The short Harold Lloyd walking tour I gave prior to my presentation at the Egyptian Theater included a stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. There, on November 21, 1927, Harold Lloyd became the fifth celebrity, and the first comedian, to be immortalized in cement in the theater forecourt. Preceding him during ceremonies held earlier that year were Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, as a couple, Norma Talmadge, and Norma Shearer. Harold’s first leading lady Bebe Daniels was the 12th inductee at Grauman’s; her prints were made May 13, 1929.
If you study his casting closely, you’ll notice the thumb and forefinger of Harold’s right handprint did not leave a deep impression. In 1919, Lloyd was severely injured in a life-threatening accident that nearly ended his sky-rocketing career. Harold was set to pose for a gag publicity photo of him lighting a cigarette with the sputtering fuse of a fake bomb. Somehow the prop bomb had a real charge exploding moments after Harold lowered it away from his face. The blast ripped a hole in the 16-foot high ceiling of the photo studio, and put Harold in the hospital for over two weeks. The accident temporarily blinded Lloyd, who lost half of his palm, and the thumb and index finger of his right hand. For a time it was uncertain whether he would ever appear in films again.
Although the accident was news at the time, Lloyd worked hard thereafter to preserve the illusion he was not injured. Audiences were generally unaware, as Lloyd compensated by wearing a tightly fitted glove over a prosthetic thumb and finger when filming. He also cleverly staged scenes to favor his left hand, filmed mirror reflections of his left hand as his “right,” and used hand doubles for certain close-ups. When posing for news photos in public, Lloyd usually adopted a causal stance with his right hand in his pocket.
As memorialized in cement, Lloyd also wore his prosthesis when casting his handprints for posterity at Grauman’s. One has to wonder how this delicate maneuver was staged. Did someone reach over, and help depress Lloyd’s prosthetic thumb and finger for him? In the end, Lloyd’s handprints provide mute testimony to the enduring power of movie magic.