Harold Lloyd probably isn’t a name that rings many bells in the 21st century, but spoiler – he’s one of the most influential film comedians of the silent era, making up the the first trio of the silver screen’s laugh-makers, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. With his signature straw boater and round horn-rimmed glasses, he made 200 films, and did all his own stunts, his most famous being the iconic scene from Safety Last (1923), which sees him hanging from the hands of a giant clock at the top of an early skyscraper. But besides the movies, there’s something else that Harold Lloyd’s name is synonymous with – the Christmas tree. For all-year round, Lloyd kept the most magnificent tree in the land, standing in the orangery of his Beverly Hills estate at 20 feet tall, 9 feet wide and almost 30 feet around, covered in $25,000 worth of ornaments collected from around the world.
In the Lloyd household, Christmas was no small affair, kicking off before Thanksgiving and eventually becoming a year-round experience. In the early days, the groundskeeper of the Green Acres estate in Benedict Canyon was responsible for the tree’s construction starting in October, and would buy several pine trees, wiring the branches together under Harold’s supervision to make one enormous tree that would be the canvas for the family’s ever-growing collection of ornaments. Lloyd and his wife, actress Mildred Davis, and their family would then spend the next two months hanging thousands of ornaments right up until Christmas Eve.
It was such a production that the tree would stay up until March, but by the 1960s, Harold made the decision to make it a permanent fixture of his estate. Having discovered a method to fireproof his tree, he was even able to perfectly preserve the pine scent all year round.
At its largest, the tree held some 5,000 ornaments, “and we still had enough left over to decorate three more trees just as big!” remembers Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne…
“The tree held one-of-a-kind rare ornaments valued in the hundreds of dollars when they were first purchased in the `30’s and `40’s … I remember a jeweled encrusted ostrich egg, and a sequined football (a reference to the college football hero Harold Lloyd played in his most popular film, “The Freshman”). I particularly loved a Christmas ball given to him by his friend, make-up artist, Wally Westmore, that was a miniature diorama depicting a bespectacled Harold in a red bathrobe trimming the tree.“
Lloyd died in 1971 and his Beverly Hills home was opened as a museum, with his mighty tree as the central attraction. After just a few years however, the museum closed in 1975, which sadly meant the end of Harold Lloyd’s Christmas spirit. The house was auctioned off with much of its contents and the tree was inevitably destroyed. Over time, the fate of Lloyd’s legendary collection of ornaments has been seemingly lost.
Various online sources have spotted some eBay sellers auctioning off “what they purport to be ornaments from the Lloyd tree” or the Harold Lloyd Trust. We found one active sale using the Lloyd provenance here and here. Advice is to be skeptical.
For reliable reference however, Harold himself was a keen photographer, and his estate maintains a large collection of the 3D photographs of the tree and its ornaments, which shows many of the blown glass pieces in close-up detail.
Take a good look, because if you’ve been known to collect rare vintage Christmas tree decorations – one of Lloyd’s lost treasures might just be hanging from your branches!