Excerpt from Harry Langdon: His Life and Films

Excerpt from:

Harry Langdon: His Life and Films

© copyright 2008 by Bill Schelly

Author’s Introduction

“Who was Harry Langdon?”

Many who read this book will be already be Harry Langdon fans, or at least familiar with some of his films. For them, the question “Who was Harry Langdon?” will be unnecessary.

There will, however, be those who have little or no idea who the elfin character on the cover was:  those who find this book while browsing in a book store or library, or who receive it as a gift, or who are studying film history in school.

Who was Harry Langdon?

His entry on Wikipedia.org is brief, and mentions of Langdon in surveys of the history of film comedy often give the impression, or state outright, that he was a “minor comedian.” The facts prove otherwise.

First, he was one of the top comedians in vaudeville from 1906 to 1923. Through tremendous determination and talent, Langdon rose from Midwest traveling shows at the turn of the century to headlining status at the Palace Theatre in New York City, the preeminent vaudeville stage in the world. His self-written vaudeville act “Johnny’s New Car” was a classic of the form, and his comic persona made him famous—before he made a single movie.

Second, as a starring comedian on the silent screen, Harry established a world-wide reputation as an utterly unique comedy talent whose pantomimic genius rivaled Charlie Chaplin. His silent features Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Strong Man and Long Pants stand as enduring comedy classics. Beginning with James Agee, most film critics place him in the “big four silent comedians,” along with Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Such was the height of his fame and the extent of his talent that when hard times came, he was still able to find work in the movies and on stage until his untimely passing.

Third, Langdon made many more talking than silent movies. In all, he starred or co-starred in almost a hundred films from 1924 to 1945. Twenty-four of them were full-length features. He worked with some big name directors, such as Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front).  Langdon also worked as a film director and wrote screenplays for many movies, including four of Laurel and Hardy’s best.

Who was Harry Langdon? He was, simply put, one of the supreme comedy talents of the twentieth century—an actor, writer and director who will always rank as one of the immortals of motion pictures.

When this author first encountered Langdon’s films in 1979, no book existed on Harry’s extraordinary career. That being the case, I set about to write one. Harry Langdon has remained the only book-length biography ever since, and has long been out of print.

Over the intervening years, other Langdon books have been in the works, but, for reasons unknown to this author, haven’t made it into print. Therefore, I decided it was time to revise and expand Harry Langdon. Part of the impetus was the recent issuance of Harry’s classic films on DVD. Langdon has been gaining new fans of late, and it’s only logical there should be a book for those who want to know all about him.

About half of this expanded edition is made up of new material; the text that has been carried over has been corrected and revised. Much has been added about Harry’s early years, and readers of the original tome will find this version provides a greater sense of the human side of the Langdon story.

In short, Harry Langdon:  His Life and Films is the book I wanted to write in 1982, and couldn’t, for a variety of reasons. It’s tremendously satisfying to be able to finally complete my mission. I hope it will satisfy both diehard Langdon fans and those discovering the answer to the question “Who was Harry Langdon?” for the first time.

-Bill Schelly


Author’s Introduction

  1. A Handy Young Fellow
  2. Master Vaudevillian
  3. In the Movies
  4. Edwards, Ripley and Capra
  5. Actor as Auteur
  6. Prime Langdon
  7. The New Boss
  8. A Meeting of Angels
  9. Ripley Rising
  10. Time Capsule
  11. A Poor Soul
  12. The Lost Cause
  13. Heart Trouble
  14. Tough Luck
  15. Comeback
  16. The End of the Elf
  17. Stan, Ollie and Harry
  18. Anti-Climax
  19. Post Mortems



About the author