Thursday, September 22, 2011

Harold Lloyd: got a light?

This has to qualify as the strangest Harold Lloyd movie I've ever seen (and believe me, after spending more than three years writing about his life, I've seen plenty). It's only a minute and a half long, has no sound track (truly a silent film) and no plot to speak of. It's just him n' the chimp.

I don't know why this little gem was made - it looks almost like a screen test for the ape. It's unusual for several reasons: Harold still has an intact right hand (a horrible accident blew half his hand away in 1919), he's shown smoking a cigarette which he never did in real life (explaining his relative awkwardness), and he's in tighter closeup than usual.

This is startling, because it reveals why women loved him so much: the guy was simply gorgeous, with a clean handsome jawline, vigorous head of black hair and slightly bedroomy blue eyes. There was a boyish sweetness about him which never slid into Harry Langdon-esque creepy infantilism. Under the mild exterior he was a tough little scrapper, with a volatile temper that came directly out of his own hot-and-cold personality.

I love this man. I wrote a novel about him called The Glass Character, and I cannot tell you how I ache to see this get into the hands of readers. I want them to know, to feel, to see him as he was, and is. I made a total fool of myself in writing this, and though I think it's the best thing I've ever done, I do wonder if there is something star-crossed about my life, something that just short-circuits success and snatches it out of my hands just as I am about to grab it. If I could figure out why, maybe I could do something about it.

Whenever I discover something new about Harold Lloyd, some odd little thing like this minute-and-a-half-long mini-picture, it's as if I am given a tiny glimpse through an aperture or a magic portal. While I was writing The Glass Character, there were days when I felt as if I had stepped right through it. I did not want to come back. I don't know what is going to happen with my novel, and I know I shouldn't care this much, I'm just putting my heart out on the railroad tracks. But there's just something about him. He inspires that sort of feeling. It's spooky, because I realize that he doesn't try for it.

I can't define charisma, any more than I can define charm, but I know when I am in its presence. In this case, mere dying did not end it. It's still there, lightning in a bottle. If you think you know silent comedy, if you've seen Chaplin and Keaton and maybe Harry Langdon or Chester Conklin, you don't know this: there was a man, an extraordinary actor who never planned to be a comedian, who was able to make the most ordinary, hapless guy so compelling that you couldn't stop watching him.

Harold, Harold! I don' t know how I got in so deep. And I am not sure if I want to be saved or not.


  1. Margaret, you need a medium to meet this guy. Yours is a romance betwixt the ages.

  2. I think we've already met.

    It's weird, because I don't even believe in a conventional afterlife (at least, most of the time). But here is this sense of being able to put my hand through the veil. I don't see him as a ghost or discontented soul or anything. In fact we had quite a long conversation that went on for a few years (in a Word file, actually). The whole thing is curious. I still feel that magic when I see him. This odd little movie was kind of weird, not a real movie at all, just a sort of test of - what? Maybe trying out a scene before committing to it? And seeing his right hand intact is poignant, because in the vast majority of his movies it is gloved. He had thick practical veterinarian's hands, like most real artists. People with artist's hands are generally dimwits.

  3. Funny irony about the hands. It always amuses me when a sportscaster describes a wide receiver's hands as "soft." What this means is the guy has a better than average ability to catch a football. In a sense they are artist's hands, and in a sense they belong to dimwits - really rich dimwits, but...

    For some reason I missed your pieces below on the Rev. Going there now to catch up. Hope you are feeling better. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie....codeeeeeeeine. ;-|

  4. Supposedly there are no photos of his hand without a glove, but that's not true. I found three, I think. In one of them he was bowling, in another one he has his arm around his wife, and the third time it was on a video: a speech he was giving for some seminar-or-other, in which he stood up at the front and gestured with his right hand for about 10 minutes. But the funny thing is, if you weren't looking for it, you didn't see it. This is one of the ways he kept it hidden in plain sight. He taught himself to write and paint and play most sports right-handed, which is quite a feat when you think of doing those things without a thumb, forefinger and half your palm.