February 9, 1919 [Ask Father]

Despite the nervous fear of infection, crowds still fill the movies. But sitting there with my family, starting a little with every cough in the dimness, I couldn’t stop hearing the rhyme my girls had recited on the sidewalk outside the theater:

I has a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened up the window
And in-flew-Enza.

From Spain to Kansas to everywhere, we’re succumbing by more than the thousands to tiny things, smaller than the War’s bullets, but flying so much farther.

For his part, though, Harold Lloyd remains stupendously fit—and he certainly needs such fortitude—luckily for him, not to combat the Spanish Flu, but simply to survive business conducted as a series of tossed bodies, heaped like firewood as they resist his efforts to “ask Father” for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Lloyd approach fits in well; he simply strolls toward his doom, straw boater planted squarely, his face surprisingly (for a screen comedian) forgettable—aside from his eyeglasses. The last man you’d expect to get caught up in the wild fury of a Hal Roach production. But the former “Lonesome Luke” is made of sterner stuff than one can imagine. He joins a long line of unbreakable young men—and may be one of their champions, if only because he seems so ill-suited to the title, always tripping unintentionally into the fray.

And again, the business environment of this film matches Lloyd’s penchant for disaster. Between the would-be father-in-law's conveyor belt and trapdoor for disposing of unwelcome visitors, the gang of strong-arm men in all sizes, and the multiple doorways for forcible expulsion, the establishment seems more a castle keep than an office. Lloyd understands this completely: He eventually dons a suit of armor—thanks to the preternaturally handy costume shop next door—and cudgels all and sundry before arriving at his nemesis’ desk—just in time for the punch line: his sweetie has eloped. All, for the moment, has been for naught.

Ah, what a needful figure Lloyd presents. Worldwide, the human body is revealing its dismaying fragility. Four sit down to bridge, and only one survives the night. The slightest rise in humidity, and the infection reaps grimly. And most tragic of all—Sophocles could not have thought of a deeper irony—soldiers who survived the worst that the trenches and No-Man’s Land could inflict come home only to collapse in shivers and fever and phlegm. But Harold Lloyd remains indestructible—and I'm trying hard not to sound flippant or bitter. Because, for a scant half-hour or so, nothing can lay us low: not the embarrassment of feminine disguise (Lloyd in a dress makes Arbuckle seem a charming flower of youth), the blaze of gunfire, the desperate clamber up a sheer wall—not even a broken heart. Lloyd survives them all, his boater un-smashed, his bland features still bright, with always a pillow to cushion the cartwheeling fall.


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