Laurel and Hardy: Trivia About Hollywood's Greatest Comedy Team
Fun Stuff You Never Knew About "Laurel and Hardy"
One of them was married five times, and once busted for DUI. The other one was an accomplished, trophy-winning golfer and son of a Confederate soldier.
There have been many great cinematic comedy teams over the years: the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, and others.
But to much of the American public, the most beloved cinematic comedians of all time were, and still are, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Stan and Ollie first appeared in the 1921 silent film The Lucky Dog, but in separate roles and not as a comedy team. In 1926 they appeared in the film 45 Minutes From Hollywood, but again, not as a comedy duo. They began appearing together as a team in more than a half-dozen 1927 silent shorts, but were not officially billed as "Laurel and Hardy" until October 1927's The Second Hundred Years.
How Stymie Got Stan Laurel's Hat
Stymie Was A Fan of Laurel and Hardy
In the 1930s the Laurel and Hardy movies were being filmed at Hal Roach Studios which were located in Culver City, about three or four miles southwest of downtown Hollywood.
The Roach Studios compound wasn't as big as some of the other major studios nearby, such as M-G-M, so their indoor sets tended to be closer together.
While the Laurel and Hardy films were being made on the lot, so were the Little Rascals shorts, and the sets were often side-by-side. Matthew Beard who played the lovable "Stymie" character in The Little Rascals was a frequent visitor to the Laurel and Hardy sets and loved to wear Stan Laurel's derby which delighted the older comedian.
Laurel surprised the young lad one day with his own pint-sized derby, and producer Hal Roach began allowing the happy young black actor to wear it during filming.
And now when we think of Stymie today, we always think of his little, beat-up derby hat which became his trademark.
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Academy Award Winners!
After their 1927 debut as "Laurel and Hardy," Stan and Ollie continued filming dozens of shorts including 1929s Double Whoopee with rising sex symbol Jean Harlow. However, their first actual "Laurel and Hardy" feature film Pardon Us would not come out until 1931.
A year later the comedy duo filmed The Music Box and won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. The movie has one of Laurel and Hardy's most memorable scenes where the bumbling actors try to deliver a piano up a flight of outdoor stairs, only to have the owner smash it with a sledge hammer once it had safely arrived.
They will go on to become America's most beloved comedy team of all time and spend the rest of their lives as best friends, both onscreen and off.
The Beatles & Laurel and Hardy
In 1967 The Beatles released what many critics would say is their most creative album cover ever: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
As the cover design for the album was being discussed, the band members decided to add likenesses of people they'd come to admire.
“To help us get into the character of Sgt. Pepper’s band, we started to think about who our heroes might be,” Paul McCartney is quoted as saying. "It got to be anyone we liked."
Before long, the cover had 71 different mostly famous people (and a few who weren't). Among some of the notables were Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Shirley Temple, Marlon Brando, and even heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston.
Stan and Ollie made the list. They are in the upper right above the red-costumed George Harrison. Stan is wearing his bowler, while Ollie is one space over to the right wearing a yellow hat.
The album would rank #1 on U.S. charts for an amazing 15 weeks, and even longer in the UK where is stayed at the top for 27 weeks!
And yes...Ollie does look a bit like Fatty Arbuckle in the pic...
The DUI Bust That Made National Headlines
In some of their films, the boys often ended up in the "hoosegow." It also happened once in real life, but it wasn't Ollie who spent a night behind bars.
On September 28, 1938, Stan Laurel got into an altercation with his third wife, Vera Illiana Shuvalova. A Russian immigrant and wannabe-actress, Shuvalova was 20 years younger than her husband and known to be a heavy drinker and having a terrible temper.
The pair had been drinking and quarreling and Stan ended up getting whacked with a frying pan, leaving him bruised and bleeding. After leaving his home, he was pulled over and arrested on a drunk-driving charge. He was shirtless, driving on the wrong side of the road, and came close to crashing into a police cruiser.
As a result, he spent the night in jail and paid $150 bail before his release.
Stan's contract with Roach Studios was terminated shortly thereafter and the comic later divorced his Russian wife.
He withdrew from the public for awhile and built a towering wall around his house, posting a sign that read: "All attacking blondes will be repelled on sight."
Producer Hal Roach and Laurel eventually settled their differences, and Stan returned to Roach Studios.
He stayed sober in public after this, repaired his career, and went on to remarry his second wife.
Did Sex Symbol Jean Harlow Break Oliver Hardy's Heart?
Yes... well, sort of...
The photo above is from a Laurel and Hardy silent short filmed in 1929 called Double Whoopee.
Rising actress and sex symbol Jean Harlow had a small part in the movie. Perhaps you remember the scene where Stan and Ollie help Harlow, dressed in an evening gown, out of a taxi. Stan accidentally closes the door on the hem of her gown, and as the taxi drives away the bottom half of her gown goes with it.
