Hal Roach
Harold Eugene "Hal" Roach, Sr. (January 14, 1892November 2, 1992) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Film producer
A film producer oversees and delivers a film project to all relevant parties while preserving the integrity, voice and vision of the film. They will also often take on some financial risk by using their own money, especially during the pre-production period, before a film is fully financed.The...

 and television producer
Television producer
The primary role of a television Producer is to allow all aspects of video production, ranging from show idea development and cast hiring to shoot supervision and fact-checking...

 and director
Television director
A television director directs the activities involved in making a television program and is part of a television crew.-Duties:The duties of a television director vary depending on whether the production is live or recorded to video tape or video server .In both types of productions, the...

, and from the 1910s to the 1990s.

Early life and career

Hal Roach was born in Elmira, New York
Elmira, New York
Elmira is a city in Chemung County, New York, USA. It is the principal city of the 'Elmira, New York Metropolitan Statistical Area' which encompasses Chemung County, New York. The population was 29,200 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Chemung County.The City of Elmira is located in...

. A presentation by the great American humorist Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 impressed Roach as a young grade school
Primary education
A primary school is an institution in which children receive the first stage of compulsory education known as primary or elementary education. Primary school is the preferred term in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth Nations, and in most publications of the United Nations Educational,...


After an adventurous youth that took him to Alaska, Hal Roach arrived in Hollywood in 1912 and began working as an extra
Extra (actor)
A background actor or extra is a performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking, nonsinging or nondancing capacity, usually in the background...

 in silent film
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

. Upon coming into an inheritance, he began producing short comedies in 1915 with his friend Harold Lloyd
Harold Lloyd
Harold Clayton Lloyd, Sr. was an American film actor and producer, most famous for his silent comedies....

, who portrayed a character known as "Lonesome Luke." In 1915 Roach married actress Marguerite Nichols
Marguerite Nichols
Marguerite Nichols was an early American silent film actress. She starred in 21 films between 1915 and 1918....

. They had two children, Hal, Jr.
Hal Roach, Jr.
Hal Roach, Jr. was primarily a film and television producer and very occasional director, with 41 production credits listed in the Internet Movie Database. Born in Los Angeles, California, the son of legendary comedy producer Hal Roach, Roach, Jr. co-directed One Million B.C. with his...

 (1918–1972) and Margaret (1921–1964).

Success as a comedy producer

Unable to expand his studios in downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles is the central business district of Los Angeles, California, United States, located close to the geographic center of the metropolitan area...

 because of zoning
Zoning is a device of land use planning used by local governments in most developed countries. The word is derived from the practice of designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one set of land uses from another...

, Roach purchased what became the Hal Roach Studios from Harry Culver
Harry Culver
Harry Hazel Culver was a real estate developer and promoter. He was born in Milford, Nebraska, the middle child of five of Jacob H. and Ada L. Culver, who lived on a farm. At age 18, he enlisted in the Spanish-American War and served as a corporal and sergeant, respectively...

 in Culver City, California
Culver City, California
Culver City is a city in western Los Angeles County, California. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 38,883, up from 38,816 at the 2000 census. It is mostly surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, but also shares a border with unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Culver...

. During the 1920s and 1930s, he employed Lloyd (his top money-maker until his departure in 1923), Will Rogers
Will Rogers
William "Will" Penn Adair Rogers was an American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer, film actor, and one of the world's best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s....

, Max Davidson
Max Davidson
Max Davidson was a German film actor known for his comedic Jewish persona during the silent film era. With a career spanning over thirty years, Davidson appeared in over 180 films.-Career:...

, the Our Gang
Our Gang
Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals, was a series of American comedy short films about a group of poor neighborhood children and the adventures they had together. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, the series is noted for showing children behaving in a relatively...

 kids, Charley Chase
Charley Chase
Charley Chase was an American comedian, actor, screenwriter and film director, best known for his work in Hal Roach short film comedies...

, Harry Langdon
Harry Langdon
Harry Philmore Langdon was an American comedian who appeared in vaudeville, silent films , and talkies. He was briefly partnered with Oliver Hardy.-Life and career:...

, Thelma Todd
Thelma Todd
Thelma Alice Todd was an American actress. Appearing in about 120 pictures between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles in films like Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, a number of Charley Chase's short comedies, and co-starring with Buster Keaton and Jimmy...

