CHRISTMASTIME AT GREENACRES
Suzanne Lloyd shares Christmas Memories spent at Greenacres, the palatial home of her grandfather, silent film actor and longtime Beverly Hills Resident, Harold Lloyd. Greenacres was the jewel in the crown of Beverly Hills residential life, but sparkled even brighter at Christmastime. Mr. Lloyd was passionate for Christmas and nothing reflected that passion more than his famous perennially chock-a-block Christmas Tree composed of over 5,000 glass and handmade ornaments. As his collection grew, so did the tree, requiring the several trees to be engineered together along with bamboo reinforced branches and stainless steel stabilizing bolts. The effect was nothing more than époustaflant. Yet, this behemoth of Christmas cheer was only a small symbol of Mr. Lloyd’s sense of charity and family- two of the most important elements of the Holiday Season.
It started sometime around Thanksgiving. My grandparents would take me downtown to the train yards where the annual shipment of trees would arrive for the holiday season. We would pick out three large Douglas firs and they would be wired together to make one enormous, fantastic Christmas tree. It sat at one end of the garden room rising 20 feet in the air. It was 9 feet wide and almost 30 feet around. Imagine the amount of presents that can fit under a tree that is 30 feet around!
It took from Thanksgiving until Christmas to decorate the tree. Over the years, my grandfather had collected thousands of ornaments from all over the world. 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. The tree also held homemade ones that Harold received from his charity work.
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.
One Christmas, I was with Daddy shopping for more ornaments in Saks Fifth Avenue. He plucked more and more ornaments off the store’s white-flocked display tree unable to decide which ones to purchase. Finally, he realized that every ornament on the tree would look nice at Greenacres and quickly decided right then and there to buy them all. Since there was no room on the tree at home, his impulse purchase had to include Saks white-flocked display tree as well! So the 12 foot, completely decorated tree, was shipped off to Greenacres and found a home in our front entrance hall. I have no idea where Saks put their presents that year after Harold left a gapping hole in their Christmas display.
One year we counted over 5,000 ornaments hanging from the tree and we still had enough left over to decorate 3 more trees just as big! Every year the tree grew larger to hold more ornaments; then one year it became a permanent fixture in our home. It was simply too large, too decorated and too engineered to disassemble. So we had it fireproofed and celebrated Christmas every day of the year!
A few years back, Christopher Radko recreated two of Harold’s most beautiful ornaments: “The Rose” originally given to Harold by silent film siren, Gloria Swanson, and “Holiday Bounty” a colorful ornament from friend and fellow silent film comedian, Charlie Chaplin. I was thrilled to have these ornaments added to the Radko collection. Now everyone can have one of Harold’s ornaments on their own holiday tree.
Suzanne Lloyd now presides over Harold Lloyd entertainment and has written several books on the career and legacy of her grandfather.