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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (May 24, 1961)
Wednesday, May 24,
To Laurel and Hardy, with Love...
By Joha C. West
There's a scene from an early six-reel
comedy where a fat man with a derby hat
and a tall, thin man with a sad face find
themselves imprisoned for bootlegging.
(They sold their first batch to a Prohibition
agent.) As part of their rehabilitation, they
, are enrolled in a classroom in which the
following dialogue takes place:
Teacher: "Three goes into nine how
Stan: "Three time . . .
SUa: ". . . and two left aver." '
(OIlie laughs unroariously.)
Teacher: "What are yon laughing for?"
OIlie: "There's only one left over."
(from PARDON US, 193 1)
For years, the intelligentsia heaped lav
ish praise upon clowns like Charles Chaplin
and the Marx Bros. at the same time treat
ing two of their equals with snobbish neglect.
But, the release of Robert Youngson's
THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY and
WHEN COMEDY WAS KING has revealed
to astonished critics, and a less astonished
public, just how amusing a team Stan
Laurel and Oliver Hardy were. Starring in
62 short comedies and 27 feature-length
films (made between 1926 and 1950), these
two remarkable funnymen made an indel
ible contribution to an artfonn developed in
our century and our nation.
Why was their greatness forgottea? Per
haps because Laarel and Hardy defied eoa
ventioa. They never played for tears, com
pletely ignoring the axiom that a down
mast make aadieaces cry, as well as langa.
And, ia so doing, their humor shrewdly
avoided the tragic hamiliatioa that other
comedians chose to undergo ia the name of
pathos. They were merely fanny! Also, Stan
and OHie sever coascionsly injected into
their picture the elements of social sig
nificance which often eonfnsed the comic
artfnlaess of Chaplin, Guaness, Tati, etc.
bat which delighted the critics. "Never try
to outsmart the aadieaee," was Laurel's
simple credo. 'And play to the people they
The humor of Laurel and Hardy was pre
dicated upon situation. In THE MUSIC BOX
(Academy Award winner, 1932), the boys
buff, puff and grunt in their attempt to get
a piano up a high-terraced rise of steps
leading from the street to a house on top of
the hill When they finally reach the top, a
postman informs them that it would have
been easier to drive the piano up a back
road. Gracefully, they thank him and toil
back down the stairs to return via the easier
way. The late critic, James Agee recalled a
famous scene in SWISS MISS (1338): "sim
ple and real ... as a nightmare. Laurel and
Hardy are trying to move a pka across a
narrow suspension bridge (a piaAO was oft
en a not-so-silent partner to L-&IL antics).
The bridge is slung over a sickening chasm,
between a couple of alps. Midway they meet
a gorilla!" In BLOCKHEADS (1338), Ollie's
wife chases him and Stan around the back
of an apartment building. When she fires
at them with a shotgun, about 25 guys jump
out of various windows some of them car
rying their trousers. Perhaps this seems
blunt, but one has to admit it's awfully
The contrast of characters between the
fat and the thin man added greatly to their
appeaL Stan was always one beat behind
everyone else's thinking: the classic simple
tea, the odd-maa-oat, the rebeCious child
who, more often than not, struck back at
adversity fast long enough to conquer It- It
was be who fostered the Insane schemes
which inevitably backfired ia OSk's face
while staa stood by unharmed, looking
"3 T --IWs x"
c S - ' , f
with helpless wonder npoa the chaos be had
innocently caused. "Here's another fine
mess yoa've gotten me into," was Ms part
ner's standard reaction.
As Stan was the light-footed, timid little
creature, the round and juicy Oliver walked
with elegant self-assurance. But, behind his
delicate, elephantine gestures, exasperated
pompousness, sublime incompetence and
elaborate bows, beat a heart even more in
nocent and child-like than that of Stan's.
Hardy effectively stretched the simplest
reactions and situations to ever-amusing
lengths. In BE BIG (1930), he labored for
two reels to get a riding boot onto his enor
mous foot His small talk was magnificant:
"A lot of weather we've been having lately."
Pause and grin. "Only four months until
Christmas." (from WAY OUT WEST, 1937).
