Philip Joseph Landon, 71, UMBC English professor

November 11, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Philip Joseph Landon, a former chairman of the English department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and nationally recognized authority on American war films, died Wednesday from complications of open-heart surgery at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He was 71.

Dr. Landon was born and raised in Springfield, Mass., and earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1956. After two years in Army intelligence and assignment in Berlin, he returned to the university and earned his master's degree.

After earning his doctorate in English from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1967, he joined the faculty of the fledgling UMBC, founded a year earlier.

"When he came here there was one multipurpose building, a farmhouse and 500 acres. And he never lost his original inspiration for being a teacher," said Ken Baldwin, the current English department chairman.

Dr. Landon played a major role in building UMBC's English department and was its longest-serving chairman. Described by colleagues as one of the department's most "versatile figures," Dr. Landon was a specialist in the Victorian novel, American Renaissance and history of satire.

"Phil steered the department through many difficult times and helped keep it focused on its strengths. He was a New Englander in the best sense and had an automatic sense of what was fair," said William Edinger, a UMBC English teacher.

"He was a master and extremely effective teacher in all subjects. He also had a wide-ranging mind of blinding speed and a deep intellectual curiosity, and it didn't matter whether it was in his field or not," said Wallace Shugg, a retired UMBC English teacher and author. "He was a man full of the love of life, possessed of a great rapier-like wit and a wonderful friend."

"He was not a showman in the classroom," Dr. Edinger said. "His rather intense personality worked well in the classroom as he related the social, moral and political importance of literature to his students."

A popular course that Dr. Landon taught was "Novels into Film," which consistently attained the highest enrollment in the department. He also pioneered other courses in film, and its relation to prose fiction and popular culture.

It was Dr. Landon's theory that war movies blur the line between fact and fiction and distort the actual experience of war.

"War is the major event of the 20th century," he told The Evening Sun in 1978. "Generally speaking, war films deal with modern, industrial warfare. They put as much emphasis on machines as they do on people, even more. This is partially because in war, machines are more important than people. In fact, even today, we're trying to develop ways to kill people without damaging machines."

"He was a jolly man who never worried about the administration's opinion of him, or for that matter, anyone else's," said Christopher Corbett, a Baltimore author and UMBC English instructor. "And when he retired in 2000, it was an enormous event. There was a strong turnout of faculty, staff and students who jammed a Little Italy restaurant. And when he retired, people were sorry to see him go."

Dr. Landon did biographical work on writers Owen Wister, Ambrose Bierce and Richard Harding Davis. He also regularly addressed scholarly conferences on film and popular culture, wrote movie reviews, and was a guest editor of the scholarly journal Film and History.

Dr. Landon enjoyed spending summers at his cottage in Mount Vernon, Maine. He moved from Baltimore's Washington Hill neighborhood to Plymouth, Mass., shortly after retiring. His hobbies were gardening and building models of World War II aircraft.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Christ Episcopal Church in Plymouth, Mass.

Survivors include his wife of five years, the former Nancy Cole; a son, Robert Berard Landon of Berkeley, Calif.; a daughter, Sarah Landon of Baltimore; a sister, Jane Landon of Springfield, Mass.; and a granddaughter. His marriages to the former Shirley Smith and Beth Swartz ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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