The son of pioneering studio mogul and producer Hal Roach, Hal Roach Jr. was groomed as his father's successor starting in his late teens. But he never had a real chance to step out from the imposing shadow of his father. Hal Sr. lived to the ripe age of 100 and was active into his sixties as a producer (and was associated with virtually every major name in comedy from 1910-50), but his son lived only to age 53 -- and most of his activities as a producer involved syndicated television series and low-budget feature films, few of which made an impact resembling those of his father's productions a generation earlier.
Born Harold Eugene Roach Jr., he came into the world in 1918, and in his teens he attended Indiana's Culver Military Academy. In 1936, at age 18, he returned to Hollywood and joined his father's studio. He served as associate producer on such feature films as the Laurel & Hardy classic Blockheads (1938), and also co-directed his father's prehistoric adventure classic One Million B.C. (1940). Most of his time during World War II and immediately afterward was spent as a producer, intending to take over the studio one day. He came into his own as a producer and executive as the theatrical marketplace for the short subjects on which his father had built his business was drying up -- movie theaters were closing and not adding new shorts and supplements to their main features as television began encroaching on the time and attention of audiences.
Hal Roach Jr. plunged into the small-screen medium with both feet, while his father gradually took a subordinate role in the company's output and retired in the mid-1950s. Hal Jr. produced a few memorable low-budget movies, most notably Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) and a brace of television series, including Code 3, The Gale Storm Show, and Passport To Danger. Surprisingly for a studio that rested primarily on a foundation of comedy, including the work of Laurel and Hardy and the Our Gang/Little Rascals series (the latter being one of the most successful television franchises in history), most of the television programs to come from the company in the 1950s were serious dramas and crime shows, which endured for decades in syndication but weren't too profitable for the makers. The studio's lagging production activities, coupled with weaknesses in the younger Roach's management, drove the company into bankruptcy at the end of the 1950s, and the studio lot was sold off early in the 1960s. Roach Jr. continued to work with his father on various projects, most notably the thriller The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972). He died of pneumonia in March 1972, 20 years before his father passed on. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi