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Harry Langdon Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (4)  | Spouse (4)  | Trivia (18)  | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (4)

Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
Died in Los Angeles, California, USA  (cerebral hemorrhage)
Nicknames The Sad Clown
The Little Elf
Height 5' 7" (1.7 m)

Mini Bio (4)

Langdon first performed when he ran away from home at the age of 12-13 to join a travelling medicine show. In 1903 he scored a lasting success in vaudeville with an act called "Johnny's New Car" which he performed for twenty years. In 1923, he signed with Principal Pictures as a series star, but transferred to the Mack Sennett Studio when Mack Sennett bought the contract. Early in his film career, he had the good fortune to work regularly with the young Frank Capra. The two developed a unique character of an innocent man-child who found himself in dramatic and hazardous circumstances with only providence and good luck making him come out on top. This character clicked with the public and Langdon enjoyed a streak of artistic and commercial successes using it with Capra's direction. Unfortunately, he began to take the praise of his talent too seriously and broke with Capra so he could hog all the glory himself with his films. This proved to be a disastrous mistake as his first film "Three's a Crowd", a sickeningly sentimental film that plainly showed that he did not even approach the talent and skill of Capra which was needed to keep his character style viable. It has been also speculated the public was getting tired of Langdon's character, which contributed to Langdon's first solo film being an artistic and commercial failure. That film was the first in a series of bombs that ruined Langdon's career and relegated him to minor films from third string companies for the rest of his life.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Kenneth Chisholm < chisken@pop.eclec.com>

Langdon was 12 years old when he ran away to join the circus. Soon he was involved in medicine shows, circuses and Vaudeville where he spent the next 20 years developing an act called "Harry's New Car". With Vaudeville, he would play and perfect the act in town after tank town, year after year. By 1923, Langdon had been picked up by Mack Sennett and Sennett gave Langdon to the writers to develop something from his character. Luckily for everyone involved, director Harry Edwards and the writers Frank Capra and Arthur Ripley were able to create the perfect story lines for the pantomime of the baby faced 40 year old comic. His film style of comedy would consist of indecision and helplessness, and the two reel films that he made would make him a star. One of his best performances was as the henpecked husband who comes back after a spree with a buddy and hopes to tell his wife off in Saturday Afternoon (1926). In 1926, Harry left Sennett to form his own company, the Harry Langdon Corporation, which had a six picture deal with First National. Harry took Edwards, Capra, and Ripley with him to his new company and the first picture made was _Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926/I)_ which became a big hit. The girl in the picture was named Joan Crawford and Harry would be walking across the country to win her hand. The next two films The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927) were directed by Capra. With 3 big successful films, and an ego to match, Langdon fired Capra and put himself into the director's chair. The problem was that Langdon was as naive as his character about what made his character popular and how to film it. His next three films were disasters as to plot, character and editing and were, worst of all, not funny. With the end of his six film commitment came the end of his popularity and Langdon was soon bankrupt. In 1929, he would sign with Hal Roach to stage a comeback in sound, but after 8 unremarkable shorts, he would be fired. In 1932, he was making cheap two reelers which were no where near the quality that he made under Capra. In 1934, at age 50, langdon would sign with Columbia where he would stay for the next 10 years. At Columbia, he would work in shorts, most of which were rehashes of his earlier films. He would also work once more at the Hal Roach Studio where he became a writer for the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. By this time, he was a much nicer person as the setbacks has deflated his ego years before. Attempts to team Langdon with other performers such as Charley Rogers were tried and then dropped. If anything, he was finding his place as a character actor in a number of Columbia shorts and Monogram features. The small sad man with the white baby face and the jacket that was too small would die from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1944 as a shadow of what might have been. Langdon had been married four times.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana < tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

There was a fourth major silent movie comedian in the 1920s, who many feel ranks up there with Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, but who now is sadly forgotten. His name was Harry Langdon and he was born on June 15, 1884, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to a self-employed painter, William, and a Salvation Army volunteer, Lavinia. In his youth the stage-struck Harry hawked newspapers across the Missouri River in neighboring Omaha, Nebraska, to earn money to attend the theater and to stage his own tyro-theatricals. He soon began winning a succession of amateur contests in the area's theaters.

In his early teens Langdon joined Dr. Belcher's Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show and went on the road, his first professional gig. Langdon subsequently toured with the Gus Sun Minstrels and other medicine shows and small-time circuses, in which he was employed as a musician, a blackface minstrel, a gymnast, a tumbler and a trapeze artist.

Harry married fellow performer Rose Musolff in 1903, and the Langdons paired up on the vaudeville circuit, achieving fame with their "Johnny's New Car" trick-auto act. They toured the vaudeville circuits for the next 20 years, working their way up to the country's premier venues. As a solo act, still exploiting the automobile -theme that had made their fortune, Rose Langdon as "The Show Girl" popularized the early 20th-century ditty "In My Merry Oldsmobile." By 1906 the Langdons had expanded their act into a full-stage production, billed as "A Night on the Boulevard." It was the genesis of their subsequent three-part act "After the Ball" that played the vaudeville houses in the 1920s. Harry by then had become genuinely established as a show-business personality, playing in the Broadway musical "Jim Jam Jems." The revue, which played 105 performances between October 4, 1920, and New Year's Day, 1921, also featured Joe E. Brown, who went on to become a Top Ten box office star in the 1930s, and Frank Fay, the man who would create the role of Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey" on Broadway and who was once married to Barbara Stanwyck. Langdon had made his Broadway debut in an 1899 revival of William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale."

Flush with success, in 1923 Langdon decided to try his luck at motion pictures, entering into negotiations with Hollywood comedy producer Hal Roach. When Roach would not meet his demands, Langdon signed a contract with Sol Lesser's Principal Pictures. He first starred in two-reel comedies directed by Alfred J. Goulding, but in October of 1923 he was released by the financially troubled Principal. He was not unemployed for long, with Mack Sennett signing the baby-faced clown to a Keystone Studio contract a month later.

Sennett gave the seasoned vaudeville veteran a great deal of artistic freedom to develop his own style. He was assigned his own production team to make his shorts, of which Smile Please (1924) was his first. Featuring Langdon as a harassed photographer, it was, like the shorts that followed in his first year with Sennett, hobbled by its reliance on the worn-out Sennett style of bathing beauties, special effects and frantically paced sight gags. Langdon's peculiar genius as a performer did not materialize until The First 100 Years (1924) and The Luck o' the Foolish (1924), as the Langdon unit began to coalesce, a quickening that was accelerated when Harry Edwards took over as director with the latter film. The unit, which included screenwriter Arthur Ripley, slowed down the rhythm of Langdon's shorts and began focusing on Harry's character, a timid, naive soul who hesitated when confronting conflict. From then on Edwards directed all of Langdon's shorts at Sennett. In early 1925 Frank Capra began working with the unit as a gag writer, first credited on the short Plain Clothes (1925).

As Harry's career progressed at Sennett, his box-office success increased and the unit moved from two- to three-reelers. Langdon, determined to follow the example of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, then made his first feature-length comedy, His First Flame (1927). After serving a two-year apprenticeship, it was time to leave Sennett, as a star had been born.

Langdon signed a three-year contract with Sol Lesser's First National Pictures to annually produce two feature-length comedies at a fixed fee per film. His first comedy for First National, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926), was made with members of his Sennett unit who stuck with him, including Harry Edwards and Ripley. It featured the child-man Harry as the ultimate manifestation of his naive persona, playing himself as his own baby. The film did well but ran over budget and Harry Edwards was sacked. For his next picture, The Strong Man (1926), Langdon hired Capra to direct. The movie, in which Harry as the weakling assistant of a vaudeville strong man wreaks havoc but gets the girl in the end, was a hit, but trouble was brewing among members of the Langdon company. During the production of his next picture, Long Pants (1927), Capra had a falling out with Langdon. Writer Ripley's dark sensibility did not mesh well with that of the more optimistic Capra, and Langdon usually sided with Ripley. The picture fell behind schedule and went over budget, and since Langdon was paid a fixed fee for each film, this represented a financial loss to his own Harry Langdon Corp. Stung by the financial setback, and desiring to further emulate the great Chaplin, Langdon made a fateful decision: He sacked Capra and decided to direct himself.