Her racy scene in Double Whoopee was a fan favorite and helped to launch Harlow's brief but spectacular career.
However, Harlow played brokenhearted Hardy's estranged girlfriend in the 1931 talkie Beau Hunks, but we only see her photo the bitter Ollie is holding in his hand, and it's the reason he and Stan have decided to join the French Foreign Legion.
Of all the Laurel and Hardy films, Hal Roach once said this was his favorite movie of all, largely because Harlow, once under contract to Roach, but now signed with RKO, appeared uncredited in the movie, and wasn't paid for the use of her actual publicity photo.
The Superstitions That Made Them Change Their Names
They could easily have been "Norvell and Arthur."
Norvell Hardy was born in 1892 in the small town of Harlem, Georgia. His father was named Oliver, had been a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, and was wounded in the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
Early in his career, Hardy was often billed as "Babe" Hardy, or sometimes by his real name Norvell. Around 1910, Hardy had a chance encounter with a numerologist who told him a name change would bring him success. His father having recently passed away, the aspiring performer decided to use his father's name and thereafter was known as Oliver Norvell Hardy.
Stan Laurel was born in Ulverston, England in 1890, and his birth name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson. He began doing local comedy and used the stage name "Stan Jefferson." Stan eventually made his way to America and started getting some small parts in silent movies. He met and began a common-law marriage with an Australian actress named Mae Dahlberg in 1919, a relationship that would last for nearly five years.
During their time together, the very superstitious Mae convinced him that his real name, Stan Jefferson, contained 13 letters which she warned was unlucky. It so happened she was reading a book at the time and saw a picture of a Roman emperor wearing a laurel on his head. Wham! Mae apparently saw this as a sign of success, and convinced Stan to drop the Jefferson surname and replace it with "Laurel."
He followed her advice, and while the relationship ended a few years later, his new name stayed. He was known after that as Stan Laurel.
And Mae's prediction about success would soon come true: the newly-named Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy soon crossed paths, eventually joined forces, and became the most successful and beloved comedy team of all time: Laurel and Hardy.
Ollie the Athlete
Although both comics played golf, Hardy had a passion for the game and was considered one of the better golfers in Hollywood, often playing with Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Chico Marx, and even Babe Ruth when Ruth was visiting on the west coast.
He won over two dozen area golf tournaments and two gold cups.
Stan Laurel the Kitchen Chemist
While Oliver Hardy's passion was golf, Stan Laurel loved to fish, raise ducks, and experiment with hydroponic gardening, the process of growing plants and vegetables in liquid solutions instead of soil.
He once cross bred an onion and a potato, but abandoned the project when he couldn't convince anyone to sample his new creation.
"If any of you cry at my funeral, I'll never speak to you again!"— Stan Laurel
Goodbye Stan and Ollie...
The Stan & Ollie movie showed the pair of comedians during their 1952 tour to England. Oliver Hardy is played by veteran actor John C. Reilly, familiar to many movie-lovers for his roles in The Perfect Storm, Chicago, Boogie Nights, and many other films. British actor Steve Coogan plays the part of Stan Laurel.
When the real Laurel and Hardy undertook their 1952 tour, they were in their 60s and facing financial difficulties and health problems. Both men had been heavy smokers during their lives, and the long term effects were beginning to surface. Stan had been diagnosed as a diabetic in 1947 and would struggle with the affliction for the rest of his life.
Stan had spent much of his fortune on his health problems, ex-wives and failed marriages, and Ollie had lost many thousands of dollars betting on horses.
In May 1954, Ollie suffered a mild heart attack, but recovered. In the spring of 1955, Stan suffered a stroke that left him weak and partly paralyzed on his left side, but he largely recovered by year's end. The duo were considering going back to work, but in 1956 it was Ollie who suffered a major stroke that left him unable to speak and paralyzed him to the point he was bed-confined for the rest of his life. Stan later revealed that Hardy was also fighting cancer during the last few years of his life.
Oliver Hardy died in bed on August 7, 1957. Stan was devastated and his doctors, fearing for his own health, told him to rest at home and not attend his beloved partner's funeral. Stan reluctantly followed their counsel, telling friends Ollie would understand.
Stan, without his best friend and comedic partner, went into a deep depression, suffering a nervous breakdown. He never performed again, and never wore his trademark bowler hat.
Stan lived out his final years in a small apartment in Santa Monica, largely staying out of the public view. He did, however, engage in regular correspondence with his fans who'd tracked him down, always taking the time time personally respond with a typed letter or signed photo.
On February 23, 1965, nearly nine years after the death of his lifelong best friend, Stan Laurel had a heart attack and passed away a few days later.
© 2018 Tim Anderson