Harry and I both share a talent and passion for art, specifically drawing, painting, cartooning, sculpture, carving, carpentry. When he wasn't shooting films, aside from playing the piano, composing songs and story writing, Harry was indulging in art of some kind. Since I now make my living as a scenic artist, this is one of the most significant commonalities with the others being our similar personality traits, writing ability, music preference and physical appearance. Over the last 20 years, I have found a lot of evidence that indicates how prolific an artist Harry was.
Harry and I both started drawing when we were children and we were both mostly self-taught. Harry officially entered show business in 1899 when he was 15. He toured with circuses, medicine shows and minstrel troupes, and between gigs Harry returned home to Council Bluffs, Iowa where he would resume cartooning for the local newspaper or help his father who was a sign painter. (My old boss, whom I worked for painting backdrops the last 18 years was a former sign and billboard painter). Harry utilized his art skills throughout his vaudeville career which lasted from 1906-1923. He drew all the advertisements for his act, built his trick auto out of wood, painted and built his own scenery and backdrops. In the theater lobby, between acts, he would sometimes draw caricatures for extra money, but I really believe it was more of a publicity stunt. I have many candid photos from his personal life and behind the scenes of films, showing Harry drawing. I drew my first caricatures in 7th grade of our teachers and would sell copies to my classmates, but I was always drawing as far back as I can remember. You'll notice a similar look in the comparison photos of our artwork, as though they were done by the same person. Those are further down towards the bottom of the page.
Between gigs, when Harry returned to Council Bluffs Iowa, where he was born and where his family lived, he would help his dad in his sign painting business or draw cartoons for the local paper. Harry was 17 in 1901. (Harter & Hayde, LITTLE ELF pg. 26)
Harry in vaudeville in 1906 doing a lightning sketch act with wife Rose. (photo from Harry Jr.'s book, NOTHING ON A STAGE IS PERMANENT)
1920 interview with Harry (Hayde & Harter, LITTLE ELF pg. 23) and the earliest caricatures I ever did of teachers in school, age 13 in 1991...same age as Harry when he was employed as a cartoonist for his local paper.
1927 article by Dan Thomas (Hayde & Harter, LITTLE ELF pg. 185)
In 1923, Harry was looking for a career change. He wanted to leave vaudeville and try something else. He was contemplating opening an art stuidio but transitioned into movies instead. (Oldham, KING OF SILENT COMEDY pg. 43)
I couldn't find out the year Ed Watz interviewed Gladys McConnell, guessing sometime in the late 70s, early 80s. She is referring to the 1927 film, THREE'S A CROWD which Harry also directed. I don't have examples of Harry's set design sketches but I have a couple of my own to illustrate her quote. I'm assuming they would've looked somewhat the same. Visit Downloads section for a full size version of these sketches.
1933, a photo from my personal collection with original description on the reverse
1935, behind the scenes of the film ATLANTIC ADVENTURE, Harry caricaturing his co-star, Nancy Carroll.
Harry in 1942 drawing caricatures at the Hollywood Canteen for the servicemen and me doing the same in 2017 at a birthday party for the kiddos. (Oldham, KING OF SILENT COMEDY pg. 268). This is my favorite image of Harry drawing.
On the left is a 1930 photo from my personal collection with its newspaper description on the reverse. I paired it with pg. 212 from LITTLE ELF, because it shows the caricatures Harry was drawing in that photo. I really don't like seeing these paparazzi-like images of Harry in court--not a happy time in his life and very embarrassing, especially for someone as private as Harry, to have your personal troubles publicized in newspapers nationwide. It was yet another example of Harry caught in the act drawing, so that's why I'm including it.
Harry worked with clay and wood though I have only found a couple photographic examples. In 1939, he sculpted the cast of the film, ZENOBIA sitting on an elephant for his son. I've carved wood, clay, alabaster stone, hard foam. (pg. 255 Oldham, King of Silent Comedy)
A photo from my collection again with its original description on the reverse. From 1933...Harry's mom passed away in 1929, during a time he was going through a lot of personal and professional turmoil. He went through the wringer and it shows on his face. Harry sculpted mom wearing her Salvation Army bonnet.
A quote I really admire from Harry's son, Harry Langdon Jr. (Oldham, King of Silent Comedy pg. 243-244). Incidentally, my own dad (he passed away in 2016) had a woodshop in our basement and garage. He did woodworking as a hobby and I picked up some rudimentary carpentry skills from him, much the same way Harry Jr. learned from his dad. Funny how things come full circle.
Guess which one Is mine? The one on the right, and strangely enough I wasn't looking at or even thinking about Harry's artwork at the time I did any of the drawings or paintings I chose for these comparisons. I was not intentionally trying to paint "like him". I was drawing/painting in my own natural style. These are both watercolors. Harry did his in 1936 and mine was 2017. What intrigues me are the similar colors--we both used a greenish-blue in the shadows, same bright yellow green in the grass. They were done 81 years apart, completely different paint brands, different brushes, 2 different bodies AND I wasn't even looking at Harry's original at the time I painted mine....yet they look so similar. The only consistent factor between the two is that they were created by the same soul.
Harry's watercolor on the left, mine on the right. Note similar colors again. I circled his name because it was hard to find. Both of Harry's paintings were scanned from the book NOTHING ON A STAGE IS PERMANENT, by his son Harry Langdon Jr.
A 1930 comic strip page by Harry. Harry Jr. sent me this in 2015, 15 years after I drew the page on the right. I remember when I drew my strip in 2000, I was heavily influenced by Winsor McCay's LITTLE NEMO comic strips.
Another comic strip Harry Jr. sent me in 2015, long after I had drawn mine. Harry's dates from 1928, mine from 2000. You can see the rest of my "Vern Dents Harry's Hat" comic in the downloads section....this is only half of it. Notice the dialog bubble and the writing inside looks similar. My "Y" slants here but matches better in the "Vacuum" comic.
Circa 1912 11x14 advertising card for Harry's vaudeville act. Harry drew the original then had copies made at Apeda Photography Studio in New York. Harry Jr. sent me this hi res scan. I paired it with an ink drawing. I have a preference for sepia colored ink. By the way, that dapper fellow in the tux is actually Harry's brother, Tully. Harry is wearing the overcoat and cap. When I cartoon Harry these days, he looks a lot like the way Harry drew Tully.
Another 1912 vaudeville advertisement. I got this from an ebay listing so it's a low res image. It lacks the sharpness of the scan Harry Jr. sent me.
1921 caricatures by Harry of actors from the broadway show, JIM JAM JEMS and a commissioned drawing I did for a friend. They requested specific comedians, including some modern ones. Notice how much Moe Howard resembles Ned Sparks. Once again, I was not looking at or thinking about Harry's artwork. I was drawing in my own natural style.