Harry L. Langdon was an American comedian who appeared in vaudeville, silent films, and talkies. He was briefly partnered with Oliver Hardy.
Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he began working in vaudeville then joined Vitagraph Movie Studios. He eventually went over to Keystone Studios where he became a major star. 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.
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 were The Strong Man, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp and Long Pants. After his initial success, Langdon took creative control of his films and career, but his appeal faded soon afterward. His last starring silent feature was made in 1928. 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. 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.
Harry Langdon's babyish character didn't adapt well to sound films; as producer Hal Roach remarked, "he was not so funny articulate." But Langdon was a big enough name to command leads in short subjects for Educational Pictures and Columbia Pictures. In 1938 he adopted a Caspar Milquetoast-type, henpecked-husband character that served him well, he also contributed to comedy scripts as a writer, notably for Laurel and Hardy. Langdon continued to work steadily in low-budget features and shorts, always playing mild-mannered goofs, into the 1940s. As a point of interest, when Hal Roach was in a contract dispute with Stan Laurel, one-half of the great Laurel and Hardy comedic pair, the studio paired Langdon with Oliver Hardy in a 1939 film titled Zenobia.