Stan Laurel







        Biography
        H I S  L I F E



        Stan Laurel (1890-1965), born Arthur S. Jefferson.


        Laurel & Hardy, without doubt the best-loved and most enduring comedians of the twentieth-century, with a unique range of trademark mannerisms and catchphrases. Vagabonds strolling through life vicissitudes, the pair (well, Ollie mainly) had aspirations to better things in life, but about the most their characters usually achieved in films was a suburban bungalow and nagging wife: 'Look out! it's the wives!" became just one of the many phrases they had only to utter to set audiences gigging.

        Stan Laurel was a skinny Lancashire lad who became a skilled pantomimist in his teens and, after years with Fred Karno's riotous stage troupe, came to America with them (Charlie Chaplin was their leading comic) in 1910. The company broke up when Chaplin left it to try his luck in films after a second US tour in 1912. Stan Laurel stayed in America. With various partners, he played successfully in vaudeville for the next five years, changing his name from Stan Jefferson to Stan Laurel around 1915. He was spotted for film comedies in 1917, and gained some success as a character called Hickory Hiram. Irregularities in Laurel's private life (the woman he lived with was unable to obtain a divorce) led to a couple of estrangements from the morals-conscious Hal Roach, who had hired him in 1917 and again in 1922. But the lady, actress Mae Dahlberg, returned to her native Australia in 1926, and Stan married another actress, Lois Nielsen, whereupon Roach took him back. The highmindedness of Roach, however, was to be a running sore in his relationship with the free-living Stan, and years later was to lead to me premature decline of the Laurel and Hardy partnership.

        The Comedy World of Stan Laurel Paperback Book - Extensively Scanned - Smartphone Page.


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          'You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be led.
          ~ Stan Laurel


        His Life
        Biog.

        Oliver Hardy was a plump, outgoing kid from Georgia, fascinated both by his fellow man - 'I would sit in the lobby of my mother's hotel and just watch people go by' - and by the smell of show business, who ran away from home at the age of eight for a life as a boy singer in a travelling minstrel show. He returned home in time for at least part of a proper musical education at the Atlantic Conservatory. 'They were impressed I could hit high C.' His mother moved to the small Georgia town of Milledgeville when Hardy was 18, and he opened a cinema there for a living, managing it for three years. In 1913 he decided to try and break into films, and went to nearby Jacksonville where he hung out at the Lubin studios until they took him on to do odds and ends in comedy shorts at 5 dollars a week. As the years passed, Hardy played the villain or "second banana' or simply straight man to dozens of screen comedians, including Bobby Ray, Harry Myers, Billy West, Jimmy Aubrey and, most notably, Larry Semon, to whose Scarecrow he played the Tin Man in the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. Hardy briefly tried making a living as a cabaret singer in 1917 but soon returned to films. By 1918 he was being billed as Oliver 'Babe' Hardy, having acquired his lifetime nickname and his new legal first name (after his father) around the same time. He was under longterm contract to Hal Roach when Laurel arrived back at the studio in 1926 and the long-standing partnership between them gradually evolved.

        Between 1927 and 1940, the team made around 90 films, mostly shorts, at the Roach studio. They became at once kings of escalating mayhem - especially in their early shorts - and a kind of comedy of personal relationships, which might be termed 'intimate idiocy'.

        At the same time 'the boys' (as most of their directors apparently called them) began developing individual 'gesture' trademarks that rarely failed to make their fans laugh. Laurel had the head scratch, which often indicated bewilderment. Then there was the prolonged eye-blink, which indicated a concentrated and unhappy attempt at thought. There was also the ear-wiggle and the skip when running, and he would sometimes resort to crying when bullied by Ollie over some misdemeanour. Most of Hardy's mannerisms stemmed from what he himself called 'the courtly behaviour of a southern gentleman'. There was the tie twiddle, usually when he was embarrassed, the flourish of the derby hat when preparing to do something (it was subsequently consigned to the crook of his arm), the imperious wave of his arm when indicating to Stan that he, Ollie, was to go first (normally headlong into disaster) and of course the famous set of 'camera looks', which involved the camera focusing on Ollie's look of horror, exasperation or faint puzzlement at something Stan has done.

