The Laurel and Hardy Story: Laughs and Heartbreaks

The very mention of Laurel and Hardy helps us conjure hilarious images of doing what they always did best — make us laugh. Two actors who were the kings of comedic entertainment when they were at the top of their game, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were arguably the most popular comedic duo the world of comedic entertainment has ever seen. The laughter they continue to deliver even after their passing is testimony to the immense talent they had as well as the unique camaraderie they shared, easily one of the elements that helped them deliver such great work. Even today, all you have to do is put on one of their shows and laughter is always around the corner. And yet, despite the happiness they spread through their works, life wasn’t always a cakewalk for these two pioneers of the black and white era of filmmaking. The tragedies were many and despite what they led the world to believe, behind those comedic sequences were struggles and heartbreaks too.

Two Entertainers Who Were Not Even From the Same Country

And to think that they were not even from the same country! That’s true, and we’re sure not many of you even knew about this until now. While Stan Laurel was an Englishman born in Lancashire, England in 1890, Oliver Hardy was born a couple of years later in 1892 in Harlem, Georgia, and was as American as one could be. While Laurel’s birth name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, Hardy’s was Norvell Hardy.

Laurel was born to entertainers and made his debut on stage when he was not even 16 years old. Hardy wasn’t a novice when it came to the entertainment industry either, and the Palace Theater that he operated was even financially supported by his mother. Laurel’s first big break in entertainment came when the famous Fred Karno took him under his wings. Laurel was in awe of everything that Fred stood for, and as Charlie Chaplin’s understudy, learned everything he could from these two stalwarts of comedy. In 1912, a chance tour to the US introduced a young Laurel to the immense potential Hollywood held for an entertainer like him, and what was only supposed to be a quick tour, turned out to be a new life in America.

During the same time, Hardy was beginning to create his own name in the industry and even had an impressive list of works to his name. The initial years of his work saw him being mentioned in the credits as Babe Hardy. Learning the craft of comedy by taking on odd jobs at the studios of Lubin Motion Pictures in Jacksonville, Hardy was soon the one to go to for every role from supporting ones, second banana in double acts, to even roles of the comic villain. Despite coming from two different countries, destiny had an amazing story written out for them, and soon enough, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy would meet to play their part in it.

How the Laurel and Hardy Story Began

Hal Roach had already been working with Hardy for some time when he saw Laurel’s work in vaudeville and decided that he would be a great addition to his comedic team. There was one challenge though, and this challenge prevented Hal from making Stan a part of his works for at least a year. The problem was the color of Stan’s eyes! Light blue in color, the film technology of the time just wouldn’t capture the color of Stan’s eyes right, and it was only when the panchromatic film was introduced to cinema that Stan Laurel could pop into the frame without worrying about how his eyes would turn out on screen.

This was when Hal first paired the duo and recalled often that all it took was one glance at them together to know that this pairing would surely work. “You could always cut to a closeup of either one, and their reaction was good for another laugh,” Hal had once said. The first work that had the two stalwarts first working together was The Lucky Dog. The 1921 film, although quite enjoyable, rarely sprung up in conversations, and even Stan and Oliver often mentioned how they easily forgot their first film together. Instead, it was their first work on contract with Hal Roach Studios titled 45 Minutes From Hollywood that was often mentioned as the duo’s first real work.

The Little Things That Made Them a Huge Success

The Classical Hollywood era stood witness to some cinematic greats and Laurel and Hardy were the pioneers in their craft who chose this time to bless us with some great cinematic memories. They were also the few who made the transition from the silent film era to the talkies, and in both versions, proved that they could pull off just about anything that was thrown at them. With those trademark bowler hats and The Cuckoo Song that became synonymous with most of their performances on screen, the two took to comedy like no other during the time.

There were other things that helped the two create the image they did too. For one, they amplified the nuances that made them seem the opposite of one another when it came to body structures. Although Stan was of an average build, the way he portrayed himself on screen made him look thin and wiry, in stark contrast to Oliver’s six-foot-plus frame that was clearly on the plumper side. The distinct hairstyles the two had on for most of their work together and Oliver’s toothbrush mustache were well thought out too, with these finer nuances adding to their contrasting features. Even the bowler hats they wore were different from one another — while Stan’s was a little narrower, Oliver’s was more fitting to his round face and was kept on the rounder side. Their clothes were, of course, a major contributor too. Loose-fitting ones made Stan look all the wirier, and no matter what Oliver wore, they were sure to be at least one size smaller, so that the strained buttons made his plump look even more prominent. All in all, in addition to their unmatched chemistry together as well as their individual acting talents, it was these little things that added to their personas, already presenting them as a visual treat even before they began any of their acts!

The Catchphrases that Made Them Even More Popular

While the silent era saw Laurel and Hardy’s films depend heavily on physical slapstick comedy, the talkies gave their comedy bits new life. With the ability to now voice the humor they were by now so popular for, the two went at it with gusto! There were plenty of catchphrases that came to be associated with the two as they keep adding more and more work to their portfolio, and some of them were more famous than others. Lines like “Tell me that again,” that had Hardy asking a forgetful Laurel to repeat an idea he had just mentioned, or “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,” were synonymous with the duo. Some other lines that are still remembered as trademark Laurel and Hardy lines include, “A lot of weather we’ve been having lately,”, “You can lead a horse to a water but a pencil must be led,” and “Why don’t you do something to help me?”.