, ZaSu Pitts
ZaSu Pitts
ZaSu Pitts was an American actress who starred in many silent dramas and comedies, transitioning to comedy sound films.-Early life:ZaSu Pitts was born in Parsons, Kansas to Rulandus and Nellie Pitts; she was the third of four children...

, Patsy Kelly
Patsy Kelly
Patsy Kelly was an American stage and film comedic actress.-Early life and career:Kelly was born Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly in Brooklyn, New York to Irish immigrants, John and Delia Kelly, and made her Broadway debut in 1928...

 and, most famously, Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy double acts of the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema...

. During the 1920s Roach's biggest rival was producer Mack Sennett
Mack Sennett
Mack Sennett was a Canadian-born American director and was known as the innovator of slapstick comedy in film. During his lifetime he was known at times as the "King of Comedy"...

. In 1925 Roach hired away Sennett's supervising director, F. Richard Jones
F. Richard Jones
Frank Richard Jones was an American director and producer.-Early life and career:Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick Jones was sixteen years old when he became involved in the fledgling film industry in his hometown with the Atlas film company...


Roach released his films through Pathé
Pathé or Pathé Frères is the name of various French businesses founded and originally run by the Pathé Brothers of France.-History:...

 until 1927, when he went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of films and television programs. MGM was founded in 1924 when the entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer...

. He would change again in 1938 to United Artists
United Artists
United Artists Corporation is an American film studio. The original studio of that name was founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks....

. He converted his silent movie studio to sound in 1928 and began releasing talking shorts early in 1929. In the days before dubbing, foreign language versions of the Roach comedies were created by re-shooting each film in the Spanish, French, and sometimes Italian and German languages. Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, and the Our Gang kids (some of whom had barely begun school) were required to recite the foreign dialogue phonetically, often working from blackboards hidden out of camera range.

In 1931, with the release of the Laurel & Hardy film Pardon Us
Pardon Us
Pardon Us is Laurel and Hardy's first feature length comedy film. It was produced by Hal Roach and Stan Laurel, directed by James Parrott, and originally distributed by MGM in 1931.- Plot :...

, Roach began producing occasional full-length features alongside the short product. Short subjects became less profitable and were phased out by 1936. The Our Gang series continued until 1938, when Roach sold the contracts of the Our Gang cast members and the series name to MGM.

From 1937 to 1940, Roach concentrated on producing glossy features, abandoning low comedy almost completely. Most of his new films were either sophisticated farces (like Topper
Topper (film)
Topper is a 1937 American comedy film which tells the story of a stuffy, stuck-in-his-ways man who is haunted by the ghosts of a fun-loving married couple. It was adapted by Eric Hatch, Jack Jevne and Eddie Moran from the novel by Thorne Smith. The film was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, produced by...

and The Housekeeper's Daughter
The Housekeeper's Daughter
The Housekeeper's Daughter is a 1939 comedy film directed and produced by Hal Roach. The film stars by Joan Bennett, Adolphe Menjou and John Hubbard...

) or rugged action fare (like Captain Fury and One Million B.C.
One Million B.C.
One Million B.C. is a 1940 American fantasy film produced by Hal Roach Studios and released by United Artists. It is also known by the titles Cave Man, Man and His Mate, and Tumak....

). Roach's one venture into heavy drama was the acclaimed Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men (1939 film)
Of Mice and Men is a 1939 film based on the novella of the same title by American author John Steinbeck. It stars Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Lon Chaney, Jr., Charles Bickford, Roman Bohnen, Bob Steele and Noah Beery, Jr...

. The Laurel and Hardy comedies, once the Roach studio's biggest drawing cards, were now the studio's least important product and were phased out altogether in 1940.

In 1940, Roach experimented with medium-length featurettes, running 40 to 50 minutes each. He contended that these "streamliners
Hal Roach's Streamliners
Hal Roach's Streamliners were a series of short comedy films created by Hal Roach that were longer than a short subject and less than a feature film not exceeding 50 minutes in length. Twenty of the twenty-nine features that Roach produced for United Artists were in the streamliner format...

