The Day the Slapstick Got Too Real: Harold Lloyd Blows Himself Up with a Bomb

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On this day in 1919, comedian Harold Lloyd suffered a most grievous accident while taking some publicity photos for his new series of two-reelers.  Lighting what he thought was a prop fuse bomb, he stood and posed with it. The bomb, however, turned out to be real, and it blew off half of Lloyd’s right mitt, blinded him for several days, and temporarily disfigured his face.

Unlike Wile E. Coyote, flesh and blood comedians don’t spontaneously regenerate — but Lloyd bounced back to an astounding degree. In his autobiography, An American Comedy he confides that he was mostly worried about the damage to his face. Permanent scars could wreck an actor’s career. But so could an injured hand wreck a comedian’s. Back then, most comedians did their own stunts, and silent comedy called for as many dangerous stunts as any western or action film. Lloyd himself became known for his “thrill comedies”, films where his character would be trapped in precarious circumstances at the top of skyscrapers. The wild thing is, he made most of these films AFTER his disfigurement, hiding his missing digits with a special prosthetic glove. Sometimes it would be disguised as a genuine hand; less often he would just wear gloves:

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But any way you slice it, they don’t make ’em like THAT any more.

To learn more about slapstick history including Harold Lloyd please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

7 comments

  1. They had previously filmed a scene where a table had to be blown up with a bomb, and had managed it in one take with just one bomb; the second spare one was returned to stores without a (string) fuse in it. No-one knows why it was re-issued labelled as a dummy. If Harold had not lowered the bomb to ask for a new fuse to be fitted, as the old one was almost burnt away while the photos were being taken, he would almost certainly have been killed, not just injured, so he considered himself as lucky rather than unlucky.

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  2. I think I heard about Harold’s hand as being a childhood accident with fireworks. It was compiled collection with narration that now appears to be erroneous, but no less remarkable that Lloyd went on with a career that includes so many thrilling and funny moments.

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  3. This is an interesting story. It’s possible, regarding the live bomb, that it was a bomb used for an effect that required something to actually be blown up. It’s sort of like in Cagney’s biography when he writes of doing scenes in which live bullets were fired at the actors (cause they didn’t have squibs in those days). Maybe it just got mixed up in the props.

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