Part of their secret is the simplicity of their humor. It is universal and everyone, young or old, anywhere in the world can relate to them instantly. Their innocent warmth, charisma and casual style of comedy transcend all political and language barriers. They speak the same language to people everywhere. It is the language of comedy.
Laurel and Hardy made over 100 movies together, from 1926 to 1951 beginning with short two-reelers, and then progressing to feature length films such as 'Sons of the Desert' in 1933 and 'Way Out West' in 1937. Their most acclaimed period was before 1940 when they were with the Hal Roach studio. After that they had less artistic licence and their movies became more formulaic and less spontaneous.
Even today, over half a century later, they are still instantly recognisable and their punchlines are fondly recognised and remembered : "I'm Mr. Hardy, and this is my friend, Mr. Laurel." "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" . Individually they were brilliant actors; together they were unique comedy geniuses forming a partnership which will never be forgotten.
Stan Laurel (1890-1965)Stan Laurel was the dynamo behind the success of laurel and Hardy. As well as being a clever and experienced actor, he had great skill as a writer, movie director, and editor. When Oliver Hardy was asked about the secret behind their success, he simply replied, "Ask Stan."
Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on 16th of June, 1890, in Ulverston, Cumbria in northern England. He had two brothers and a sister and came from a theatrical family. Both his parents were prominent stage actors and for much of his boyhood Stanley lived with his grandmother in County Durham where he attended school, until he moved with his family to Glasgow, where his father had become manager of the Metropole Theater
From a young age Stanley showed an interest in the stage and his early ambition was to be a music hall comedian. From the age of 15 he used to play truant from school in order to watch and study the comics at the Britannia Pantopticon theater in Glasgow, and he made his debut there when he was just 16 years old.
By 1910, he was good enough to be invited to join Fred Karno's traveling comedy troupe where he was both a featured performer and understudy to its main star, one Charles Chaplin. He travelled with the Karno troupe to America in 1910 returning to Britain to resume touring. In 1913 he returned with the Karno troupe and this time he stayed, touring for several years in vaudeville.. He also appeared with the actress Mae Cuthbert, with whom he lived for 6 years from 1919, although never marrying. When Stan began getting the occasional walk on role in the fast developing new medium of motion pictures and decided that the thirteen letters in his stage name of Stan Jefferson was unlucky, it was Mae who suggested the surname of Laurel and from 1919 he was always billed as Stan Laurel.
He made several short movies between 1917 and 1924, whilst still touring the vaudeville circuit, including in 1921 making 'The Lucky Dog' with a certain Oliver Hardy although nothing came of it at the time.
In 1924 Stan gave up the stage completely in order to concentrate on movies and he was given a contract by stuntman turned-producer Joe Rock to make 12 comedy shorts. He was constantly learning and honing his comedic skills and when his contract with Rock ended he was hired by producer, Hal Roach, primarily as a writer and director,only acting as a performer occasionally when needed. He directed 'Yes, Yes, Nanette' (starring Oliver Hardy) in 1925, and directed and wrote for many other movies during 1925 and 1926. In all, prior to his partnership with Hardy, he appeared in over sixty movies.
During 1926 Stan became a regular and important part of the group known as The Hal Roach All-Stars and was given more performing roles by Hal Roach. Iit gradually became obvious that whenever he and Oliver were in the same scene together, some special comic spark was ignited. At first there was no real effort to make them a team but as they appeared in more films together, their partnership became inevitable. Their first film as a comedy team was 1927's "Putting Pants on Philip". Together they began producing a large number of short brilliant comic films. The team of Laurel and Hardy was born.
Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)He was born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia, on January 18, 1892, the youngest of five children. His father died when he was a baby and his mother, Emily became the breadwinner, working as a hotel manager first in Madison and later in Midgeville, Georgia.
Norvell showed little interest in schoolwork but took part enthusiastically in school stage productions and from the age of eight performed with local minstrel shows. He was a talented singer and he decided on a musical career.
In 1910, aged 18, he became manager of a movie theater which had opened in Midgeville. He became an enthusiastic follower of the fast-growing new medium of movies and decided on a movie acting career. Around this time he started using the first name "Oliver", as a tribute to his father and from 1910 onwards he always styled himself "Oliver Norvell Hardy".
In 1913 he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he found movie work at the Lubin Film Company and also worked as a cabaret and vaudeville singer at night. He appeared in comic shorts from the outset, often as the comic villain thanks to his 250lb bulk. Oliver spent the next 10 years gaining experience making silent movies for various companies. Between 1916 and 1918 he made a name for himself in the comedy series 'Plump and Runt', and he also spent time working freelance for several Hollywood movie companies.