The catchphrases, the immense talent the two had, the love that showed between the two despite them going at each other in every sequence on screen, just the way they managed to help the common man to forget his troubles and enjoy their antics, and a dozen other unknown secrets all came together to make the pair popular across the world. One particular instance that Laurel shared kind of gives us a glimpse into the impact these two comedic personalities had on the lives of people, and also shows the love that people showed them in return. Speaking of the reception they received when their boat arrived in Cobh, Ireland, Laurel spoke of how they both found the admiration, attention, love, and affection from the people to be overwhelming. “There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles and mobs and mobs of people screaming on the docks. We just couldn’t understand what it was all about,” writes Laurel, telling us how the two often found the attention they got wherever they went to be quite surprising. “And then something happened that I can never forget. All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song ‘Dance of the Cuckoos’,  and Babe looked at me and we cried. I’ll never forget that day. Never.”

The story and the words may bring tears to our eyes today but the emotions and awe behind them also tell us of how humble and down to earth Stan and Laurel remained in their hearts despite all that attention they received. Truly rare to even imagine in today’s times where a single hit movie goes to the heads of most artists, we are just happy that there were two artists who always remained amazed by the love they received from fans.

An Amazing Lineup of Work

When Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy first began working together, we are sure neither the two actors nor the people working with them would have ever imagined how much popularity these two would eventually garner for their work. After they began their run in 1921, gradually picking up the pace a few years later, the legions of fans they kept gaining meant that there was no looking back. When we look back at all the work that the two eventually ended up doing with one another, the list is quite impressive indeed!

A total of 107 films make the final count to their names, with 32 of these short works during the silent era, 40 short films in the era of talkies, and 23 films that were full-length feature films. Some of the most popular among these include Another Fine Mess, Sailors Beware, Chickens Come Home, Saps at Sea, The Flying Deuces, Busy Bodies, Sons of the Desert, Thicker Than Water, Unaccustomed As We Are, The Fixer-Uppers, Way Out West, Babes in Toyland, Brats, Oliver the Eighth, The Music Box, and Block-Heads.

The Tragedies Behind the Laughs

Both Oliver and Stan suffered personal losses early in their lives. While Stan lost his mother when he was only 18, with relatives saying that he never really fully recovered from the loss, Oliver’s losses were even more tragic. Oliver lost his father when he was only an infant, and the reason behind him even using the name Oliver was actually in honor of his father’s memory. Then, when he was only a teenager, his brother died before his very eyes after misjudging a dive and jumping to his death on what was supposed to be a fun day of swimming and frolicking.

As far as personal struggles went, both artists had a lot of health issues between them, and this often hampered their work in later years too. Oliver’s weight was always on the heavier side, and he suffered greatly due to this. In addition to the ridicule he had to face at every juncture, the weight also brought with it several health issues. Furthermore, when he did make up his mind to lose all that weight after going on a crash diet that saw him lose 150 pounds in a short time, the sudden loss made him appear sickly to those around him, and this invited further criticism. In the last year of his life, Oliver suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed. Eventually. his end came due to cancer and two more strokes. Stan had a story similar to that of Oliver’s when it came to health. Even as a child, he was always falling ill, and this tryst with ill health continued even in his later years.

Even when it came to money, despite the immense popularity the two enjoyed and the huge success they proved to be in the world of comedy, there was little they earned out of it all. First, it was the shrewd Hal Roach who made sure that he kept most of the money they earned. Then, it was the divorce settlements and alimonies and of course, the medical bills. In fact, when it was actually time for them to retire and enjoy a quiet life, Stan and Laurel had to get up and work again, only to make ends meet. Even this did not work out as they had to abruptly put an end to their plans due to ill health.

The End of An Era

Everybody knew that it was Oliver’s death that had sent Stan into retirement. Instead of choosing to work alone, Stan simply decided to call it a day and step away from the limelight. He spent his last years writing letters to everyone he knew, including past acquaintances and fans. One particularly sad story related to Laurel’s last years after Oliver’s passing is that Laurel had continued writing quite a few scripts that ideated on the good old pair of Laurel and Hardy. This, despite knowing that his friend was dead and that they would never be able to work together again. Although heartbreaking, this story also shows just how much Oliver meant to Stan. Well, maybe they did get a chance to work on these scripts and perform up there in heaven! And considering how well-loved they were. we are sure they are enjoying new waves of admiration and laughs up there too!

Two Lives That Taught Us the Most Important Life Lesson of All!

Often, the people who make us laugh the most, are also the saddest. And this magical ability to go on giving even when they barely have the strength to carry on themselves is what truly defines them. Laurel and Hardy were surely made of the same clay, and in giving us so much of their lives and talents, they have not only become immortal in the world of entertainment but have also proved to be some of the most enigmatic human beings we have been lucky enough to witness. There’s a lot we can learn from the lives of these two stalwarts, and the most important lesson to remember from their lives is this — That it is indeed possible to keep spreading laughter no matter what goes on in our lives!

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