Nationality: American. Born: Council Bluffs, Iowa, 15 June 1884. Family: Married 1) the actress Rose Francis, 1903 (divorced 1928); 2) Helen Walton, 1929 (divorced 1931); 3) Mabel Georgena Sheldon, 1934, son: Harry Jr. Career: 1896—appeared on stage as child in Omaha amateur show; 1897—joined Dr. Belcher's Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show; then worked in circuses, tent show, and stock companies; 1903—formed "Johnny's New Car" act with Rose Francis, toured Orpheum Circuit until early 1920s; 1923—contract with Principal Pictures (Sol Lesser), then with Mack Sennett: film debut in short Picking Peaches , 1924; 1925—formed Harry Langdon Corporation, with Frank Capra as writer; 1926—first feature film, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp ; 1927—directed the film Three's a Crowd ; from 1929, worked for Hal Roach, Educational Films, Columbia, and Producers Releasing Corporation; worked as gag-man on Laurel and Hardy films, 1938–40. Died: Of a cerebral hemorrhage, 22 December 1944.
Films as Actor:
(in two-reel shorts)
Picking Peaches (Kenton); Smile Please (Del Ruth); Shanghaied Lovers (Del Ruth); The Cat's Meow (Del Ruth); His New Mama (Del Ruth); The First Hundred Years (F. Richard Jones); The Luck of the Foolish (Harry Edwards); The Hansom Cabman (Edwards); All Night Long (Edwards); Feet of Mud (Edwards)
The Sea Squawk (Edwards); Boobs in the Wood (Edwards); His Marriage Wow (Edwards); Plain Clothes (Edwards); Remember When? (Edwards); Horace Greeley, Jr. (Edwards); The White Wing's Bride (Goulding); Lucky Stars (Edwards); There He Goes (Edwards)
Saturday Afternoon (Edwards and Capra)
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (Edwards); Ella Cinders (Alfred E. Green) (cameo); The Strong Man (Capra) (as Harry Selby, the boy)
Long Pants (Capra) (as Harry Selby); His First Flame (Edwards); Fiddlesticks (Edwards—short); Soldier Man (Edwards—short)
(in two-reel sound shorts)
Hotter than Hot (Lewis R. Foster); Sky Boy (Rogers); Skirt Shy (Cruze)
A Soldier's Plaything ( A Soldier's Pay ) (Curtiz—feature) (as Tim); See America Thirst (Craft—feature) (as Wally); The Shrimp (Rogers); The Head Guy (Guiol); The Fighting Parson (Guiol); The Big Kick (Doane); The King (Horne)
The Big Flash (Gillstrom)
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum ( Hallelujah, I'm a Tramp ; New York ) (Milestone—feature) (as Egghead); My Weakness (David Butler—feature) (as Cupid); Tired Feet (Gillstrom); The Hitch Hiker (Gillstrom); Knight Duty (Gillstrom); Tied for Life (Gillstrom); Hooks and Jabs (Gillstrom); Marriage Humor (Edwards); The Stage Hand (Edwards); Leave It to Dad (Edwards); On Ice (Gillstrom); Pop's Pal (Edwards); A Roaming Romeo (Gillstrom)
Trimmed in Furs (Lamont); Circus Hoodoo (Gillstrom); No Sleep on the Deep (Lamont); Petting Preferred (Gillstrom); Counsel on De Fence (Ripley); Shivers (Ripley)
His Bridal Sweet (Goulding); The Leather Necker (Ripley); His Marriage Mixup (Black); I Don't Remember (Black); Atlantic Adventure (Rogell—feature) (as Snapper)
He Loved an Actress ( Mad about Money ) (Melville Brown—feature) (as Otto); There Goes My Heart (McLeod—feature) (as minister); A Doggone Mixup (Lamont); Sue My Lawyer (White)
Zenobia ( Elephants Never Forget ) (Gordon Douglas) (as Prof. McCrackle)
Misbehaving Husbands (Beaudine—feature) (as Henry Butler); Cold Turkey (Lord)
All-American Co-ed (Prinz—feature) (as Hap Holden); Double Trouble (West—feature)
House of Errors (Bernard B. Ray—feature); What Makes Lizzy Dizzy? (White); Tire Man, Spare My Tires (White); Carry Harry (Edwards); Piano Mooner (Edwards)
A Blitz on the Fritz (White); Blonde and Groom (Edwards); Here Comes Mr. Zerk (White); Spotlight Scandals (Beaudine—feature)
Hot Rhythm (Beaudine—feature) (as Whiffie); Block Busters (Fox—feature) (as Higgins); To Heir Is Human (Godsoe); Defective Detectives (Edwards); Mopey Dope (Lord)
Swingin' on a Rainbow (Beaudine—feature) (as Chester Willoby); Snooper Service (Edwards); Pistol Packin' Nitwits (Edwards)
When Comedy Was King (pr: Youngson)
Films as Director:
Three's a Crowd (+ ro)
The Chaser (+ ro); Heart Trouble (+ ro)
Films as Co-Scriptwriter:
The Flying Deuces (A. Edward Sutherland)
A Chump at Oxford (Alfred Goulding); Saps at Sea (Gordon Douglas)
Road Show (Roach)
Bride by Mistake (Wallace)
By LANGDON: article—
"The Serious Side of Comedy Making," in Theatre (New York), December 1927.