", as he called them, would be useful in double-feature situations where the main attraction was a longer-length epic. Exhibitors agreed with him, and used Roach's mini-features to balance top-heavy double bills. United Artists continued to release Roach's streamliners through 1943. By this time Roach no longer had a resident company of comedy stars, and cast his films with familiar featured players (William Tracy
William Tracy
William Tracy was an American character actor. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.Tracy is perhaps best known for the role of Pepi Katona, the delivery boy, in The Shop Around the Corner. He also starred in the John Ford film Tobacco Road . That same year, he began a recurring role as Sgt...

 and Joe Sawyer
Joe Sawyer
Joe Sawyer was a Canadian film actor. He appeared in over 200 films between 1930 and 1962.He was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and died in Ashland, Oregon from liver cancer....

, Johnny Downs
Johnny Downs
Johnny Downs was an American actor. Son of a Naval aviator, he was taken to Hollywood in 1921 when his father was transferred to the San Diego naval base. He began his career as a child actor, most notably playing Johnny in the Our Gang short series from 1923 to 1926...

, Jean Porter, Frank Faylen
Frank Faylen
Frank Faylen was an American movie and television actor.Born Frank Ruf in St. Louis, Missouri, he began his acting career as an infant appearing with his vaudeville performing parents on stage...

, William Bendix
William Bendix
William Bendix was an American film, radio, and television actor, best remembered in movies for the title role in the movie The Babe Ruth Story and for portraying clumsily earnest aircraft plant worker Chester A. Riley in radio and television's The Life of Riley...

, George E. Stone
George E. Stone
George E. Stone was a Polish-born American character actor in movies, radio, and television.-Career:Stone's slight build and very expressive face first attracted attention in 1927, in the popular silent-film romance Seventh Heaven...

, etc.).

In 1941, his wife of 26 years, Marguerite
Marguerite Nichols
Marguerite Nichols was an early American silent film actress. She starred in 21 films between 1915 and 1918....

, died.

World War II and television

Hal Roach, Sr. was called to active military duty in June 1942, at age 50, and the studio output he oversaw in uniform was converted from entertainment featurettes to military training films. The studios were leased to the U.S. Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

, and the First Motion Picture Unit
First Motion Picture Unit
The First Motion Picture Unit was the first unit of the United States Military to be made up entirely of motion picture personnel. It was also the title of a 1943 documentary about the unit.-Organization:...

 made 400 training, morale and propaganda films at "Fort Roach." Members of the unit included Ronald W. Reagan and Alan Ladd
Alan Ladd
-Early life:Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He was the only child of Ina Raleigh Ladd and Alan Ladd, Sr. He was of English ancestry. His father died when he was four, and his mother relocated to Oklahoma City where she married Jim Beavers, a housepainter...


In 1947, Hal Roach resumed production for theaters, with former Harold Lloyd co-star Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels was an American actress, singer, dancer, writer and producer. She began her career in Hollywood during the silent movie era as a child actress, became a star in musicals like 42nd Street, and later gained further fame on radio and television in Britain...

 as an associate producer. Roach was the first Hollywood producer to go to an all-color production schedule, making four streamliners in Cinecolor
Cinecolor was an early subtractive color-model two color film process, based upon the Prizma system of the 1910s and 1920s and the Multicolor system of the late 1920s and 1930s. It was developed by William T. Crispinel and Alan M...

, although the increased production costs did not result in increased revenue. In 1948, with his studio deeply in debt, Roach re-established his studio for television production, with Hal Roach, Jr.
Hal Roach, Jr.
Hal Roach, Jr. was primarily a film and television producer and very occasional director, with 41 production credits listed in the Internet Movie Database. Born in Los Angeles, California, the son of legendary comedy producer Hal Roach, Roach, Jr. co-directed One Million B.C. with his...

, producing shows such as The Stu Erwin Show
The Stu Erwin Show
The Stu Erwin Show is an American sitcom which aired on ABC for five seasons from 1950 to 1955.-Synopsis:...

, Steve Donovan, Western Marshal
Steve Donovan, Western Marshal
Steve Donovan, Western Marshal is a 1955-1956 syndicated western television series starring Douglas Kennedy as Marshal Steve Donovan and Eddy Waller as his sidekick, Rusty Lee...

, Racket Squad
Racket Squad
Racket Squad is an American TV crime drama series starring Reed Hadley as Captain John Braddock, a fictional detective working for the San Francisco, California Police Department....

, The Public Defender
The Public Defender (TV series)
The Public Defender is a half-hour 69-episode television dramatic series starring Reed Hadley as Bart Matthews, an attorney for the indigent. The series aired on CBS from March 11, 1954 to June 23, 1955, a season and a half.-Premise:...

