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Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy were the American-based comedy team of thin, British-born Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and heavy, American-born Oliver Hardy (1892-1957). They became famous during the early half of the 20th century for their work in motion pictures, and also appeared on stage throughout America and Europe. The team is considered one of the most famous and finest double acts in motion-picture history.

The two comedians worked together briefly in 1919 on The Lucky Dog, released in 1921. After a period appearing separately in several short films for the Hal Roach studio during the 1920s, they began appearing in movie shorts together in 1926. Laurel and Hardy officially became a team the following year, and soon became Hal Roach's most famous and lucrative stars. Among their most popular and successful films were the features Sons of the Desert (1933), Way Out West (1937), and Block-Heads (1938)[1] and the shorts Big Business (1929), Liberty (1929), and their Academy Award-winning short, The Music Box (1932).[2]

The pair left the Roach studio in 1940, then appeared in eight "B" comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1941 to 1944. From 1945 to 1950 they did not appear on film and concentrated on their stage show. They made their last film, Atoll K, in France in 1950 and 1951 before retiring from the screen. In total they appeared together in 106 films. They starred in 40 short sound films, 32 short silent films, 23 full length feature films and in the remaining 11 films made a guest or cameo appearance.

Stan Laurel (June 16, 1890 – February 23, 1965) was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire (now Ulverston, Cumbria), England. His father, Arthur J. "A.J." Jefferson, was a showman who served as actor, director, playwright, and theatrical entrepreneur in many northern English cities.

Laurel began his career in Glasgow Britannia Theatre of Varieties and Panopticon music hall at the age of 16, where he crafted a comedy act largely derivative of famous music hall comedians of the day, including George Robey and Dan Leno. He gradually worked his way up the ladder of supporting roles until he became the featured comedian, as well as an understudy to Charlie Chaplin, in Fred Karno's comedy company. He emigrated to America in 1912 where he decided to change his name; he worried that "Stanley Jefferson" was too long to fit onto posters. He shortened it to "Stan" and added "Laurel" at the suggestion of his vaudeville partner, Mae Dahlberg.

He made his first film appearance in 1917 (Nuts in May) and continued to make more than 50 other silent films for various producers. At first he experienced only modest success as a solo comedian. Producer Hal Roach later attributed this to the difficulty in photographing Laurel's pale blue eyes on early pre-panchromatic film stock, perhaps giving the appearance of blindness (which, in his earliest films, Laurel tried to remedy by adding heavy defining makeup around his eyes). Moreover, Laurel did not have an identifiable or easily marketable screen character, like that of Chaplin, Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.

It was only when Laurel began appearing in satires of popular screen dramas that audiences really took notice of him. Between 1922 and 1925 he starred in a number of films including Mud and Sand (a burlesque of Blood and Sand featuring Stan as "Rhubarb Vaselino") and Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (with Stan playing both the genteel doctor and the manic monster). Many of these comedies had crazy visual gags along with Laurel's eccentric pantomime, establishing the star as an inspired "nut comic."

Oliver Hardy (January 18, 1892 – August 7, 1957) was born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia, in the United States. Upon turning 18, he changed his first name to that of his father who had died years earlier, henceforth calling himself "Oliver Norvell Hardy." (His offscreen nickname was "Babe.")

It is widely acknowledged amongst the Sons of the Desert - the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society - that Hardy's nickname "Babe" originated during his pre-Laurel early silent film career. Hardy was a frequent visitor to an Italian barbershop near to the Lubin Studios where he worked and, after cutting his hair and giving him a shave, the barber would then pat his face with talcum powder whilst saying "Nice-a baby, nice-a baby!!". "Baby" became "Babe" and that nickname stuck with Hardy for the rest of his life. It should be noted, however, that "Babe" was always used for Hardy off-screen and never on the film set.

By his late teens Hardy was a popular stage singer, and he operated his own moviehouse (the Palace Theater in Milledgeville, GA). He thought he could do better than some of the movie comedians he was presenting, so in 1913 he became a movie actor. Babe Hardy was quite versatile, playing heroes, villains, and even female characters. He starred or co-starred in more than 250 silent short films, about 150 of which have been lost.

He was much in demand as a supporting actor, comic villain, or second banana. For 10 years he memorably assisted star comics Billy West (a Charlie Chaplin imitator), Jimmy Aubrey, Larry Semon, and Charley Chase. Hardy was a member of Hal Roach's stock company when he began working regularly with Stan Laurel.

