If you had to pick of the most successful comedic duos, there is a no doubt Laurel & Hardy were the greatest of them all. Of coarse The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges are the first to pop in your mind but Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy were the best of the best. The silent movie era duo who transitioned to talkies in the early years and over their illustrious career the duo walked across the screen in 107 films. That was only the tip of the iceberg, before the duo teamed up Laurel had already starred in 50 films, while Hardy costarred in over 250 silent shorts. Sadly a large portion of Hardy’s shorts have been lost to time.
Stan Laurel was born in England and began his career at a Glasgow vaudeville theater as a pantomime. Laurel was even became an understudy for Charlie Chaplin in 1909. In 1912 Laurel joined his producer on a tour of the United States and during the trip decided to immigrate to the states. He would continue to appear on the stage and paired with Mae Dahlberg as a husband and wife act starting in 1919. The duo also began to date and would eventually marry and have two children. Their second child was born premature and died after 9 days, the death would cause a separation between the couple and they would eventually divorce in 1934. Laurel began his motion picture career in silent films in 1917. Laurel would grace the screen with Oliver Hardy for the first time in a costarring role of the 1921 film, The Lucky Dog. This movie was not their first duo film.
Oliver Hardy was born and raised in Georgia on the family plantation. Hardy was not fond of education growing up but took a great liking towards music and the performing arts. Oliver’s first job as a teenager was singing in a neighboring town’s cinema and then later as a staff member of a hometown cinema. He would eventually move to Jacksonville, FL to break into the film industry and worked at a movie studio during the day and appeared on stage as a vaudeville singer at night. In 1914 Hardy got his first film role in Outwitting Dad (1914) and by the following year (1915) Hardy appeared in over 50 silent shorts. In 1917 Hardy made the move to Hollywood with his family where his career took off. He appeared in over 60 films and even married a second time. In 1924 Hardy began appearing in the series of Our Gang films and even appeared as the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz (1925).
In 1927, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were finally paired together in their first Laurel & Hardy movie, Slipping Wives, Duck Soup. The pairing was a box office success and they would appear alongside each other for almost 25 years in 72 short films, 23 full-length feature films and 12 cameo appearance. They brought their act off screen to radio and the stage and eventually by 1950 both were suffering major health problems, they decided to take a break from acting. Hardy was instructed by physician to loose weight and while successful in his endeavor, he would begin to suffer a series of debilitating strokes. Laurel sadly was battling a severe prostate problem. The duo only made a handful of appearances together in the 1950’s and the last appearance on film was this home movie filmed at Hardy’s daughters house in 1956. Visible is Hardy’s dramatic weight loss and Laurel’s walking handicap.
Sadly Hardy would pass away in his sleep a year later. For the remainder of Laurel’s life, he would not appear on film out of respect to Hardy. He did meet with other great comedians and share routines with productions but he would not make any public appearance in the last 8 years of his life. After Hardy’s death, there was a wave of Laurel & Hardy shorts hitting the big screen and with the dawn of television, Laurel would live to see a second coming of the comedy duo’s great body of work. He would eventually pass away in 1965. I still cherish watching the Laurel & Hardy shorts and movies as a child. I hope to some day share them with our little ones.