, The Gale Storm Show
The Gale Storm Show
The Gale Storm Show is an American sitcom starring Gale Storm. The series premiered on September 29, 1956, and ran until 1960 for 143 half-hour black-and-white episodes, initially on CBS and in its last year on ABC...

, and My Little Margie
My Little Margie
My Little Margie is an American situation comedy that alternated between CBS and NBC from 1952 to 1955. The series was created by Frank Fox and produced in Los Angeles, California at Hal Roach Studios by Hal Roach, Jr. and Roland D...

, and independent producers leasing the facilities for such programs as Amos 'n' Andy
Amos 'n' Andy
Amos 'n' Andy is a situation comedy set in the African-American community. It was very popular in the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s on both radio and television....

, The Life of Riley
The Life of Riley
The Life of Riley, with William Bendix in the title role, is a popular American radio situation comedy series of the 1940s that was adapted into a 1949 feature film, a long-run 1950s television series , and a 1958 Dell comic book...

, and The Abbott and Costello Show
The Abbott and Costello Show
The Abbott and Costello Show is an American television sitcom starring the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello that premiered in syndication in the fall of 1952 and ran until May 1954....

. By 1951, the studio was producing 1,500 hours of television programs a year, nearly three times Hollywood's annual output of feature movies.

The visionary Roach also recognized the value of his film library. Beginning in 1943 he licensed revivals of his sound-era productions for theatrical and home-movie distribution. Roach's films were also early arrivals on television; the Laurel & Hardy comedies in particular were a smashing success in television syndication
Television syndication
In broadcasting, syndication is the sale of the right to broadcast radio shows and television shows by multiple radio stations and television stations, without going through a broadcast network, though the process of syndication may conjure up structures like those of a network itself, by its very...


Later years

In 1955, Roach sold his interests in the production company to his son, Hal Roach, Jr., and retired from active production. Unfortunately, the younger Roach lacked much of his father's business acumen, and soon lost the studio to creditors. It was finally shut down in 1961.

For two more decades Roach Sr. occasionally worked as a consultant on projects related to his past work. Extremely vigorous into an advanced age, Roach contemplated a comedy comeback at 96. He was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman
Late Night with David Letterman
Late Night with David Letterman is a nightly hour-long comedy talk show on NBC that was created and hosted by David Letterman. It premiered in 1982 as the first incarnation of the Late Night franchise and went off the air in 1993, after Letterman left NBC and moved to Late Show on CBS. Late Night...

in 1982, where he recounted experiences with such stars as Stan Laurel
Stan Laurel
Arthur Stanley "Stan" Jefferson , better known as Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy. His film acting career stretched between 1917 and 1951 and included a starring role in the Academy Award winning film...

 and Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow was an American film actress and sex symbol of the 1930s. Known as the "Blonde Bombshell" and the "Platinum Blonde" , Harlow was ranked as one of the greatest movie stars of all time by the American Film Institute...

; he even did a brief, energetic demonstration of a hula dance.

In 1984, 92-year old Roach was presented with an honorary Academy Award
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

. Former Our Gang members Jackie Cooper
Jackie Cooper
Jackie Cooper was an American actor, television director, producer and executive. He was a child actor who managed to make the transition to an adult career. Cooper was the first child actor to receive an Academy Award nomination...

 and George "Spanky" McFarland
George McFarland
George Robert Phillips "Spanky" McFarland was an American actor most famous for his appearances as a child in the Our Gang series of short-subject comedies of the 1930s and 1940s...

 made the presentation to a flattered Roach, with McFarland thanking the producer for hiring him 52 years prior.

In the spring of 1992, not long after his 100th birthday, Roach once again appeared at the Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal
William Edward "Billy" Crystal is an American actor, writer, producer, comedian and film director. He gained prominence in the 1970s for playing Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom Soap and became a Hollywood film star during the late 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the critical and box office successes...

. When Mr. Roach rose from the audience to speak during the ceremony, the sound system did not pick up his words. Crystal quipped "I think that's fitting, after all — Mr. Roach started in silent film..." At the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival
42nd Berlin International Film Festival
The 42nd annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from February 13 to 24, 1992.-Jury:* Annie Girardot * Charles Champlin* Sylvia Chang* Ildikó Enyedi* Irving N...

, Roach was given the honorary award of the Berlinale Camera.


