly Billies (1936) and Mummy’s Boys (1936). He also cowrote Kentucky Colonels (1934) and The Nitwits (1935) for the team. Woolsey’s death in 1937 ended that promising collaboration.

His collaboration with Stevens bore more fruit in the 1940s and ’50s. Guiol was one of the screenwriters on Gunga Din (1939) and Vigil in the Night (1940); one of the producers on Penny Serenade (1941), The Talk of the Town (1942), and The More the Merrier (1943); an associate director on A Place in the Sun (1951), Something to Live For (1952) and Shane (1953), one of the screenwriters on Giant (1956) and an adviser on The Diary of Ann Frank (1959).

He also headed up some pictures of his own during the same years, directing the comedies Tanks a Million (1941), Hay Foot (1942), Here Comes Trouble (1948) and Mr. Walkie Talkie (1952) with William Tracy, Miss Polly with Zasu Pitts (1942), and producing the William Bendix comedies The McGuerins from Brooklyn a.k.a. Two Mugs from Brooklyn (1942), Taxi Mister (1943) and Two Knights from Brooklyn (1948), among other stuff for Hal Roach.

For more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.