Their most natural contrasts were of
sound and size. Laarel speaks to this day
with a Lancaslure-Qdaey-Ho33ywood ac
cent which is, for the most part, an out
. growth of his early musk hall days. Hardy's
voice was a warm and gentle Southern
tenor. And, as the anatomy of their humor
is appealing, the humor of their anatomy
was even more so. For without Stan's long
jawer, dopey expressions, and the pained
resignation OIlie achieved simply by ar-
Joha Charles West was reared ia Chicago
and came to the University of Nebraska ia
IS5A. He has eentianed his major to radio
and television prod actio fate gradaate
sehooL Intensive interest, fa all aspects of
filmmaking hat inspired his leadership ia
Nebraska Uaioa FOm Committee activities
sad the motion picture column be eoadacted
for the Daily Nebraskaa for five semesters.
This essay is based apoa a personal eorre
speadence with Staa Laarel and research
gathered for "The Comedy FOm," a pro
gram ia KUON-TVs forthcoming documen
tary series, THE FLICKERING AST.
ranging his dimples, an important part of
the act would have been lost.
An endearing aspect of Laurel and Hardy's
screen personalities was their basic child
ish innocence. Dr. John McCabe, ia his re
cent biography, "Mr. Laurel and Mr.
Hardy," summed it np best by observing
that they were "the epitome of all the
Babes in all the Woods.' Danny Kaye later
pointed oat that this made as laugh "he
cause, la them, we saw ourselves rldica
loits, frustrated, ap to ear necks in trouble,
bat nevertheless ourselves."
Off the screen, Stan and "Babe" (as
Oliver had been called for years in private
life) were not a great deal unlike the charac
ters they created. Hardy was courtly, gen
tle, a good golfer, and sensitive about his
size. Laurel, now 70, enjoys the relatively
quiet life he did in the years the films were
made. He resides with bis wife in a Santa
Monica apartment-hotel, where much of his
time is spent personally answering quan
tities of fan mail from an admiring world
wide public which his films on television have
helped to increase. Not well known is the
fact that Stan himself had a forceful hand
in the writing, direction and editing of most
of the Laurel and Hardy pictures. From his
fertile mind sprang many of the universally
humorous notions that have been borrowed
so freely by other comedians in later years
(Gteason and Carney, etc.). For his real,,
and characteristically unassuming, achieve
ment in the Field of film comedy, he was
awarded an Oscar by the Academy of Mo
tion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this
year. Because of an eye hemorrhage, Stan
was unable to receive his award in-person,
however, be has recently announced that a
return to health will allow him to act as
story consultant in a proposed theater and
TV series of cartoons built around the
Laurel and Hardy characters.
Oliver Hardy died in August of 1957.
Laurel later recalled:
" yoa'd think people would forget, bat
they dent. The love aad affection we found
that day at Ceba (daring a 1933 persoaal
appearance fear ia Ireland) was simply aa
believable. There were hundreds of boats
blowing whistles, and mobs aad mobs of
people screaming on the docks. We jast
couldn't understand what it was aS about.
Aad then something happened that I eaa
ever forget. All the church bells ia Cobb
started to ring out our theme song ("The
Cukoo Song"), aad Babe looked at me, aad
we cried. Maybe people loved us aad oar
pictures because we put so much love in
them. I dent know. 111 aever forget that
day. Never ... He (Babe) was like a
brother to me. We seemed to sease each
other. ... whatever I did was tops with him.
There was never aay argument between as,
never. I hope that wherever he is now that
he realizes bow mora people loved aim."
Perhaps the greatest distinction of Stan
Laurel and Oliver Hardy's comedy work
was their ability to perform with equal suc
cess in both silent and talking pictures. As
other comedians had felt out of place in
sound films (Notably, Keaton; Chaplin
waited 13 years after the coming of sound
to speak on the screen), Stan and OILe were
equally at home when the movies assumed
their new dimension. The act was qukkly
adapted to include inventive sound effects
(Stan clunks OIlie on the head ia THE PER
FECT DAY, 1929. and the blow sounds l ie
an anvil striking a hammeran idea later
stolen by cartoon producers), and musical
numbers (the son and dance routines ia
WAY OUT WEST). At the same time, their
sound pictures retained an essential rerpect
for their abilities with panlomine. Dialogue
was always subordnale to sight gags.
(Continued Page f )
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