Laurel & Hardy - Mondays in December

November 25, 2020
Laurel & Hardy - Mondays In December

TCM Stars of the Month for December are Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the incomparable comedy team who won the affection of international movie audience during the first half of the 20th century and remain among the most beloved of all film performers of their era. Laurel was the slender Englishman, Hardy the rotund American. Stan was the bumbling, well-intentioned innocent; Ollie, the fastidious, pompous would-be man of the world. Laurel’s endearing comic trademarks included blank stares, pitiful whimpers and puzzled head-scratches, while Hardy was given to flowery speeches, double-takes and the waggling of his necktie.

Each performer had successful solo careers, gaining a following through stage work before making their mark in movies. Laurel in particular earned praise for his early film work, winning comparisons to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. But it was when they joined forces that the magic happened. Laurel and Hardy completed each other as any exceptional couple does, and they developed into a comic pairing hailed by many as the greatest of all time. They set the pattern for comedy teams that followed, including Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis and the fictional Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, as well as Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar.

Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on June 16, 1890 to theatrical parents in Ulverston, Lancashire, England. He was one of five children of Arthur Jefferson, a vaudevillian and theater manager, and the former Margaret Metcalfe, an actress. Stanley grew up in the British music hall and absorbed its traditions and methods. The family eventually moved to Glasgow, Scotland, and the age of 16, he made his professional debut at Glasgow’s Panopticon music hall, where he perfected his skills in pantomime and first wore his trademark bowler hat.

In 1910, under the name Stan Jefferson, he joined a comedy troupe led by Fred Karno. A young Charlie Chaplin was also in the company, and for a time, Stan worked as his understudy. Later that year, both Laurel and Chaplin came to the U.S. with Karno. After leaving the troupe in 1914, Laurel worked with other comics in American venues in various duos and trios. He made his film debut, still billed as Stan Jefferson, in the short Nuts in May (1917), shot at Bernstein Studios in Hollywood. (Only a brief fragment of the film survives.)

In 1924, Laurel signed a contract with producer Joe Rock to star in a series of 12 two-reel comedies and began devoting himself full-time to film work. He made comedy shorts for Metro, Hal Roach Studios and Universal, then returned to work with Roach. He was billed in a few films as “Stanley Laurel” before shortening his first name to “Stan.” It was said that he chose his last name after seeing a drawing of a Roman general, Scipio, wearing a laurel wreath.

Oliver Hardy was born Norvell Hardy on January 18, 1892, in Harlem, GA. His father, Oliver, was a recruiting officer for the U.S. Army and a tax collector. His mother was a descendant of Captain Hugh Norvell, a founder of Williamsburg, VA. Hardy, like Laurel, was one of five children. His father died less than a year after he was born, and while still a youngster, his brother Sam drowned in Georgia’s Oconee River. An unruly child, Hardy was sent to a military academy and later ran away from boarding school to perform with a theatrical company.

Hardy’s mother arranged for him to have singing lessons in Atlanta, and he performed for $3.50 a week at a local theater. By his teens, he was using “Oliver” as his first name in tribute to his father – although he would later be billed as “O.N. Hardy” or “Babe Hardy” before settling on Oliver Hardy. While still a teenager, Hardy began managing a movie theater in Milledgeville, GA, which led to a fascination with the new medium. He moved to Jacksonville, FL, where he Lubin Manufacturing Company and other production companies were making silent films.

Hardy made his film debut for Lubin in Outwitting Dad (1914). Within a year he had appeared in more than 50 one-reel films for the company. He also worked for other companies in Florida and New York, usually playing the “heavy” because of his body size. In 1917, Hardy relocated to Hollywood and freelanced at several studios. He worked regularly for Vitagraph, making more than 40 films for that company. By 1924, he had signed with Hal Roach Studios, where he had supporting roles in films starring Our Gang, Charley Chase and others.

Laurel and Hardy first worked together in a Hal Roach short called The Lucky Dog, filmed in 1919 and released in 1921. It was a starring vehicle for Laurel, with Hardy in support. Laurel had become primarily interested in directing and co-directed the comedy shorts Yes, Yes, Nanette (1925) and Wandering Papas (1926), both featuring Hardy. Both actors were under contract to Hal Roach, and that astute producer was inspired to cast them both in the comedy short 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926), although they didn’t work as a team until Duck Soup (1927) and weren’t officially recognized as such until The Second Hundred Years (1927).

Through Roach, the duo started making three-reelers that were distributed through MGM, beginning with Sugar Daddies (1927). The first real starring property for Laurel and Hardy from Roach/MGM was From Soup to Nuts (1928). Their first all-talking sound short was Unaccustomed as We Are (1929).

Laurel, with his background in writing and directing, was recognized as the brains of the act, concocting and refining comedy routines while Hardy was content to play along. Hardy reportedly spent his downtime socializing with others on film sets while Laurel was hard at work refining their material.

In addition to Hal Roach, another influence on the partnership was Leo McCarey, later to become an Oscar-winning writer-director. Under contract to Roach, he officially served as director on only two Laurel and Hardy shorts but worked on many of their screenplays and supervised the direction of others.

