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Stan and Ollie

‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’

The ‘Silver Screen’ has produced many duo and trio comedy acts – The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard), Bro Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Bro Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the Road Series. But it would be fair to say that the ‘founding fathers’ of early screen comedy would be one portly gent and his thin deadpan-faced partner – Laurel and Hardy.

Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were brought up in the early days of cinematography comedy under the mentorship of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Keystone Kops.

Posters from throughout Laurel and Hardy’s careers (L–R): Putting Pants on Philip and Liberty.Posters from throughout Laurel and Hardy’s careers (L–R): Putting Pants on Philip and Liberty.Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia. His father was a Confederate veteran wounded at the Battle of Antietam; his mother was descended from a Virginian family dating back to 1635. Oliver, christened Norvell, was the youngest of five brothers and in his youth was a difficult boy, spending time at a military college and a boarding school before joining a theatrical group. Possessed of a fine singing voice, his mother arranged for him to study music and singing lessons in Atlanta where he skipped lessons to sing in a theatre for $3.50 a week. The family moved to Madison, Georgia in 1891 before Norvell’s birth. His father died less than a year later. Hardy was the youngest of five children. His older brother Sam drowned in the Oconee River; Hardy pulled him from the river but was unable to resuscitate him. As a tribute to his late father, he called himself Oliver by which he was known for the rest his life. Oliver’s first venture into the film world was in 1910 when he became manager, ticket seller, caretaker and projectionist of The Palace, a new cinema in his home town.

Becoming interested in movies he went to Jacksonville Florida where the budding film industry was taking hold. In 1917 Oliver made his first film appearing in Nuts in May. During the early 20s Oliver appeared solo in more than 250 silent short films. He was a trained singer, and often enjoyed performing on the set as well as in his own movies.

Posters from throughout Laurel and Hardy’s careers (L–R): Another Fine Mess and Pack Up Your Troubles.Posters from throughout Laurel and Hardy’s careers (L–R): Another Fine Mess and Pack Up Your Troubles.Stanley Arthur Jefferson was born in Ulverstone, Lancashire, England in 1890; into a theatrical family; his father was an actor and theatre manager. Stanley made his first theatrical appearance in the tough stage world of the Glasgow theatres, changing his name to Laurel, as he thought Jefferson was too long to display on billboards. Improving his skills as a comedy actor he appeared in pantomime with Charlie Chaplin, often understudying him and they sailed to America in 1912 on the same ship, travelling with Fred Karno’s Army. Karno (Frederick John Westcott) was an English impresario who specialised in Music Hall comedy and pie in the face slapstick. After returning to England, Stanley went back to America in 1916, making his first film Nuts in May. In 1925 Hardy and Laurel met again at the Hal Roach studios where Laurel was directing movies with Hardy. Roach asked Hardy and Oliver if they would become partners in the new talkie medium that would soon take the place of silent movies and they became partners in 1927. Their first movie in 1930 was Another Fine Mess. The pair left Roach Studios in 1940 and made a number of films. Their comedy routine was based on early experience in vaudeville, English music hall and working with stars of early Hollywood pictures. Often their work displayed bizarre acts like Oliver lighting his pipe by flicking his thumb followed by Stanley copying it and setting his thumb on fire. Most of their films included the two getting into a fight and Oliver blaming Stanley and saying ‘Stanley, well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’ They made 102 films but by the late 1940s their popularity had waned. They made a number of low budget films up to 1950 but concentrated on stage work.

Laurel and Hardy’s act was to appear as two simple men, one large and the other slim who gave the appearance that he (Stanley) was not too bright and perhaps looked upon Oliver to keep him out of trouble usually without success. Stan and Ollie weren’t just great for inspiring a laugh but brought to the screen a sophisticated form of slapstick and as Ricky Gervias wrote: ‘Everything I’ve done I’ve stolen from them.’ Many entertainers saw them as their mentor.

Apart from the catchphrase ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’ and thanks to the recent film Stan and Ollie, they will be remembered as Laurel and Hardy, a comedy duo in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Bro Oliver Hardy was initiated into Lodge Samuel, Florida.

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