        One thing that always proved beyond the Ollie character was the expertise Stan possessed in physical 'magic', not only with the ear-wiggle, but blowing on to his finger to raise his hat, the handlock with middle fingers sticking out in opposite directions, the kneesie-earsie-nosie routine (involving pulling his nose with his left hand and his left ear with his right hand simultaneously) and, with the help of special effects, the striking flame with a thumb and finger. But Stan himself was always defeated by a simple thing like folding his arms, the interlocking of the arms somehow escaping him until they dropped to his sides. With sound films, which Laurel and Hardy took more in their stride than any other silent comedians, came the catchphrases. Ollie would admonish Stan 'Why don't you do something to help me?' or (after he did) came the most famous of all:

          'Here's another nice mess you've gotten us into.'

        Stan would invariably reply 'Well, I couldn't help it', dissolving into tears. Whatever the boys touched was sure to turn to ashes in their films and, even when they got away with something, nemesis was destined to catch up with them at the fadeout, whether in the form of the mad chef from Pack Up Your Troubles or the gorilla in Swiss Miss.

        Their best feature film from the Roach period was probably Way Out West, in which they were unhindered either by an episodic plot or by musical interludes. That is, apart from two classical musical interpolations of their own, a soft-shoe shuffle to the backing of Chill Wills and the Avalon Boys and a rendition of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine that, years after their deaths, became an international pop chart hit.

        Laurel and Hardy probably made more end-to-end belly-laugh short films than any other comic or comics in film history. The most consistendly inventive are (of the silents) Leave 'Em Laughing, The Finishing Touch, From Soup to Nuts, You're Dam Tootin', Two Tars, Liberty, Bacon Grabbers and Big Business and (of the sound shorts) Men o' War, Perfect Day, Hog Wild, Helpmates, Early to Bed, The Music Box (their only Oscar-winner), Their First Mistake and Them Thar Hills.

        Although Hal Roach left the boys to go their own way in the making of the films (though the men were equals as laughtermakers, Stan was the brains behind most of their ideas), he engaged Stan in a continuous running battle about his private life, and the two men severed their association in 1939, with Roach invoking a morals clause in the contract. Laurel and Hardy did sign to make two further Roach films on a two-off basis, but then formed their own production company. It was never to make a picture. Rather than go back to Roach where, despite advancing years, they might have found a few more major films within their capabilities, the boys signed up with major studios, MGM and Fox, whom they soon found to be far more intractable than Roach ever was. The result is rattier like watching good TV comedians, say Britain's Morecambe and Wise trying to perform on the screen. Without the intimacy and rime for trying out gags, their impact is completeiy muffled. And so it was with Laurel and Hardy.

        Of their 1940s films, only Nothing But Trouble has a few funny moments, and these are formula action-slapstick stuff. Within the cocoon of the Roach organisation, however, Laurel and Hardy had always seemed real characters. They could be antagonistic towards each other but always presented a united front against a common foe. And their reactions towards each other always seemed genuine, never feigned. Hardy's opinion of the team bears this impression out.

          'We had a lot of fun and did many, many crazy things in our pictures with Roach. But we were always real. Even in our shortest pictures, we tried to be real'.

        Stan was married five times in total, twice to Virginia Ruth Rogers. From his first marriage to Lois Neilson, he had two children. His only son died 9 days after birth in 1930.

        When Oliver Hardy died of cerebral thrombosis in 1957 at the age of 65, Stan suffered a nervous breakdown and according to his friends, never fully recovered. He pledged he would never perform again. Despite offers, he never did.

        Stan Laurel died of a heart attack on 23 February 1965 at Santa Monica, California, USA. He is interred at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from where it all began, his birthplace in Ulverston, Cumbria, UK, where, to this day, he remains the town's favourite son.


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