Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

After your tour of the virtual cemetery, don't forget to visit the official store (or the brand new downtown location) on your way out and pick up a souvenir or two. Thanks!

Harry Langdon

(June 15, 1884 - Dec. 22, 1944)

Feb. 22, 2010 -- In the 1920s, there were four performers who were universally considered the top silent film comedians -- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon. Even casual film fans probably don't have any trouble remembering the first three. They are still recognized today as comedy geniuses and film legends, and their films and their reputations live on.

But Harry Langdon? Who remembers him? Who can even name one film he appeared in?

Langdon was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He made his first stage appearance at an amateur talent show in Omaha in 1896, then a year later, at the age of 12, he ran away from home to join Dr. Belcher's Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show, which took him to small towns throughout the Midwest. In 1903, when he was 19, Langdon came up with an act called "Johnny's New Car" -- a pantomime act which featured Langdon at the mercy of his automobile, which slowly, piece by piece, falls apart on stage. Taking advantage of the nation's new interest and fascination with the automobile, Langdon performed the act with great success in vaudeville theaters across the country for the next 20 years.

In 1923, Langdon was a top headliner in vaudeville, making $1,500 a week -- the equivalent of nearly $20,000 today. Langdon signed a film contract with Principal Pictures, and moved to Keystone Film Company when Mack Sennett bought his contract. But Sennett wasn't sure what to do with Langdon. Most of the Keystone films featured fast action, broad humor and endless pie-throwing slapstick, while Langdon's specialty was slow-moving pantomine and reaction to the things going on around him. Early in his career with Keystone, Landgon worked often with a young writer-director named Frank Capra. "Nobody knew what to do with this guy who took an hour to wink," Capra recalled.

Langdon and Capra developed a character of an innocent, naive, indecisive and helpless man-child who found himself in dramatic and dangerous circumstances. But Langdon didn't battle his circumstances, like the other top film comedians. At least not successfully. He just reacted, and waited until the situations and circumstances resolved themselves.

Langdon appeared in 12 films in 1924, and 10 in 1925. In 1926, he left Keystone to form his own film company, The Harry Langdon Corporation, bringing Capra with him. The three films for which he is best remembered are "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" (1926), co-starring Joan Crawford, with Langdon entering a cross-country walking race to impress the woman he loves, and winning when a tornado blows him across the finish line; "The Strong Man" (1926), directed by Capra, with Langdon as a meek Belgian soldier who has to fill in for the circus strongman to win the girl of his dreams; and "Long Pants" (1927), also directed by Capra, with Langdon as the son of over-protective parents. When he finally gets his first pair of long pants, he take off after a fast woman in the big city, but eventually realizes the error of his ways, and returns to marry his small-town sweetheart. At the height of his career, Langdon was making $7,500 per week, a fortune for the times.

After the success of "Long Pants," with critics comparing him to Chaplin, Langdon started to believe his own publicity, and he decided that he could do everything that Chaplin did, including direct his own films. So he dumped Capra, and directed his next film, "Three's a Crowd" (1927), which was a commercial and critical flop. Langdon also directed himself in "The Chaser" (1928) and "Heart Trouble" (1928), which also failed to attract much attention. After six films, The Harry Langdon Corporation was bankrupt and folded, Langdon's reputation as a top film comedian was over, and he returned to performing in vaudeville.

In the three films he directed himself, Langdon focused on the darker side of his comedy, which audiences and critics failed to accept. And the split with Capra might have accelerated Langdon's decline, in more ways than one. After Langdon made claims that he was the real director of "The Strong Man" and "Long Pants," and that Capra was merely a gag man, Capra responded by writing a letter to every movie columnist in Hollywood, saying that Langdon was conceited, egotistical and impossible to work with.

In 1929, Langdon signed with Hal Roach to make two-reel sound comedies but, after filming eight shorts, he was fired. In 1934, Langdon, now 50 years old, signed with Columbia Pictures, where he wrote and sometimes starred in a series of comedy shorts. He also worked for the Hal Roach Studio again, writing for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on films including "Block-Heads" (1938), "The Flying Deuces" (1939), "A Chump at Oxford" (1940) and "Saps at Sea" (1940). When Roach was in a contract dispute with Laurel in 1939, the studio paired Hardy with Langdon in "Zenobia" (1939).

Langdon died of a cerebral hemorrage in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 1944. He is buried in the West Mausoleum at Grand View Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif. Capra said Langdon "died of a broken heart."

Though Langdon is largely forgotten by film fans today, his hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, celebrated Harry Langdon Day in 1999, and dedicated Harry Langdon Boulevard. Langdon was married four times, and had one child, also named Harry Langdon, who is a well-known celebrity photographer.

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