Langdon's next three movies for First National were failures. The two surviving films are dark and grim: the black comedy Three's a Crowd (1927), in which Harry's character "The Odd Fellow" loses everything he desires, and The Chaser (1928), which touched on the subject of suicide. It was the late years of the Jazz Age, a time of unprecedented prosperity and boundless bonhomie, and the critics--and more importantly the ticket-buying public--rejected Harry. In 1928 First National did not pick up his contract. Harry Langdon Corp. was bankrupt. To further add to Langdon's woes, the talkies made their debut while his career was going into a steep decline, rivaling the one that would soon overtake the stock market and put the Good Times of the 1920s to sleep, for good.

Langdon went back on the vaudeville circuit, but in 1929 he was hired by the Hal Roach Studios to make shorts. The talkies were not kind to Langdon, whose voice allegedly was damaged by a quack treating him for a childhood illness. In the talkies he typically spoke in falsetto, but his squeaky voice sometimes would break into a basso profondo on the soundtrack. Langdon's days as a star, already in eclipse, were over. After eight shorts, Roach fired him.

Though his fame, muted as it is, comes from his silent feature-films, most of Langdon's acting was during the Sound Era. After his career flameout he continued to appear in movies, both in lead and bit parts, for the majors and for "Poverty Rrow" studios, primarily Columbia and Monogram. He even worked for Hal Roach as a writer for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and subbed for Laurel in a 1939 film, Zenobia (1939), as Hardy's sidekick.

However sharply Harry Langdon had transitioned from major-studio stardom to Poverty Row has-been, his classic comedies and those he wrote for Laurel and Hardy continued to influence the knock-about comedians that came afterwards, notably The Three Stooges. The Stooges, in the time-honored tradition of comedy careerists, purloined some of the best bits of his films for their own hugely popular shorts (and even used Langdon's favorite director, Harry Edwards, in a few of them).

The 60-year-old, four-times-married, thrice-divorced Langdon died of a cerebral hemorrhage while working at the studio three days before Christmas in 1944, a full generation before the rediscovery and re-appreciation of the silent-era clowns Keaton and Lloyd. There has been a renewal of interest in Langdon as his great silent comedies, including those directed by Capra, have come out on video, but his reputation does not come near matching that of Keaton or Lloyd, let alone Chaplin.

However, The Sad Clown Harry is still remembered by aficionados of silent comedy, if not rightly honored as the fourth greatest comedian of his age. On the positive side, the shunning of which darkened Langdon's star, his hometown of Council Bluffs celebrated Harry Langdon Day in 1997, and dedicated Harry Langdon Boulevard in 1999, honoring one of its most distinguished, if not honored, sons.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Harry had been hailed as one of the 4 Great Silent Comedians (along with Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd) and was probably at his peak when he made features at First National Studio such as The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927), When the 'talkies' arrived his career declined. He secured work at the Hal Roach Studio and made a series of short comedies but they failed to revive his career. It seems likely that it was Stan Laurel's influence and friendship that helped find further work for Harry at the Roach Studio. Harry contributed to scripts and with gags for the Laurel and Hardy films Block-Heads, Flying Deuces, and Saps at Sea. An enduring connection between Laurel and Hardy and Langdon remains in the film Flying Deuces, where a Parisian cafe artist is seen to be drawing a picture of Stan and Ollie. The actual caricature, which is seen for a few brief seconds, was in fact, the artistic work of Harry, Stan never appeared on screen with his old friend but did not object to Ollie appearing with him in Zenobia.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: tonyman5

Spouse (4)