The first film encounter of the two comedians (as separate performers) took place in The Lucky Dog, produced in 1919 by Sun-Lite Pictures and released in 1921. Several years later, both comedians appeared in the Hal Roach production 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926). Their first "official" film together was Putting Pants on Philip, although their first pairing as the now familiar "Stan and Ollie" characters was The Second Hundred Years (June 1927), directed by Fred Guiol and supervised by Leo McCarey, who suggested that the performers be teamed permanently.

Hal Roach kept them a team for the next decade, making silent shorts, talkie shorts, and feature films. While most silent-film actors saw their careers decline with the advent of sound, Laurel and Hardy made a successful transition in 1929 with the short Unaccustomed As We Are. Laurel's English accent and Hardy's Southern American accent and singing brought new dimensions to their characters. The team also proved skillful in their melding of visual and verbal humor, adding dialogue that served to enhance rather than replace their popular sight gags. Laurel and Hardy's shorts, produced by Hal Roach and released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, were among the most successful in the business. Most of the shorts ran two reels (10 minutes per reel), although several ran three reels long, and one, Beau Hunks, was four reels long. In 1929, they appeared for the first time in a feature as one of the acts in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in a lavish all-Technicolor musical feature entitled: The Rogue Song. This film marked their first appearance in color. Considered a "lost film", only a few fragments of this production have survived, along with the complete soundtrack. In 1931, Laurel and Hardy's first starring feature was released, Pardon Us. Following its success, the duo made fewer shorts in order to concentrate on feature films, which included Pack Up Your Troubles (1932), Fra Diavolo (or The Devil's Brother, 1933), Sons of the Desert (1933), and Babes in Toyland (1934). Their classic short The Music Box, released in 1932, won the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject, (Comedy).

Because the popularity of the double feature diminished the demand for short subjects, Hal Roach cancelled all of his shorts series, save for Our Gang. The final short in the Laurel and Hardy series was 1935's Thicker than Water. The duo's subsequent feature films included Bonnie Scotland (1935), The Bohemian Girl (1936), Our Relations (1936), Way Out West (1937) (which includes the famous song "Trail of the Lonesome Pine"), Swiss Miss (1938), and Block-Heads (1938).

The humour of Laurel and Hardy was generally visual, but based on character development with slapstick used for emphasis. Their physical tête-à-têtes are quite complex, which is part of what sets them above other comedy acts. Their characters and closeknit relationship preclude them from making any real progress in even the simplest endeavors. For example, in Night Owls (1930) the boys want to enter a house without disturbing the occupants. Ollie pushes Stan through an open window, but they get into an argument and Stan closes the window on Ollie. Ollie signals for him to open the front door. Stan opens the door but steps out to greet Ollie, and lets the door close behind him. There are several variations of Ollie and Stan entering and leaving various doors and windows, until Stan finally rings the doorbell, alerting the butler who falls down the stairs, scaring Ollie out the door. Once again the team is back where it started.

Much of their comedy involves milking a joke, where a simple idea provides a basis from which to build several gags. Many of their films have extended sequences constructed around a single problem the pair is facing, without following a defined narrative.

In some cases, their comedy bordered on the surreal (Stan Laurel called it "white magic"). For example, Laurel would clench his fist and pour tobacco into it, as if it were a pipe. Then he flicked his thumb upward as if he held a cigarette lighter. His thumb would ignite, and he would matter-of-factly light his "pipe." The amazed Hardy, seeing this, would unsuccessfully attempt to duplicate it. Much later in the film Hardy would be terrified when his thumb suddenly caught fire.

A famous routine the team often performed was a bizarre kind of "tit-for-tat" fight with an adversary.Typically, Laurel and Hardy accidentally damaged someone else's property. The injured party would retaliate by ruining something belonging to Laurel or Hardy, who would calmly survey the damage and find something else to vandalize. The conflict would escalate until both sides were simultaneously destroying property in front of each other. An early example of the routine occurs in their classic short, Big Business (1929), which was added to the Library of Congress as a national treasure in 1992.

The Laurel and Hardy onscreen personas are of two supremely brainless, eternally optimistic men, secure in their perpetual and impregnable innocence. Their humor is physical, but ...


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