Laurels for Lloyd French

I’ve got little biographical info on Lloyd French (1900-1950) — I just know that he was front and center of classic comedy shorts during the period of their peak. Because of the similarity of their names, one could be forgiven for mixing him up with director Lloyd Bacon, who had some similar credits. French seems to have been a local kid who lucked into a bottom-rung job at Hal Roach and worked his way up the ladder. Several sources say he started there in 1919 (when he would have been 19), though IMDB doesn’t give his first credit until five years later, when was an A.D. on the Stan Laurel comedy Rupert of Hee Haw in 1924.

French’s period of apprenticeship as an assistant director lasted through 16 films between 1926 and 1929, serving under such masters as Leo McCarey, Stan Laurel (as director), James Parrott, Edgar Kennedy and Fred Guiol, starring the likes of Mabel Normand, Max Davidson, and especially Laurel and Hardy, serving as A.D. as most of the team’s silent shorts. His first full directing job was on Laurel and Hardy’s That’s My Wife (1929), his only silent.

French has no credits for 1930 — I’ve no idea what that indicates. But in 1931 he began working as a prolific director and occasional screenwriter. His first talkie was On the Spot (1931) starring Eddie Borden. Then came some shorts with Rosco Ates, and most excitingly Jimmy Savo (1931’s The House Dick — hailed as a great genius of the stage, Savo didn’t make too many movies). In 1932 he directed some of comedies in The Boyfriends series, moving on to some of the most beloved Laurel and Hardy shorts of 1932-34: Scram!, Me and My Pal, The Midnight Patrol, Busy Bodies, Dirty Work, and Oliver the Eighth. He was also one of the directors on the feature Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) and associated director on Sons of the Desert (1933). Two Claudia Dell shorts, The Caretakers Daughter and Mrs. Barnacle Bill, both in 1934, were French’s last pictures for Hal Roach.

He next went to Warner Brothers/Vitaphone, where he supervised the creation of nearly 250 shorts, personally directing around 100 of them. Here, he made comedies starring Shemp Howard, Daphne Pollard, Rosco Ates, Bob Hope, Lionel Stander, Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), Ken Murray, George Jessel, Willie West & McGinty, Edgar Kennedy, and Leon Errol. Among his films were Vitaphone Varities (featuring vaudeville stars), the Pepper Pot series (featuring Tin Pan Alley songwriters at the piano), and Joe Palooka shorts. He also worked with musical groups like the Yacht Club Boys, and the orchestras of Dave Apollon, Milt Britton, Henry King, Jimmy Dorsey, Happy Felton, Clyde Lucas, David Mendoza, Enric Mariguera, Larry Clinton, and Freddie Fisher.

French’s last screen credit was in 1943. He died in 1950 of a heart attack.

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