Friday, June 7, 2013

Harry Langdon

The story of Harry Langdon is a sad one. When he worked for Roach, he was already in a decline. When he worked for Jules White, he had gone downhill that much further. It got to where he played second fiddle to El Brendel. That was quite a comedown for a man who at one time was considered to be a rival to Charlie Chaplin.

Harry Langdon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harry Langdon
Olsen and Johnson with Harry Langdon.JPG
Langdon (center) with the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson.
Born(1884-06-15)June 15, 1884
Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S.
DiedDecember 22, 1944(1944-12-22) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1903–1944
Spouse(s)Rose Francis Musolff (1904-1928)
Helen Walton (1929-1932)
Mabel Sheldon (1934-1944)
Harry Philmore Langdon (June 15, 1884 – December 22, 1944) was an American comedian who appeared in vaudeville, silent films (where he had his greatest fame), and talkies.[1] He was briefly partnered with Oliver Hardy.[2]

Life and career

Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Langdon began working in medicine shows and stock companies while in his teens. In 1906, he entered vaudeville with his first wife, Rose Langdon. By 1915, he had developed a sketch named "Johnny's New Car," on which he would do variations in the years that followed. In 1923, he joined Principal Pictures Corporation, a company headed by producer Sol Lesser. He eventually went over to Keystone Studios where he became a major star.[3] At the height of his film career he was considered one of the four best comics of the silent film era. His screen character was that of a wide-eyed, childlike man with an innocent's understanding of the world and the people in it. He was a first-class pantomimist.

1927 Harper's Bazaar ad for Long Pants
Most of Langdon's 1920s work was produced at the famous Mack Sennett studio. His screen character was so unique, and his antics so different from the broad Sennett slapstick, that he soon had a following. Success led him into feature films, directed by Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra. When Langdon had such good directors guiding him, he produced work that rivaled Charlie Chaplin's, Harold Lloyd's, and Buster Keaton's. His best films are commonly regarded to be The Strong Man (1926), Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) and Long Pants (1927). Langdon acted as producer on these features, which were made for his own company, The Harry Langdon Corporation, and released by First National. After his initial success, Langdon fired Frank Capra and directed his own films, including "Three's a Crowd", "The Chaser", and "Heart Trouble", but his appeal faded. These films were more personal and idiosyncratic, and while they seem courageous and interesting today, audiences of the period were not interested. Capra later claimed that Langdon's decline stemmed from the fact that, unlike the other great silent comics, he never fully understood what made his own film character successful.[4] However, Langdon's biographer William Schelly among others have expressed skepticism about this claim, arguing that Langdon had established his character in vaudeville long before he entered movies, added by the fact that he wrote most of his own material during his stage years. The truth most likely lies somewhere between these two points, but history shows that Langdon's greatest success was while being directed by Capra, and once he took hold of his own destiny, his original film comedy persona dropped sharply in popularity with audiences. This is likely not due to Langdon's material, which he had always written himself, but with his inexperience with the many fine points of directing, at which Capra excelled, but at which Langdon was a novice. On the other hand, a look at Langdon's filmography shows that Capra directed only two of Langdon's 30 silent comedies. His last silent film, and the last one Langdon directed, "Heart Trouble", is a lost film, so it is difficult to assess whether he might have began achieving a greater understanding of the directorial process with more experience. The coming of sound, and the drastic changes in cinema, also thwarted Langdon's chances of evolving as a director and perhaps defining a style that might have enjoyed greater box office success.
Harry Langdon's babyish character did not adapt well to sound films; as producer Hal Roach remarked, "he was not so funny articulate" (he featured Langdon in several unsuccessful sound shorts in 1929-1930). But Langdon was a big enough name to command leads in short subjects for Educational Pictures and Columbia Pictures.[5] In 1938, he adopted a Caspar Milquetoast-type, henpecked-husband character that served him well. Langdon continued to work steadily in low-budget features and shorts into the 1940s, playing mild-mannered goofs. Langdon also contributed to comedy scripts as a writer, notably for Laurel and Hardy, which led to him being paired with Oliver Hardy in a 1939 film titled Zenobia during a period when Stan Laurel was in a bitter contract dispute with Roach.[6]


Harry Langdon kept busy in pictures and completed his final Columbia short Pistol Packin' Nitwits only weeks before his death of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 22, 1944.[5] All funeral arrangements were handled by onscreen cohort and personal friend Vernon Dent. Langdon was interred in the Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[5]
At the height of his career, Langdon was making $7,500 per week, a fortune for the times. Upon his death, The New York Times wrote, "His whole appeal was a consummate ability to look inexpressibly forlorn when confronted with manifold misfortunes—usually of the domestic type. He was what was known as 'dead-pan'...the feeble smile and owlish blink which had become his stock-in-trade caught on in a big way, and he skyrocketed to fame and fortune..."[7]
In 1997, his hometown of Council Bluffs celebrated "Harry Langdon Day" and in 1999 named Harry Langdon Boulevard in his honor. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Harry Langdon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard.

