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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 190


This is the grave of Hal Roach.

Born in 1892 in Elmira, New York, he traveled around as a young man and ended up in Hollywood in 1912. He got involved in film and appeared in some silents. Then he got an inheritance and invested it in making his own films. That worked out pretty well. He was good friends with an up and coming silent film star named Harold Lloyd. They started making films together. Tremendously successful, Roach became the leading comedy producer of the late silent era. He bought a huge studio in Culver City, helped out very much by Lloyd, until the actor left for even greater heights in 1923. But he also produced some of the most important comedy series of all times, including the Our Gang films and the Laurel and Hardy series. When the sound era came, Roach transitioned his studio easily. He joined MGM in 1927 and, in the era before dubbing, actually forced the kids in Our Gang to learn their words in various languages, even though they were so young that some couldn’t even read yet!

Unfortunately, Roach’s political choices were, uh, questionable. In 1937, he started a film venture with Benito Mussolini’s son. MGM intervened at this point and forced him to pay off baby Benito to get out of it. MGM then forced Roach out. And his style wasn’t playing that well by the late 30s anyway. He continued making dramas though until the outbreak of World War II. At that point, despite being 50 years old, Roach was drafted into the Signal Corps in 1942, where he made military films. And after the war, when his studio was still making films but not doing all that great, he moved into TV. None of his shows were particularly good or memorable, at least to my knowledge, but he remained relevant for a very long time, especially compared to other silent era legends. He continued to be a player, getting involved in early colorization efforts of his old work, a fact that makes his cuddling with Mussolini look like he rescued children from drowning. In 1984, he won an honorary Academy Award. In 1992, just after turning 100, he appeared on The Tonight Show, where Leno interviewed him. He gave newspaper interviews during his centennial as well.

Over his career, Hal Roach produced a mere 1,207 films and directed 155. Slacker. Here’s a couple of his films:

Roach died in 1992, a bit short of 101. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York.

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