For five years from 1918 he partnered Larry Semon, then a major name in film comedy, and he played the Tinman in Semon's 'The Wizard of Oz' in 1925. He also worked with other well known silent movie comics such as Billy West, Jimmy Aubrey, and Bobby Ray. In 1921 he appeared in the movie 'Lucky Dog' with Stan Laurel, another young comedian learning his trade.
In 1924, and already a well known face in silent movies, Hardy signed with the Hal Roach studios, working with such headline acts as Our Gang and Charley Chase. He appeared in the 'Comedy All-Stars' series, and he came into contact again with the young British comic, Stan Laurel, who had also signed with Roach as a writer and director. Stan directed Oliver in the movie 'Yes, Yes Nanette' in 1925.
Stan was appearing more and more in front of the camera and he and Oliver began to share scenes together in movies such as 'Slipping Wives' and 'With Love and Hisses' in 1927. They were not yet "Laurel and Hardy" but the comedic chemistry between them was obvious. Roach's supervising director was future Academy Award-winning director, Leo McCarey, and he began teaming them together deliberately. Gradually the comedians began to develop the characters and interraction which have become so familiar today.
Laurel and Hardy were on their way.
Laurel and Hardy
The characters of Laurel and Hardy which have become so well known today did not appear immediately. The first movies in which they appeared together were part of the normal output of the Roach Organisation and although the two men gelled perfectly they were not yet fully recognisable as "Laurel and Hardy". 'Slipping Wives' in 1927 which features Priscilla Deans, one of the top stars of the 1920's, above both Laurel and Hardy, is a clever film which features a virtuoso performance by Stan Laurel, who steals the show. 'Duck Soup' in the same year, includes a bowler hatted Stan and a top hatted Oliver but its humor is frenetic compared to the cleverer, better paced offerings to come from the duo.
Nevertheless, Leo McCarey, the supervising director of the Hal Roach studio, had seen enough of the two together onscreen to know that they had something special. He put them together more and more and gradually the magic of the partnership began to work. Stan and Ollie went on to make over seventy films during their period with Roach between 1926 and 1940.
They started making a great number of short movies such as 'The Battle of the Century' in 1927, 'Should Married Men Go Home?, and 'Two Tars' in 1928, and when Talkies arrived made a serene and clever transition with 'Unaccustomed As We Are' in 1929. They were amongst the first to realise that the frenetic action of silent slapstick should be slowed down for the more mundane pacing of sound film comedy.
Their best work came between 1930 and 1938 with such gems as 'County Hospital' in 1932, 'The Devil's Brother' and 'Busy Bodies' in 1933, 'Them Thar Hills'' in 1934, 'The Bohemian Girl' in 1936, 'Way Out West' in 1937 and 'Block-Heads' in 1938. One of the highlights of their career as a double act was 'The Music Box' winning the Academy Award for "Best Live Action Short Subject" of 1932, the first short to be so honored and the only Oscar the Boys ever won.
They continued to make shorts until 1935 but during this time they also began to create highly successful feature length comedies too, beginning with 'Pardon Us' in 1931 and continuing with the classic 'Sons of the Desert' in 1933 and 'Babes in Toyland' in 1934, (also known as 'March of the Wooden Soldiers') which has become a much loved Christmas evergreen.
During the making of 'Babes in Toyland' the relationship between Stan and Hal Roach grew more and more tense after major disagreements between them over the film's plot. Stan and Oliver continued making movies for Roach until 1940 when they split after making their final Roach film 'A Chump at Oxford', and joined up with two of the major studios, 20th Century Fox and MGM, in the hope that they would have more freedom to project their ideas on screen.
In reality the opposite happened. They were treated as 'B' movie performers and were not allowed to contribute to the scripts or improvise on set. The films they made at this time, such as 'A-Haunting We Will Go' in 1942, 'Nothing But Trouble' in 1944 and, their final American film, 'The Bullfighters' in 1945, did not have the same style or quality as their Roach films although they were popular with the public and commercially very successful.
The team's final movie was 'Atoll K' in 1951, which was a major disappointment, due in no small part to the ill health of both Stan and Ollie. It was the end of their illustrious film careers.
Final YearsApart from 'Atoll K' their work after 1945 was focused primarily on live theater in stage tours around Europe. They first of all toured the music halls of Britain in 1947-8 to great acclaim and followed with other successful tours of Ireland and mainland Europe in 1952 and 1953-4.
Both Stan and Ollie had been heavy smokers all their lives and suffered health problems which affected the latter stages of their careers. In December, 1954, they made their only American television appearance, an unplanned and unrehearsed edition of 'This Is Your Life'. The success of the show led to renewed negotiations for the Boys to do a series of American TV shows called 'Laurel and Hardy's Fabulous Fables' but the declining health of the performers caused the plans to be shelved.
