American producer/director Hal Roach was
overtaken by wanderlust early in life. Leaving his upstate New York home in his teens, Roach was an Alaskan gold prospector and mule skinner before he reached the age of twenty. In 1912, he spotted an ad placed by
Hollywoods Universal Pictures offering a dollar a day for genuine cowboys to act as western technical advisers. Roach spent the next year making the rounds as an extra, in the company of his new friend Harold Lloyd. As
the result of a small inheritance, Roach bought an office in Los Angeles Bradbury Mansion in 1914, set up a small film production unit, and hired Lloyd as his star comedian. Roachs initial "Willie Work"
one-reelers found no buyers, and, when the funds ran out, Lloyd left briefly for Keystone while Roach signed on as a director with the Chaplin unit at Essanay. Teaming with Dan Lintchicum, Roach re-entered the
production end with his new Rolin Phunphilm Company; Lloyd returned to the fold, this time as a Chaplin rip-off character named Lonesome Luke. Throughout 1916 and 1917, Roach released his "Luke" comedies
through Pathe; the films were popular not only because of the seemingly bottomless reserve of sight gags, but also because Roach insisted upon emphasizing strong story values as well as slapstick. In 1917, Lloyd dropped
his "Luke" makeup in favor of his now-famous "glasses" character. While both Lloyd and Roach would later take credit for hitting upon the innovation of allowing a comedian to play "himself"
rather than a heavily made-up buffoon, the important end result was that Lloyd became the most popular comic working in films. To ensure a consistency of product, Roach set up a preview system for the Lloyd comedies,
screening them before test audiences and re-editing them for full comic impact before their general release. Roach began adding to his comic roster in 1919, building comedies around such stars as Snub Pollard, Stan
Laurel, and black youngster "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison. He also gave a free creative hand to such writers and directors as Charley Chase, Alf Goulding, and Fred Newmeyer, who controlled the output while Roach
concentrated on administrative duties. Chancing to see a couple of kids arguing over a block of wood in 1922, Roach decided that a series of comedies built around the joys and problems of real-life children would clean
up at the box office. The result was "Our Gang", one of the longest-lasting short subjects series of all time (1922-44). Writer/director Charley Chase became Roachs top comedian after Lloyd left in 1924,
turning out a successful yearly manifest of sophisticated domestic comedies; many of these were directed by Leo McCarey, who became Roachs supervising director. According to many contemporaries, it was McCarey and not
Roach who first fully realized the potential of teaming comedian/gagman/director Stan Laurel with supporting actor Oliver Hardy in late 1926 -- culminating in the most successful series of two-reelers ever made at the