Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Today is Stan Laurel's birthday! He was born in England in 1890 as Stanley Arthur Jefferson and changed it wisely to "Laurel" at the suggestion of a manager. At Stan's funeral, the great Buster Keaton summed it all up pretty well. He said "Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I was the funniest-- oh no Stan Laurel was the funniest. This single man has brought more laughter into my life than I could ever relate to you here. He was simply brilliant at what he did. One of the secrets of understanding and really appreciating Laurel & Hardy together in films is to understand that Oliver Hardy is actually dumber than Stan-- but doesn't know it. So what about this amazing man of a thousand expressions and countless bits of honest comedy. Well for one thing, His father managed a number of different theatres - one of which being the long demolished Eden Theatre in Bishop Auckland. Stan had a natural affinity for the theatre, with his first professional performance on stage being at the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 16] In 1910, he joined Fred Karno's troupe of actors, which also included a young Charlie Chaplin. No here's a big surprise-- For some time, Stan acted as Chaplin's understudy. In the meantime, The Karno troupe toured America, and brought both Chaplin and Laurel to the United States for the first time. From 1916 to 1918, he teamed up with Alice and Baldwin Cooke, who became lifelong friends. Amongst other performers, Laurel worked briefly alongside Oliver Hardy in a silent film short The Lucky Dog, this was before the two became a team. It was around this time that Stan met Mae Dahlberg, who was to have a great effect on his life. Also about this time, Stan adopted the stage name of Laurel, at Dahlberg's suggestion. The pair were performing together when Laurel was offered $75.00 per week to star in two-reel comedies. After the making of his first film, Nuts in May, Universal offered him a contract. The contract was soon cancelled, however, during a reorganisation at the studio.By 1924, Laurel had forsaken the stage for full-time film work, now under contract with Joe Rock for twelve two-reel comedies. The contract also had one unusual stipulation, that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films. It was felt that her temperament was hindering his career. In 1925, when she started interfering with Laurel's work, Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted. In 1926, Stan married his first wife, Lois Nielson. He would go on to marry three other women. One of them he would marry twice.
He was also good friends with Jimmy Finlayson before the team of Laurel and Hardy appeared. Dear Stan Laurel went on to join the Hal Roach studio, and began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director, but fate stepped in. In 1927, Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios' supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year. Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in a lavish all-colour Technicolor
musical feature, The Rogue Song. In 1931, their own first starring feature, Pardon Us was released, although they continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject. Trust me when I tell, I can watch "The Music Box" fifty times more and still laugh and still find something new about this legendary and wonderful comedy. God love you, dear Stan, wherever you are. Hopefully, you and Mr. Hardy are still making God laugh-- Lord knows, he needs it!"