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 Hal Roach

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Hal Roach

  • Birth 14 Jan 1892 Elmira, Chemung County, New York, USA
  • Death 2 Nov 1992 Bel Air, Los Angeles County, California, USA
  • Burial Elmira, Chemung County, New York, USA
  • Plot Roach Family Plot, Locust Avenue, Section C
  • Memorial ID 1254

Legendary Film Producer and Director. He is best remembered for producing the "Laurel and Hardy" and "Our Gang" (later known as "The Little Rascals") film comedy series, in the 1920s and 1930s. Born Harold Eugene Roach whose parents descended from Irish immigrants, he came to Hollywood, California in 1912 and started working as an extra in silent films. In 1915 he began producing short comedies in Los Angeles, California with Harold Lloyd, and moved his studio to Culver City, California soon afterwards. He released his films through Pathe Exchange until 1927, when he went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). In 1928 he converted his silent movie studio to sound and began releasing talking shorts early in 1929. In 1931, with the release of the Laurel & Hardy film "Pardon Us," he began producing occasional full-length features alongside the short product. Short subjects soon became less profitable and were phased out by 1936, except for "Our Gang." In 1937 he conceived a joint business venture partnering with Vittorio Mussolini, son of fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to form a production company called "R.A.M" (Roach and Mussolini). This proposed business alliance with Mussolini caused MGM to intervene and force Roach to pay his way out of the venture. This embarrassment, coupled with the underperformance of much of Roach's new feature product (save for Laurel & Hardy films and the odd non-L&H hit such as 1937's "Topper"), led to the end of Roach's relationship with MGM. In May 1938 he ended his distribution contract with MGM, selling them the production rights to and actors' contracts for Our Gang in the process, and signed with United Artists. From 1937 to 1940 he focused on producing glossy features, abandoning low comedy almost completely. Most of his new films were either sophisticated farces (like "Topper" and "The Housekeeper's Daughter" (1939)) or rugged action fare (like "Captain Fury" and "One Million B.C." (1940)). His only venture into heavy drama was the acclaimed "Of Mice and Men" (1939). 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. The same year, he experimented with medium-length featurettes, running 40 to 50 minutes each, contending that these "streamliners", 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 his mini-features to balance top-heavy double bills. In June 1942, after the US entry into World War II, he was called to active military duty in the Signal Corps at the age of 50, and the studio output he oversaw in uniform was converted from entertainment featurettes to military training films. The studios were leased to the US Army Air Forces, and the First Motion Picture Unit made 400 training, morale and propaganda films at "Fort Roach". Members of the unit included actors Ronald Reagan and Alan Ladd. After the war, the government returned the studio to him, along with the millions of dollars of improvements made to it. In 1947 he resumed production for theaters. He became the first Hollywood producer to go to an all-color production schedule, making four streamliners in Cinecolor, although the increased production costs did not result in increased revenue. In 1948, with his studio deeply in debt, he re-established his studio for television production, with his son Hal Roach, Jr., producing shows in the 1950s such as "The Stu Erwin Show" (also known as "Trouble with Father"), "Steve Donovan, Western Marshal," "Racket Squad," "The Public Defender," "The Gale Storm Show," and "My Little Margie," with independent producers leasing the facilities for such programs as "Amos 'n' Andy," "The Life of Riley," and "The Abbott and Costello Show." By 1951, the studio was producing 1,500 hours of television programs a year, nearly three times Hollywood's annual output of feature movies. Recognizing the value of his film library, he licensed revivals of his sound-era productions for theatrical and home-movie distribution. His films were also early arrivals on television, and his "Laurel and Hardy" comedies were a smashing success in television syndication. In 1955 he sold his interests in the production company to his son, Hal Roach, Jr., and retired from active production. Due to poor management, it was shut down in 1961. For the next two decades he occasionally worked as a consultant on projects related to his past work. Extremely vigorous into an advanced age, he contemplated a comedy comeback at the age of 96. In 1984 he was presented with an honorary Academy Award for his work in films and in 1992 he was given the honorary award of the Berlinale Camera at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival. He died at his home from pneumonia, two months shy of his 101st birthday.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1254
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Hal Roach (14 Jan 1892–2 Nov 1992), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1254, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, Chemung County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .