The Campaign For Harold by matthew c. hoffman

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“It smells like rain!” ~Harold Lloyd, Speedy

Over 300 people came out Sunday night to experience Harold Lloyd’s last silent movie, Speedy (1928) at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, IL. Since the night ended with a standing ovation both for the film and for our organist, Jay Warren, we must say that the evening was a resounding success.

Besides the feature– a beautiful 35mm print courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Foundation– we also showed Harold’s 1921 “thrill picture,” Never Weaken.

The line went down the block for Speedy!

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Unlike other shows that might play during the week, this audience was captivated by the two films. Theatregoers were quiet with suspense but laughed when the buildup paid off.  There were no kids running around, no people answering their cell calls. For two hours, we had gone back to how it should always be. The audience appreciated the authenticity of this first-class presentaion–not just the actual film print itself (no digital projection)–but the live organ accompaniment as well. The organ is truly the voice of the film, and we were fortunate to have the incomparable Jay Warren of the Silent Film Society of Chicago speaking at the controls of the Wurlitzer– an amazing instrument that gets all too little use these days.

This one show had been a year in the making, and along the way, behind the scenes, I’ve done everything I could to get younger people involved. Not only did I see kids there in attendance– some of whom were seeing their first silent movie ever– but guys were bringing their dates. People, especially the patrons at the Park Ridge Public Library, have been routinely exposed to the name Harold Lloyd. Whether it was in the library newsletter or in the local paper or in the omnipresent Speedy postcard, the name Harold Lloyd was being seen.

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Click here for the official poster!

I was promoting Harold as though he were running for mayor (almost like his character in 1934’s The Cat’s Paw)– and I’m sure there are more than a few residents of Park Ridge right now who wish that could’ve been a possibility! Our grass roots campaign, which began on the ground, took to the airwaves on the 9th of April when “Those Were the Days” (90.9 FM) radio host Steve Darnall mentioned the Park Ridge Public Library and the “Legends of Laughter” film series. The following day we were honored to have Steve as our special guest. He met with fans of old-time radio before, between, and after our films. (The current issue of his “Nostalgia Digest” features my cover story on actor Dick Powell.)

With radio host Steve Darnall.

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It was important for me to meet with the 300+ friends of cinema because without their help the silent film tradition dies in the community. When I briefly addressed the audience from the stage, I wanted to stress how important it was that this tradition continue.

The Pickwick Theatre is an amazing 1400-seat palace that dates back to the year Speedy premiered. It was fascinating to actually operate the antique wall of levers backstage that control the lights– and equally impressive to climb the atmospheric spiral staircase that leads up to the projection booth. It’s the kind of building the Phantom of the Opera might haunt. It’s all very old, and I can’t imagine the upkeep, but it is indeed a landmark and a treasure, and we are grateful to the present owners that this beautiful art deco building has been preserved in our community.

Matthew Hoffman (right) greeting a theatregoer.

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When the show was over, I returned to the deco lobby to individually thank these wonderful people for their support. The film experience is about sacrifice, and some of these people came from far off to join us. With no excuses, they went the extra mile. They were not scared away by dire weather forecasts predicting hail and thunderstorms and wind gusts. Not a drop of rain fell on Sunday night. Maybe… maybe someone was watching over us during those few hours of showtime. Things could not have gone more smoothly.

Jay Warren speaking to a fan.

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It wasn’t just about attending a screening of a film you may or may not have seen before. (Great films like this are meant to be seen repeatedly.) On Sunday night, it was about supporting the Park Ridge Public Library. It was about supporting the Silent Film Society of Chicago. It was about supporting the people who worked hard to put this all together. And, most importantly, it was about supporting Harold Lloyd… and my friends did.

Thank you to all who made the evening possible.

And thank you, Harold.

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