Outstanding among the L&H comedy shorts are The Music Box (1932), which won an Oscar as Best Short Subject, Comedy; and Tit for Tat (1935), which was nominated in the same category. The popularity of the shorts led Roach to introduce features into the MGM series. All told, Laurel and Hardy would appear together in 106 movies. The following are Laurel and Hardy features in the TCM tribute that were produced by Hal Roach and distributed through MGM.

Pardon Us (1931), the duo’s first feature, was filmed during Prohibition and has the boys being sent to prison after Laurel sells some of their home brew to a policeman. Pack Up Your Troubles (1932), set during World War I, casts Stan and Ollie as Army veterans searching for the orphaned child of a buddy who died in the trenches.

Sons of the Desert (1933), often considered the best Laurel/Hardy feature, has the boys fooling their wives into thinking they are on a cruise to benefit Ollie’s health when they are actually attending the boisterous convention of a fraternal organization. The Devil’s Brother (1933) is a comic version of Fra Diavolo, Daniel Auber’s operetta about an 18th-century Italian bandit (Dennis King). Laurel and Hardy play would-be robbers Stanlio and Ollio.

Babes in Toyland (1934) is another adaptation of an operetta, this one the holiday perennial by Victor Herbert in which Mother Goose characters come to life. The boys play Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum, toymakers who foil the plot of evil Barnaby Barnicle (Henry Brandon) to marry Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry). This feature is a particular favorite among many L&H fans.

Our Relations (1936) casts the boys in double roles as each is discovered to have a twin brother and all four characters become involved in a case of mistaken identity. Way Out West (1937) has Stan and Ollie delivering the deed for a gold mine to a young lady (Rosina Lawrence) in the Old West town of Brushwood Gulch. They stir up some of their best laughs in this spoof.

Block-Heads (1938) is a slapstick adventure in which Stan returns from his World War I post after 20 years and is shown the wonders of contemporary living by friend Ollie. Swiss Miss (1938) has the guys as mousetrap salesmen in Switzerland, where Ollie falls in love with an opera star (Della Lind) without knowing her identity.

The final features Laurel and Hardy made for Hal Roach were A Chump at Oxford (1939) and Saps at Sea (1940), both distributed by United Artists. As free agents, they made six features for 20th Century-Fox and two for MGM – Air Raid Wardens (1943) and Nothing But Trouble (1944). The latter film turned out to be their biggest money-maker.  

The pair’s last screen appearance was in a French/Italian production, Atoll K (1950), reissued as Utopia. After that, they continued to work in music halls because neither was well-off financially. Hardy made a solo appearance in John Wayne’s The Fighting Kentuckian (1949).

Laurel never became a U.S. citizen. He and Australian-born actress Mae Dahlberg, also a professional partner, lived as common-law husband and wife, 1919-25. He was wed four times, marrying and divorcing one wife, Virginia Ruth Rogers, twice. He died in 1965, reportedly in poverty, after suffering a heart attack.

Hardy, who was married three times and had no children, died in 1957 from cerebral thrombosis. Laurel was devastated by his friend’s death and was not up to attending the funeral. After that, he refused to perform on stage or in film without his partner.

In 1960, accepting an honorary Oscar for Stan Laurel, Danny Kaye said of “the fat man with the tall hat and the thin man with the sad face” that Laurel and Hardy “made us laugh because in them we kind of saw ourselves – ridiculous, frustrated, up to our necks in trouble, but ourselves nevertheless.”


Featured Films


Do Detectives Think? (1927)
Putting Pants on Phillip (1927)
You're Darn Tootin' (1927)
Two Tars (1928)
Habeas Corpus (1928)
Big Business (1929)
Unaccustomed As We Are (1929)
Double Whoopee (1929)
Berth Marks (1929)
Men O'War (1929)
Perfect Day (1929)
They Go Boom! (1929)
The Hoose-Gow (1929)
Angora Love (1929)
Night Owls (1930)
Brats (1930)
Blotto (1930)
Pardon Us (1931)
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)
Babes in Toyland (1934)
The Devil's Brother (1933)
The Bohemian Girl (1936)
Hollywood Party (1934)


Below Zero (1930)
Hog Wild (1930)
The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930)
Another Fine Mess (1930)
Be Big! (1930)
Chickens Come Home (1931)
Laughing Gravy (1931)
Our Wife (1931)
Come Clean (1931)
One Good Turn (1931)
Beau Hunks (1931)
Helpmates (1932)
Any Old Port (1932)
The Music Box (1932)
The Chimp (1932)
County Hospital (1932)
Scram! (1932)
Way Out West (1937)
Block-Heads (1938)
Our Relations (1936)
Swiss Miss (1938)
The Flying Deuces (1939)
Pick a Star (1937)


The Golden Age of Comedy (1967)
Their First Mistake (1932)
Towed in a Hole (1932)
Twice Two (1933)
Me and My Pal (1933)
The Midnight Patrol (1933)
Busy Bodies (1933)
Dirty Work (1933)
Oliver the Eighth (1934)
Going Bye-Bye! (1934)
Them Thar Hills (1934)
The Live Ghost (1934)
Tit for Tat (1935)
The Fixer Uppers (1935)
Thicker Than Water (1935)
A Chump at Oxford (1940)
Saps at Sea (1940)
Nothing But Trouble (1944)
Air Raid Wardens (1943)
Utopia (1950)