Hal Roach died from pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 on November 2, 1992, two months short of his 101st birthday, at his home in Bel Air, California. He was married twice, and had a number of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Roach is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York
Elmira, New York
Elmira is a city in Chemung County, New York, USA. It is the principal city of the 'Elmira, New York Metropolitan Statistical Area' which encompasses Chemung County, New York. The population was 29,200 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Chemung County.The City of Elmira is located in...

, where he grew up. Roach outlived many of the Our Gang
Our Gang
Our Gang, also known as The Little Rascals or Hal Roach's Rascals, was a series of American comedy short films about a group of poor neighborhood children and the adventures they had together. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, the series is noted for showing children behaving in a relatively...

children who starred in his pictures.

Hal Roach Studios

The 14.5 acre (58680 m²) studio once known as "The Lot of Fun," containing 55 buildings, was torn down in 1963 (despite tentative plans to reopen the facilities as "Landmark Studios") and replaced by light industrial buildings, businesses, and an automobile dealership. Today, Culver City's "Landmark Street" runs down what was the middle of the old studio lot, with the two original sound stages having been located on the north side of Landmark Street, and the backlot/city street sets had been located at the eastern end of Landmark Street. A plaque sits in a small park across from the studio's location, placed there by The Sons of the Desert
The Sons of the Desert
The Sons of the Desert is an international fraternal organization devoted to lives and films of comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The group takes its name from a lodge that Laurel and Hardy belonged to in the 1933 movie Sons of the Desert....


Most of the film library was bought in 1971 by a Canadian company that adopted the "Hal Roach Studios" name. It primarily handled the business of keeping the library in the public eye and licensing products based upon the classic film series.

In 1983, Hal Roach Studios was one of the first studios to venture into the controversial business of film colorization
Film colorization
Film colorization is any process that adds color to black-and-white, sepia or monochrome moving-picture images. It may be done as a special effect, or to modernize black-and-white films, or to restore color films...

, creating digitally colored versions of several Laurel and Hardy features, the Frank Capra
Frank Capra
Frank Russell Capra was a Sicilian-born American film director. He emigrated to the U.S. when he was six, and eventually became a creative force behind major award-winning films during the 1930s and 1940s...

 film It's a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra and based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren Stern....

, Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent black-and-white zombie film and cult film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and was completed on a USD$114,000 budget. After decades of cinematic re-releases, it...

, and other popular films. In the 1980s, Hal Roach Studios produced Kids Incorporated
Kids Incorporated
Kids Incorporated, is an American children's television program that was produced from 1984 to 1993. It was largely a youth-oriented program with musical performances as an integral part of each and every storyline....

in association with old business partner MGM. During the 1980s, Hal Roach Studios distributed its classic film library, as well as films in the public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

, on home video. From 1988 to 1990, while producing Kids Incorporated, Hal Roach Studios was known as Qintex
Qintex Ltd. was an Australian company that came to prominence during the 1980s, until its collapse in 1989. Its main shareholder and Managing Director was Christopher Skase....


In the years that followed, the Roach company changed hands several more times. Independent television producer Robert Halmi bought the company in the early 1990s, and it became RHI Entertainment
RHI Entertainment
RHI Entertainment , formerly known as Hallmark Entertainment, is an American producer of television movies and miniseries, founded in 1979 by Robert Halmi Jr. and Robert Halmi Sr. as Robert Halmi Incorporated....

. A short time later, this successor company was acquired by Hallmark Entertainment in 1994, but Halmi, Robert Halmi Jr. and affiliates of Kelso & Company
Kelso & Company
Kelso & Company is a private equity investment firm focusing on leveraged buyouts, recapitalizations and growth capital transactions. Kelso invests in a variety of sectors, including communication, manufacturing and restaurants....

 reacquired the company in 2006. Hallmark Entertainment was absorbed into RHI Entertainment (with Vivendi
Vivendi SA is a French international media conglomerate with activities in music, television and film, publishing, telecommunications, the Internet, and video games. It is headquartered in Paris.- History :...

 as the current home video output partner).

In that same decade, a new incarnation of Hal Roach Studios (operated by the Roach Trust) was established, and today this new version of the company has released classic films on DVD, many of which are from Roach's own archival prints of his films, while others are public domain titles mastered from the best available 35 mm elements.

Further reading

  • Richard Lewis Ward. A History of the Hal Roach Studios. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.

External links

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