Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were arguably two of the most iconic stars of the silent screen and ultimately made the transition to the talking motion picture when it too became popular. They were known for their slapstick style of humor, and recognizable for their dress-the bowler hats with a suit and tie that appeared even in their first short film together and soon became their trademark, as well as for their differing sizes-Stan being thin and Ollie being on the larger side.
The careers of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began separately
Hardy starting out as a projectionist in a theatre, before securing work as a singer in cabaret. He found day work in the Lubin studios, making some fifty short, silent movies before moving on to work for such studios as Pathe, Vim and King Bee studios, and others and in 1924 he started working for Hal Roach Studios, where he would secure his fame as half of the comic duo.
Laurel appeared at age sixteen at the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, before joining Fred Karno’s acting troupe, and serving as Charlie Chaplin‘s understudy for a time. In 1926 he joined Hal Roach Studios as a writer and director with little intention of acting again until Oliver Hardy had an accident that meant he couldn’t act for a short time. Laurel covered for him, and in doing so gave a new kick start to his acting career. He finally found his acting forte.
1920 (approximately) marked the first joint work of, even though the two were not the pair that we grew to know and love at that point. Instead ‘The Lucky Dog’ has Hardy appear as the bad guy-a bank robber, whilst Laurel was portrayed as the film’s hero. It would be a few years before they worked together again.
The first appearence of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Their first appearance as a pairing was in ‘Duck Soup’, though this fact was disputed until 1974 when a copy of the film was found. Previously it was thought that it was a lost film, and it was believed that the two had only the most fleeting of interactions through the film however when a copy surfaced it was found that the two did indeed spend the majority of the film working together. Despite this, we wouldn’t see them officially team up until after Leo McCary over saw the filming of ‘The Second Hundred Years’ in 1927-it was he who suggested that they remained a team.
This pairing became reality in ‘Putting Pants on Phillip’ later that same year and would continue for more than thirty years. ‘The Battle of the Century’, their second paired film became well known for an elaborately choreographed custard pie fight that used up an entire day’s production of pies from the Los Angeles Pie Company. For a short time they continued to produce films together both teamed and not teamed before they became more exclusively Laurel and Hardy.
And then, we saw Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the talkies
When the talkies became popular, thrived where many silent movie stars failed, in part perhaps because of their mix of British and South American accents, and in 1929 they produced and released their first talkie. ‘Unaccustomed as We Are’ was a 21 minute short that was later re-written and expanded upon as the 1938 film ‘Block Heads’, which went on to become one of their most popular films.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are most famously known for both their attire and their catchphrases; “Why don’t you do something to help me!” and “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” The latter was first was heard in their twelfth talkie film, the twenty eight minute short movie, ‘The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case’ which released in 1930 and was a parody of two earlier. They continued on to make more than fifty more short films and feature films, the last few of which were filmed in color. The later films were produced without the artistic control and input of the actors themselves and as a result it is generally acknowledged that they lacked the spark that made them famous. For the latter half of the forties they chose to cease filming and tour Europe instead where they were received by hugely enthusiastic audiences where ever they performed.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had to stop because of health issues
Laurel had learned that he was suffering from diabetes during the war years, but despite his failing health, the pair decided to leave the stage and return to the screen in 1951, filming an Italian production called Atoll-K (aka Utopia). For many reason it was not successful, including a language barrier that they were unable to overcome.
From 1954 onwards, health became an increasing issue. Laurel was unable to perform as a part of the tour for several weeks, and later Hardy suffered a heart attack. It was at this point that they cancelled the tour.
A year later, with both recovered, they undertook negotiations with Hal Roach Studios again, aimed at producing a color series called ‘Laurel & Hardy’s Fabulous Fables’ but the negociations were never completed because of the poor health of the duo. One more television appearance was all that they managed, appearing on a BBC variety show by way of a film clip.
Soon after, Laurel had a stroke and though he recovered it was only after a long recovery period. Oliver Hardy then suffered a devastating stroke in September 1956 and although he survived it, he didn’t recover fully and spent several months, paralyzed and unable to speak. He suffered a further two strokes in early August 1957, and on August 7th Oliver Hardy passed away, having never recovered from a stroke induced coma.
Stan Laurel did not act again after Hardy’s death, only writing a few sketches for others to perform. In 1961 he received a lifetime achievement Academy Award, and was said to be saddened that Hardy wasn’t around to share it. He lived a quiet life for those last eight years, taking time to personally answer fan mail. He suffered a heart attack and died several days later on February 23rd, 1965.
His sense of humor remained throughout his illness, and his self authored epitaph read:
If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.”
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