Hard to believe now, with the pair universally recognised as one of Hollywoods greatest comedy double acts, but there was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when “the fiddle and the bow” (as they were often called) were in danger of being forgotten by the public completely – even with Stan being given an honorary Oscar in 1960.
In fact it wasn’t until their two reelers became an almost omnipresent fixture on our TV screens that they were “rediscovered” by a whole new generation. By that time though Laurel and Hardy were sadly no longer with us.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared together in a total of 106 films between the years 1921 and 1951 (not all of them Stan and Ollie films either) and it was comedy producer Hal Roach who brought them together properly.
Stan was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Lancashire, England in 1890 and was a well known face on the English music hall scene before he headed to America with the Fred Karno troup whilst American born Oliver Norvell Hardy (Harlem, Georgia in 1892) was already on the stage by the age of 8 before joining the military and then running his own movie theatre.
The duo first appeared together in 1921’s The Lucky Dog (by G.M. Anderson) however Stan was the star and Hardy had just a minor role as a crook. It wasn’t until 1926 that the pair appeared together again – in Hal Roach’s 45 Minutes From Hollywood. Still not officially a team, Roach spotted something though and several other two reelers followed in quick succession.
At this stage the Stan and Ollie personas were far from set either – sometimes Stan had a moustache and glasses, however by 1927’s Do Detectives Think the pair had started sporting bowler hats and the dynamic between the two was starting to fall into place. Ollie all pomposity and tie twiddling bluster; Stan the scared naif. Officially the Laurel and Hardy tag was first used in The Second Hundred Years (1927).
Features and changing attitudes
Most fans agree that Laurel and Hardy’s best moments were in their short two reelers but they made some superb features too especially Sons of the Desert (1933) and Way Out West (1937). Most of their longer outingss though did suffer from being just that little bit too long. The 20 minute short was their natural habitat.
Despite continuing to star in some high profile features (A Chump at Oxford, 1943 and Jitterbugs, 1944) the pair had fallen out of favour somewhat by the end of World War II. Post war austerity and a general air of depression meant that film noir was the genre of the day rather than knockabout comedies.
Their final movie was Atoll K in 1951 which should never have been made. Low of budget and lower on laughs it was a sad end to their career.
By this stage both were being dogged by ill health and in the case of the much married Stan, relationship trouble too. In fact the pair were reduced to making personal appearances or taking part in music hall tours. Hardy died in 1957 and Stan in 1965 but their films live on. Slapstick and buffoonery reigning supreme as Ollie lets loose with a cry of “there’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”
The best of Stan and Ollie
Our own personal pick of the best of Laurel and Hardy’s output.
Hat’s Off (1927) – Stan and Ollie have to deliver a washing machine to a house at the top of a long flight of steps.
The Finishing Touch (1928) – Contractors Stan and Ollie agree to build a house in just one day, of course it turns out they are much better at demolition.
You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928) – Sacked from their jobs in an orchestra Stan and Ollie decide to become street musicians instead.
Should Married Men Go Home (1928) – Stan pays a call on Ollie and his wife whilst they are trying to have a peaceful Sunday night at home.
That’s My Wife (1929) – Owing to a mix up Stan has to pretend to be Ollie’s wife to make sure he doesn’t lose out on an inheritance.
Another Fine Mess (1930) – On the run Stan and Ollie take over an empty mansion with Ollie posing as the Lord of the house and Stan as his butler.
Pardon Us (1931) – Stan and Ollie escape from jail and end up on a cotton plantation.
Helpmates (1932) – With Ollie’s wife due back he needs Stan’s help to tidy up following a riotous party.
Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) – Stan and Ollie are soldiers during the first world war and help track down the family of an orphan girl.
Sons of the Desert (1933) – Supposedly on a rest cure in Hawaii the boys are really heading off to the Sons of the Desert convention in Chicago.
Bonnie Scotland (1935) – On holiday in the Scottish highlands the boys accidentally end up in the army.
Way Out West (1937) – The boys go west to deliver a mine deed to the daughter of an old friend.
Flying Deuces (1939) – Ollie decides to join the Foreign Legion and makes Stan join too.
A Chump at Oxford (1940) – Stan and Ollie get the opportunity to go and study at Oxford University where Stan becomes a genius after a window frame falls on his head.