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Tea maven's just wild about Harry

Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

If you're addicted to coffee, you may not have had the pleasure of a chat with Wayne Powers. The proprietor of Tea Rex ( knows the oolong and the short of the tea business, but the sometime actor also has anecdotes and strong opinions about show business. – including the belief that silent film comedian Harry Langdon belongs in the same pantheon as Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Powers articulates that belief in “The Harry Langdon Collection: Lost and Found,” a four-DVD set of shorts from the 1920s, where he does commentary on “The First 100 Years” and “Luck O' the Foolish.” Powers also gets kudos in William Schelly's biography “Harry Langdon: His Life and Films,” which uses pictures from his collection.

Langdon became an unlikely star at 40 after leaving vaudeville, but his screen persona – the Little Elf, a chubby-cheeked chap overmatched by everyday situations – remained popular for just a decade. Powers, who spent allowance money as a boy buying 8mm Langdon films in New York, believes his man “changed the face of comedy in America” by slowing gags down and humanizing their victim, showing a frailty other comics wouldn't want to reveal.

Powers, the discs and book all make a good case for Langdon, who also wrote films for Laurel and Hardy before dying in 1944. If you want to hear Powers make it in person, visit Tea Rex at 2102 South Blvd., Suite 150.

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