Mabel Sheldon (1938 - 22 December 1944) ( his death)
Mabel Sheldon (1934 - 1938) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Helen Walton (1929 - 1932) ( divorced)
Rose Langdon (1903 - 1929) ( divorced)

Trivia (18)

Has a star on Hollywood Blvd in front of the Mann Chinese Theatre.
His son is world famous photographer Harry Langdon.
He is related to actress Lynne Langdon.
Made his debut in movies at the age of 40, joining Mack Sennett Studios in 1924 and starred in several short comedies that quickly became very popular.
During 1924-1927 Langdon was considered a rival of Charles Chaplin in popularity, but his status as a star was meteoric. Through the years many silent film fans as well as historians have tried to find an explanation. Some blame it on Langdon's lack of film-industry experiences, most significantly when he fired director Frank Capra in order to take over the direction himself; others consider Langdon's "child-man" an acquired taste whom the audiences perhaps grew tired of after a while.
Was a veteran of vaudeville before joining the film industry.
Was an avid cartoonist; he drew the caricatures in the opening credits of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's feature Block-Heads (1938), a film which he also co-wrote.
His first marriage reportedly produced one child who died at birth, around 1911. Harry never told his later wife and son about this tragedy.
An April, 1992 career article in Films in Review" on his uncle was written by Langdon's nephew also named Harry Langdon, not to be confused with Langdon's son, who also bore the name.
Langdon died of a cerebral hemorrhage after working all day on a strenuous dance routine for a Columbia two-reeler.
In 1904 Langdom met and married Rose Musolft, and the pair began a vaudeville routine By 1915 they had evolved their routine into a popular skit called "Johnny's New Car." According to Langdon's nephew, also named Harry Langdon, in an April 1992 article in "Films in Review," the act was still going strong in 1922, when Principal Pictures decided to film it as "Harry's New Car." Producer Mack Sennett was so impressed with Langdon that he assigned Harry Edwards and Frank Caprra to create material for him. Despite the claim that the vaudeville act was filmed by Principal, it doesn't appear in Langdon's IMDb filmography, which lists the 1924 Sennett short "Picking Peaches" as his first film appearance. Other sources list a 1923 short entitled "The Sky Scraper" (aka "The Greenhorn") made presumably for Principal as his film debut.
When Jean Cocteau was asked who had the greatest influence on him, he replied, "Harry Langdon.".
Originally signed for role of "Sparks" in the Mascot serial The Whispering Shadow (1933). Replaced in the role by Karl Dane.
Signed for the lead role in the M-G-M Picture Whistling in the Dark (1933) but was replaced by Ernest Truex.
MGM announced on May 31, 1929 that Harry Langdon had been signed for five years, to make eight two-reel comedy shorts per year. He eventually made only eight shorts at Hal Roach Studios (released through MGM) for the 1929-30 season.
Harry Langdon wrote two songs in 1932: "Calling All Cars" and "Lulu".
Harry Langdon's time as a top box office draw, didn't last very long. After a handful of successful silent films, the comedian suffered a fall from grace and never really recovered.
Briefly, producer Hal Roach made an attempt to team up Harry Langdon with Oliver Hardy. The result of this, was one film released in 1939. Ultimately, the attempt failed.

Personal Quotes (4)

A comedian should establish a character with human appeal. Then he'll be pretty indestructible. For instance, in developing my character I use little childish gestures - and children are always appealing. Such a comedian isn't a machine. I know the limits of my character - a little too aggressive, for instance, and he's gone. I've tried to inject this character into parts offered me, but if the director interfered the character would be lost.
Without character, the comedian is lost. When I play in what I call the O- Ouch-O comedies, where the comedian runs about, is hit on the head, etc., I am just an animated suit of clothes.
Women have a keener sense of humor than men, are more observing and responsive. Women care more for comedy than men do, too. You have to get dirty to get men to laugh.
The oddest thing about this whole funny-business is that the public really wants to laugh, but it's the hardest thing to make them do it.

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