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.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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