Selected filmography

† - denotes entry part of the Columbia Pictures short subject series

See also


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, December 27, 1944, page 39.
  2. ^ Harry Langdon at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Harter, Chuck and Michael J. Hayde; Little Elf: A Celebration of Harry Langdon (BearManor Media, 2012).
  4. ^ Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Publishers) 689.
  5. ^ a b c Okuda, Ted and Watz, Edward; (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts, pp. 115-123, 221-222, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 0-89950-181-8
  6. ^ Katz, Ephraim. Ibid.
  7. ^ The New York Times, Obituary, December 23, 1944.

Further reading

External links

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There has been some controversy over how much credit Frank Capra should be given for Harry Langdon's success and how much blame Langdon himself is due for his decline. But the fact that Langdon did suffer a decline after having worked with Capra does make it look as if the generally accepted version would be correct. The coming of sound probably also contributed to the problem as the old silent movie type of comedy came to seem as out of date, while other types of comedy films came to be more popular, including animated cartoons.*

                                                                     PICKING PEACHES

                                                                 HIS NEW MOMMA

Harry is riding high with Thelma Hill, Elsie Tarron and Gladys Tennyson in one of his first shorts for Mack Sennett, 'His New Mamma' (1924).

                                                Harry Langdon with Mack Sennett bathing beauties.

                                                            SATURDAY AFTERNOON

       Harry Langdon with a couple of blondes, a little before the era of Jean Harlow. Thelma Todd's first film wasn't released till after the release of SATURDAY AFTERNOON, but Anita Louise's book GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES had already been published and a certain significance was already attached to blondes.

                                                             TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP

With Joan Crawford, before she was a star herself.
The story in THE STRONG MAN had Harry Langdon fall in love with a blind girl ( Priscilla Bonner ).
Although Langdon was usually thought of as trying to be like Chaplin, the situation was reversed when Chaplin reused Langdon's blind girl character in his later CITY LIGHTS.

After suffering a career setback, Harry Langdon began making two reel comedies for Hal Roach, something that would have been seen at the time as a decline.


                                                       With Thelma Todd on couch, left.

                                                               THE FIGHTING PARSON

                                                       With Thelma Todd, right.

                                                         Gag photo with Thelma Todd


During the early sound era, Roach filmed foreign language versions of a number of his films. Thelma Todd appeared with Harry Langdon in the Spanish version of one of his films, Pobre infeliz.

 Here we see the chalkboard with the foreign language dialogue for their next scene.
A gag picture of Harry Langdon and the Our Gang Kids taken in 1929 to commemorate Langdon's second wedding.
The picture is autographed by Jean Darling, who was one of the Our Gang Kids.
Harry Langdon's series at the Roach studio came to an end, but he would return to work as a gagman. Here we see him in a picture with Laurel and Hardy around the time they were making BLOCKHEADS.
When Stan Laurel's contract lapsed and he became unavailable for a time, Hal Roach tried replacing Laurel with Harry Langdon, resulting in the new team of Langdon and Hardy. They made only one movie together, the comedy ZENOBIA.

The Zenobia in the story was an elephant.
Here we see the elephant posed with Oliver Hardy in a publicity picture.
 ZENOBIA cast photo

Billie Burke,  at rear left center, would appear in THE WIZARD OF OZ the same year as Glinda, the good witch.  
The team of Langdon and Hardy was not considered a success, which led to a resumption of the production of Laurel and Hardy series. Harry Langdon would continue to work for Roach in some capacity, but after this his starring films would be made at other studios.
The Langdons and the Dents
Harry Langdon and Vernon Dent began working together in the silent era and would go on working together after sound came in. But today Vernon Dent would be best known for working with the Three Stooges.  Not surprisingly in view of the fact that he made short subjects at Columbia, Harry Langdon's comedies had a number of the same people in his supporting cast as the Three Stooges.
One of them was Dorothy Appleby, whose career also began in the silent era.
Elsie Ames ( center ) and Dorothy Appleby ( right ) were Buster Keaton's regular costars in this period. Here they were working with Harry Langdon at the same studio in the same period.
 All sorts of people turned up in  Columbia short subjects when they weren't otherwise occupied.

Harry Langdon with Una Merkel, right.
Harry Langdon, left, with Fifi D'Orsay and Chester Conklin. Chester Conklin was another veteran of the Sennett studio.
Here we have a poster for a Harry Landon comedy featuring Christine McIntyre.
 Christine McIntyre was a frequent costar of the Three Stooges during this period and is still popular today.
Here we have another poster with Christine McIntyre.
 As well as El Brendel, who by this time received top billing. What was worse, Harry Langdon would die before the year was out. But at least his work lived on after him and we can still look at his films today.
* Hal Roach would later say it was difficult to compete with animated cartoons because in a cartoon they could do just about anything as humor.

Hal Roach Announcement

PISTOL PACKIN' NITWITS features Christine McIntyre in her first appearence as the hapless saloon girl, a part that she would play again that also seems to have later been reprised by Pearl Pureheart in Mighty Mouse cartoons.

El Brendel:

Harry Langdon:

Harry Langdon book:

Harry Langdon film locations:

Harry Langdon Photos To Identify:

Harry Langdon Jr.'s Web Site:

Christine McIntyre:


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