Gloria Lloyd: Actress who had a gilded life as Harold Lloyd’s daughter
February 27, 2012
The daughter of the great silent film comedian Harold Lloyd and his actress wife Mildred Davies, Gloria Lloyd had an enchanted childhood.
The first thing her father constructed, when he built a 44-room house called Greenacres in Beverly Hills in 1929, was a fairytale thatched cottage, specially for her, copied from the playhouse built for Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose in England.
“I was only five when we moved to Greenacres,” she recalled, “and I was still an only child. I was overwhelmed with the whole place. But the following year, when my sister arrived, I began to get things in better perspective.” The sister, Peggy, was adopted and a brother, Harold Jr, was born soon thereafter.
“The odd thing about my brother was that he became the funny man of the family,” she said. “He had terrific wit and my father wasn’t a funny man off screen – he was more intellectual. He was a happy person with an almost childlike enjoyment of living. I think he could have lived until he was 200 and still found many interests. He had a desire to learn and enjoy. I love that quality in people and I loved it in him.’
The children were kept away from Lloyd’s film work until they were older. “That was really a treat. We’d get all dressed up and they gave us little chairs and we’d sit and watch him – and really, I didn’t believe it was my father playing a scene. It was somebody entirely different. The first film I saw of his, it scared me so much that I stood up in the theatre and said, ‘Don’t you hurt my daddy!’ They took me home and I ran into the library and threw myself into his arms, because I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t been hurt.
“Eventually, I enjoyed his films. They were a little scary but I liked them. When we were six or seven, he began to have Sunday-night movies. He’d run all the first-run releases from Paramount, MGM and Fox and we’d come down in our nightclothes and sit on our parents’ laps – and interspersed were the home movies.”
Family home movies were occasionally shot by the crew making the current Lloyd comedy – sometimes in full sound. Several were filmed at the Olympic-size pool just before the Lloyd family’s European trip in 1932. In one of them, Harold Lloyd asks tiny Harold Jr, “What kind of actor is your daddy?” and the baby blows a raspberry.
The trip was the first time Harold had been abroad, let alone the family. Lloyd had come from a poor background; his father sold sewing machines and his mother made hats.
“My dad and I were very good friends,” said Gloria. “We had a lot of fun together and he was so understanding of your personal problems. He was a very determined, positive person and rather over-protective. We locked horns a few times, because I’m determined too, but there was a great deal of love.”
In the 1930s, a spate of kidnappings transfixed Hollywood. “That was a scary time because we were old enough to know what was going on. We had two guards outside of our room with guns in holsters. Nice guys – they made fun for us children. But they used to go with us wherever we went, even to thetennis court. One taught me how to rollerskate. We weren’t allowed to go many places. So it was a very sheltered childhood.”
According to the historian Annette d’Agostino Lloyd, “As parents, Harold and Mildred were generous to thepoint of overindulgence. The children even had a private zoo.” But Harold insisted they learn the value of money. At 13, Gloria and her friends had a lemonade stand on Benedict Canyon Drive. They charged a dime a glass, but Mildred made sure they gave the profits to the church.
Gloria’s relationship with her mother, Mildred, was tense. “She was a very beautiful woman, and a very strong lady in many ways. She was like the iron fist in a velvet glove. I always wanted her to be more like a sister to me.”
Gloria was educated at Miss Barnett’s School in Cannes and Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, and she and her sister were students at UCLA. Lloyd ran the family on strict Victorian lines. Drinking was forbidden. Pocket money was limited to $30 a month while the girls were at college, and they were expected to travel there by bicycle.
“As we grew up we had to be heavily chaperoned. It seems a little strange now, but we went out on dates with the chauffeur and the governess. Boyfriends came to the estate and were screened by Clementine, our housekeeper for 45 years. We felt like a Hollywood royal family.”
Extremely attractive, with long blonde curls, Gloria became a successful model. Although Paramount cast her in Temptation (1946) with Merle Oberon, her film career was short-lived. She worked in radio in the 1940s. She also became a prolific painter.
In 1950, Gloria’s wedding took place by the fountain on the great lawn at Greenacres. The marriage didn’t last, and with Gloria spending longer and longer times abroad, her daughter Suzanne was brought up by Harold and Mildred. Suzanne grew up to oversee the Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment. Gloria had been in poor health for three years, and died on her parents’ wedding anniversary.
Mildred Gloria Lloyd Guasti Roberts, actress and model: born Los Angeles 22 May 1923; married 1950 William Guasti (marriage dissolved; one daughter), secondly John Roberts (marriage dissolved); died Santa Monica, California 10 February 2012.