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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Laurel & Hardy

We normally don't think of them as radio performers and they only did one radio show with their names on it--The Laurel and Hardy Show, March 6, 1944. It was a pilot that shouldn't have gotten any further than the parking lot at Radio City West at the corner of Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

But the guys also did one very impressive skit on Mail Call, a show on the Armed Forces Radio Service, on November 24, 1943. This Blogger can recall listening to other fine shows heard on old time radio. They were all around, multitalented performers who belong on this list as much as anyone else included.

After the death of Oliver Hardy in 1957, Stan Laurel went into seclusion (he actually had a nervous breakdown). He came out a few times to do some fantastic radio interviews, which often appear as downloads on the Internet.

Stan Laurel (1890-1965) Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born June 16, 1890, in Ulverston, Cumbria, England. His father was Arthur J. "A.J." Jefferson, an actor and theater manager. Stan (who was always called "Stan," because his father's name was also Arthur) made his acting debut in Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 16. He then joined a troupe of comedic actors led by impressario Fred Karno (born Frederick John Westcott, 1880-1941) who often toured around the world. He arrived in Hollywood in 1917 (in his first movie, he was listed as Stan Jefferson). Motion picture actor Charle Chaplin (1889-1977) also went to America on the same trip. In 1918 he began shacking up with actress Mae Dahlberg (1888-1969), who was married to another actor. Both Stan and Mae changed their names to Laurel. They broke up in 1925. He then married actress Lois Nielsen (1895-1990).
Stan was not only a brilliant actor but also a director. He had been working as a stage actor, film actor, and director in the early 1920s. In 1927, he teamed with Oliver Hardy for some short films that Stan was directing for the Hal Roach Studios. They worked under contract with Hal Roach (1892-1992) until personal problems, including drunk driving. In1930 his second child, a son, died at the age of nine days. Stan's first child, Lois Laurel, later an actress, was born in 1928. After the contract with Hal Roach was finished, Stan also divorced Lois Nielsen and married Virginia Ruth Rogers (d. 1976--she was called Ruth), who had been in the motion picture Sons of the Desert (1933) with him. They divorced in 1938, when he marriedRussian opera star Vera Ivanova "Illiana" (or "Illeana") Shuvalova. Vera had a fiery temper and the marriage lasted only 16-1/2 months.

After the contract with Hal Roach was over, they signed with 2oth Century-Fox in 1939. They would do one movie for Fox, then Stan discovered his health was failing (from diabetes) and decided to take some time off to recuperate. He had begun his own motion picture company, Stan Laurel Productions. It specialized in westerns, starring Fred Scott (1902-91), who had been the baritone soloist of the San Francisco Opera. Fred's horse was named White King, which was the brand name of a popular laundry detergent in Los Angeles through the 1980s. These films were done on a low budget but with a lot of attention to detail Stan loved westerns and strove to do a good job. They were distributed by a company called Spectrum Films. After making westerns for about six years, Stan's accountants showed that the films were losing money and he reluctantly pulled the plug on his pet project.

Laurel and Hardy did some 80 contractual films for 20th Century-Fox. After that, they did one more film, Atoll K (1951), in France, which is said to be one of the worst movies ever made. Stan had a stroke in 1955 and was in retirement status after that. In June 1957, Ralph Edwards featured Laurel and Hardy for his This is Your Life television show (which was heard on radio in parts of the United States that didn't have TV yet). Oliver Hardy died a few months after this and Stan had a nervous breakdown. He was not able to go to the funeral.

After recovery, Stan vowed never to perform comedy again. He became a great influence to several popular comedy performers of the time, including Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke. Jerry Lewis wanted to hire Stan as a creative consultant for some of his movies, but he refused. Stan did keep contact with these men and his ideas were incorporated into much of their work. Jerry often went to visit him at home and got ideas for The Bellboy (1960), a movie he was making at the time.

In 1961 he won an Oscar, the Lifetime Achievement Award. It was one of the few public appearances he made. But he was a very public person. Stan lived in a modest apartment in Santa Monica with his wife. He answered every piece of fan mail he received PERSONALLY. And he kept his phone number (including his address) listed in the directory.

Stan Laurel died February 23, 1965, in Santa Monica, California, at his apartment. He was 74 years old.  At his funeral, Dick Van Dyke gave his eulogy. Stan is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles.

Some things about Stan Laurel: After settling down in his fifth marriage, he finally decided to settle down with his life. He had already become a United States citizen. He had been in the country for thirty years by that time. Stan loved America and he loved being an American.

Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)  Norvell Hardy was born January 18, 1892, in Harlem, Georgia (USA), which is near Augusta. His father, Oliver Hardy, a prominent lawyer and a Civil War veteran for the Confederacy, died when Norvell was 10 months old.  His mother, Emily Norvell, ran a successful hotel in Harlem after her husband's death. As a youngster, Norvell showed great promise as a singer. His mother sent him to a boarding school near Atlanta where he also received singing lessons. Norvell would run away from there so he could sing "professionally" at the Alcazar Theater (it showed movies) for $3.50 a week. Eventually, he would be sent off to military school, which also didn't work out. It was his mother's dream for Norvell to be a lawyer, just as his father was. But that wasn't Norvell's idea.

Now, it should be pointed out that his nickname, throughout his life, was Babe. He got this from his boyish looks, even though he was huge, even as a baby. Girls fell in love with him on sight. 

In 1910, Babe ran a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia. Actually he was the projectionist, ticket taker, and manager. He did this so he could attend law school during the day. In 1913 he got a chance to act in the movies at the Lubin Studios in Jacksonville, Florida. At night he performed in cabaret and vaudeville. It was there he met and married his first wife, Madelyn Saloshin, a concert pianist. 

In 1914 he made his first movie, Outwitting Dad. He used the name O.N. Hardy, as he had taken his father's name to preserve his memory. He made many more movies for the Lubin Studios. After that film he went by the name Babe Hardy in the credits. Eventually, Babe moved to New York to make several movies for the Pathe, Edison, and Casino studios in New Jersey. Then he went back to Jacksonville, where he worked for the Vim and King Bee studios. Since he weighed over 300 pounds, he usually played menacing characters. He moved to Los Angeles in 1917.

He worked for the Vitagraph Studios between 1917 and 1920, making more than 40 movies for director Larry Semon (1889-1928). Larry was also an actor. He went golfing with Babe, which became Babe's biggest addiction.  It was with Larry Semon that Babe worked with Stan Laurel for the first time, in the picture The Lucky Dog (1921).

Babe and his wife separated in 1919, leading to a divorce in 1920. He married actress Myrtle Lee Reeves (1897-1993), which was a very unpleasant experience and Myrtle became an alcoholic. They would finally divorce in 1937.

In 1924, Babe came under contract to the Hal Roach Studio. He began working with Stan Laurel in films, though not as a team. In Yes, Yes, Nannette (1925), Stan was the director. In 1926, a hot leg of lamb changed both the men's lives as the leg of lamb, which was quite real (and quite hot) caused Babe to get injured. Stan, who was writing now for Hal Roach, was called in to fill in Babe's scenes. The two men were also in 45 Minutes from Hollywood, although they weren't in any scenes together.

The Laurel and Hardy team actually started in 1927. There were well over 250 movies together. To be honest though, their relationship was only a working relationship. They had very little to do with each other outside the studio. Stan liked to go camping and hunt while Babe could play a whole day of golf and not get tired from it. Good friends, no. But they had a lot of personal respect and admiration for each other. Babe acted more like what people expected a Hollywood actor to be. Stan was the quiet neighbor next door who was always there when you needed him.

In 1940, Babe married actress Virginia Lucille Jones. This was a happy marriage that lasted until Babe's death. Babe never had any children.

There were three movies that Babe did without Stan during the years of their partnership: Zenobia (1939) in which he played a country doctor who was called on to cure a sick circus elephant, The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) in which he played John Wayne's parter,  and Riding High (1950) which starred his close friend, Bing Crosby (he was also a close friend of John Wayne). In 1948, Stan was found to be diabetic and Babe had to keep working. During the time Babe was making the last two movies here, Stan was in the hospital.

The two returned to the screen in 1951's Atoll K. Not the greatest movie, simply because it was filmed in France with a film crew that included French, Italians, Germans, British, Americans, and others, the scriptwriter, Leo Joannon, didn't know how to write comedy for Laurel and Hardy, so Stan often stayed up for hours rewriting their scenes.

They also appeared on an episode of This is Your Life on December 4, 1954, which was also heard on NBC radio. Much of the writing for this article came from watching that program.

Despite what some people thought (and still think), Babe was actually the more healthy of the two men. Stan was now diabetic and, in 1955, suffered a stroke but recovered.  But later on that year, Babe had a heart attack. He took it upon himself to make his life healthier. He never stopped smoking. But he thought it was his obesity that was making him sick. So he took stern measures to lose weight.

In ten months, he went from being over 300 pounds to a more respectable 150 pounds. Unfortunately, his body couldn't take it. He suffered a massive stroke on September 14, 1956. He became aphasiac, losing the power of speech. His wife, Virginia, took care of him and stayed constantly at his bedside. Babe had several more strokes before he died after being in a coma for weeks. He died on August 7, 1957, of cerebral thrombosis, at his mother in law's home in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles, where he lived for the last few years of his life. Babe was 65 years old. He is buried in the Masonic section of the Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.


Long after both men died Laurel and Hardy continue to delight the world.  

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