On LANGDON: books—
Sennett, Mack, and Cameron Shipp, King of Comedy , New York, 1954.
Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By , London, 1968.
McCaffrey, Donald, Four Great Comedians , New York, 1969.
Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies , Chicago, 1974; rev. ed., 1979.
Slide, Anthony, The Idols of Silence , New York, 1976.
Parish, James Robert, and William T. Leonard, The Funsters , New York, 1979.
Schelly, William, Harry Langdon , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1982.
Rheuban, Joyce, Harry Langdon: The Comedian as Metteur-en-Scène , Rutherford, New Jersey, 1983.
On LANGDON: articles—
North, Jean, "It's No Joke to Be Funny," in Photoplay (New York), June 1925.
Hall, Leonard, "Hey! Hey! Harry's Coming Back," in Photoplay (New York), June 1929.
Albert, Katherine, "What's Happened to Harry Langdon?," in Photoplay (New York), February 1932.
Obituary in New York Times , 23 December 1944.
Agee, James, "Baby," in Life (New York), 5 September 1949.
Schonert, V. L., "Harry Langdon," in Films in Review (New York), October 1967; see also issues for November and December 1967.
Vitoux, Frédéric, "Harry Langdon et Frank Capra," in Positif (Paris), December 1971.
Orsini, M., "Le candide follie di Harry Langdon," in Filmcritica (Rome), April/May 1972.
Truscott, Harold, "Harry Langdon," in Silent Picture (London), Summer 1972.
Leary, R., "Capra and Langdon," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1972.
Gilliatt, Penelope, in Unholy Fools , London, 1973.
Simsolo, N., "L'Athlète incomplet," and "V.I.P. B.I.S.," by G. Allombert, in Image et Son (Paris), no. 296, 1973.
Kral, P., "Harry, ailleurs ou on comique autre," in Positif (Paris), July/August and September 1978.
Eyquem, O., "Les Films de Harry Langdon," in Positif (Paris), September 1978.
Weinberg, Herman, "Harry Langdon," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1981.
Everson, William K., "Souls of Wit: The Short Films of the Other Clowns," in Video Movies (Skokie, Illinois), June 1984.
Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1985.
Langdon, H., "Harry Langdon," in Films in Review (New York), March-April 1992.
Thompson, Frank, "Harry Langdon: the Fourth Genius?" in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1997.
* * *
His character had the moon face and the tight smile of an idiot child. Comedian Harry Langdon gave his clown a pathetic loneliness combined with a feline curiosity. With a rare gift for subtle, smooth pantomime, Langdon rose from a mediocre position as a vaudeville comedian to rival and nearly equal the great clowns who had already achieved success in the motion pictures by the mid-1920s.
Under the supervision of Harry Edwards and Frank Capra, Langdon captured the hearts of the critics and the general public with three excellent comedies: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp ; The Strong Man ; and Long Pants . The critic James Agee in his famous 1949 Life essay "Comedy's Greatest Era," rated the comedian higher than most commentators did. Agee described Langdon as a "virtuoso of hesitation and of delicately indecisive motions" with "a subtle emotional and mental process" similar to Charlie Chaplin's.
The one obvious difference between Langdon's and Chaplin's characters, however, is the mentality of the portraits. Langdon falls into the class of "dumb" clowns—somewhat like Stan Laurel's creative efforts. Most of the humor of the character springs from a childlike man who is lost in a sophisticated world. Unlike Chaplin's character, this little fellow is a simpleton who seldom takes action; he is a sexless baby who concentrates on his bag of popcorn when a prostitute makes eyes at him. Without a will of any consequence, this frail creature evokes laughter and sympathy when he is pitted against physical and mental superiors. This passive attitude is quite different from the comic creations of both Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, whose characters had an aggressiveness which involved them in sharp, strong struggles. They had moments of violent action—kicking and biting their opposition—generally a bully twice their size. Their works, therefore, were sprinkled with the spice of invective comedy which provided variety and fast-paced conflict. Even Capra, noted for his excellent fast-paced films, realized he had to let Langdon work a scene slowly to use the detailed pantomimed routines which were the comedian's forte.
This whimsy of Langdon's comic portrait did not seem to click when he dismissed Frank Capra, who had directed The Strong Man and Long Pants . Langdon tried to direct three of his own features in the late 1920s, and the works were neither critical nor popular successes. It is possible that Langdon leaned too heavily on what some evaluators of the day thought was "Chaplinesque pathos" in such features as Three's a Crowd , an approach Harry Edwards and Capra had avoided. Langdon never fully recovered from his failure in the late 1920s. Many of his later two-reel shorts show some brilliant refurbishing of his silent screen routines, but he more often appeared providing some comedy in low-budget musical features.
The strength of Langdon's best films lies in his acting. Like Chaplin in his approach to his little tramp, Langdon brought a captivating intensity to his portrayal of the little-boy-lost. Langdon seemed to live the role he was acting. He became a skilled creator of an unusual comic character and deserves to be placed among the kings of silent screen comedy, Chaplin, Lloyd, and Buster Keaton.