Oliver had a mild heart attack in 1954 followed by a series of strokes over the next few years that left him paralyzed and he lost the ability to speak. He was nursed during his last illness by his wife, Lucille. Oliver Hardy died on August 7, 1957. He was 65 years old. He was buried at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California.
At the time of Ollie's death Stan was himself recovering from a stroke and was too ill to go to his partner's funeral, saying, "Babe would understand." After Ollie's death Stan never made another public appearance.
Stan Laurel died on February 23, 1965, in his apartment in Santa Monica, of a heart attack. He was 75.
Laurel and Hardy - An AppreciationLaurel and Hardy, even today, are two of the most instantly recognisable movie personalities in the world. Their comedy crosses all frontiers and their movies are still watched and enjoyed everywhere. And their comedy still makes us laugh.
The secret of their comic success lies partly in the physical differences between the two men - Laurel was slim and of average height, but appeared diminutive beside Hardy, who stood 6 feet one inch tall and weighed almost 300 lbs. They accentuated their differences by their dress, hairstyles and physical mannerisms. Laurel in a slightly over-large jacket with bow tie and Hardy in a jacket which was slightly too tight and with a tie which he twiddled to great effect. Both wore bowler hats ("derbies" in the US), Stan's was too large and Ollie's too small.
Both men were brilliant and experienced movie actors. Hardy in particular had made over 100 movie shorts before he and Stan paired up and Stan himself had made over 60 movies before the pairing. Laurel had also received a good training in the nuts and bolts of movie making during his early years with Roach and he made the most of it. Stan was the brains and creative force behind Laurel and Hardy and during the years with Hal Roach he was allowed to make decisions on every aspect of their movies - writing, gags, sound, costumes and he acted as director no matter who the official director was. While Ollie was a more laid-back character, Stan was a workaholic who spent many hours at the studio, writing and editing, after the acting had stopped.
Their comedy takes many forms. There is the basic slapstick, such as Ollie getting his hand buttered by Stan in 'Utopia', or falling into the pond in 'The Music Box'. There are the mannerisms and facial expressions - Stan blinking his eyes and looking dumb, or scratching his head and crying in falsetto, Ollie looking frustrated and staring directly at the camera - the "fourth wall", bringing the audience into the action. They also use wordplay brilliantly as in the "Tell me that again" routines whereby Stan, in a highly articulate way, would tell Ollie about an idea he has had, but Ollie doesn't understand and asks him to repeat it. When Stan repeats it in a jumbled, completely nonsensical way, Ollie immediately understands.
The comedy which they made their own was the 'Tit for Tat' routine of polite but ever escalating violence. An item would be destroyed by an adversary, he or she would then politely and calmly wait whilst Laurel or Hardy would destroy something belonging to them, then wait their turn to be the victim, and so on.
Above all it is the relationship between the two men, both on screen and off which makes them unique as a comedy team. They are the perfect complement to each other; they share the gags between them and each acts beautifully as the straight man to the other. Off screen they were good friends and Hardy was perfectly content to let Stan run things at the studio. They are unique. They are funny. They are Laurel and Hardy and they will never be forgotten.
Laurel and Hardy Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Live Action Short Subject ... The Music Box (1932)
Laurel and Hardy Filmography
The Lucky Dog
Forty Five Minutes From Hollywood
Love 'Em and Weep
Why Girls Love Sailors
With Love and Hisses
The Second Hundred Years
Now I'll Tell One
Call Of the Cuckoo
Do Detectives Think
Putting Pants on Phillip
The Battle of the Century
Leave 'Em Laughing
The Finishing Touch
From Soup to Nuts
You're Darn Tootin'
Their Purple Moment
Should Married Men Go Home
Early To Bed
We Faw Down
That's My Wife
Unaccustomed as We Are
Men O ' War
A Perfect Day
They Go Boom
Hollywood Review of 1929
The Laurel - Hardy Murder Case
Another Fine Mess
Chickens Come Home
The Stolen Jools
One Good Turn
On The Loose
Any Old Port
The Music Box
Scram Sound Short
Pack Up Your Troubles
Their First Mistake
Me and My Pal
The Midnight Patrol
Sons of the Desert
Oliver the Eighth
Going Bye Bye
Them Thar Hills
Babes in Toyland
The Live Ghost
Tit For Tat
The Fixer Uppers
Thicker Than Water
The Bohemian Girl
On The Wrong Trek
Way Out West
Pick a Star
The Flying Deuces