Laurel and Hardy

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Laurel and Hardy
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Promotional Shot
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Promotional Shot
NationalityBritish, American
Years active1927–1955
GenresSlapstick, Comedy
Notable works and rolesThe Music Box, Babes in Toyland, Way Out West, Helpmates, Another Fine Mess, Sons of the Desert, Block-Heads, Busy Bodies
Memorial(s)Ulverston, Cumbria, England
Former membersStan Laurel
Oliver Hardy

Laurel and Hardy were a comedy duo act during the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema. The team was composed of Englishman Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and American Oliver Hardy (1892–1957). They became well known during the late 1920s to the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy, with Laurel playing the clumsy and childlike friend of the pompous bully Hardy.[1][2] The duo's signature tune is known variously as "The Cuckoo Song", "Ku-Ku", or "The Dance of the Cuckoos". It was played over the opening credits of their films and has become as emblematic of the duo as their bowler hats.

Prior to emerging as a team, both actors had well-established film careers. Laurel had appeared in over 50 films as an actor (while also working as a writer and director), while Hardy had been in more than 250 productions. The two comedians had previously worked together as cast members on the film The Lucky Dog in 1921. However, they were not a comedy team at that time and it was not until 1926 that they appeared in a short movie together, when both separately signed contracts with the Hal Roach film studio.[3] Laurel and Hardy officially became a team in 1927 when they appeared together in the silent short film Putting Pants on Philip. They remained with the Roach studio until 1940 and then appeared in eight "B" movie comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1941 to 1945.[4] After finishing their movie commitments at the end of 1944, they concentrated on performing in stage shows and embarked on a music hall tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland.[4] They made their last film in 1950, a French-Italian co-production called Atoll K.

They appeared as a team in 107 films, starring in 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films. They also made 12 guest or cameo appearances, including the Galaxy of Stars promotional film of 1936.[5] On December 1, 1954, the pair made their one American television appearance, when they were surprised and interviewed by Ralph Edwards on his live NBC-TV program This Is Your Life. Since the 1930s, the works of Laurel and Hardy have been released in numerous theatrical reissues, television revivals, 8-mm and 16-mm home movies, feature-film compilations, and home videos. In 2005, they were voted the seventh-greatest comedy act of all time by a UK poll of fellow comedians.[6] The official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society is known as The Sons of the Desert, named after a fictitious fraternal society featured in the film of the same name.

Early careers[edit]

Stan Laurel[edit]

Stan Laurel (June 16, 1890 – February 23, 1965) was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire, England into a theatrical family.[7] His father, Arthur Joseph Jefferson, was a theatrical entrepreneur and theatre owner in northern England and Scotland who, with his wife, was a major force in the industry.[8] In 1905, the Jefferson family moved to Glasgow to be closer to their business mainstay of the Metropole Theatre, and Laurel made his stage debut in a Glasgow hall called the Britannia Panopticon one month short of his 16th birthday.[9][10] Arthur Jefferson secured Laurel his first acting job with the juvenile theatrical company of Levy and Cardwell, which specialized in Christmas pantomimes.[11] In 1909, Laurel was employed by Britain's leading comedy impresario Fred Karno as a supporting actor, and as an understudy for Charlie Chaplin.[12][13] Laurel said of Karno, "There was no one like him. He had no equal. His name was box-office."[14]

In 1912, Laurel left England with the Fred Karno Troupe to tour the United States. Laurel had expected the tour to be merely a pleasant interval before returning to London; however, he decided to remain in the U.S.[15] In 1917, Laurel was teamed with Mae Dahlberg as a double act for stage and film; they were living as common law husband and wife.[16] The same year, Laurel made his film debut with Dahlberg in Nuts in May.[17] While working with Mae, he began using the name "Stan Laurel" and changed his name legally in 1931.[18] Dahlberg demanded roles in his films, and her tempestuous nature made her difficult to work with. Dressing room arguments were common between the two; it was reported that producer Joe Rock paid her to leave Laurel and to return to her native Australia.[19] In 1925, Laurel joined the Hal Roach film studio as a director and writer. From May 1925 until September 1926, he received credit in at least 22 films.[20] Laurel appeared in over 50 films for various producers before teaming up with Hardy.[21] Prior to that, he experienced only modest success. It was difficult for producers, writers, and directors to write for his character, with American audiences knowing him either as a "nutty burglar" or as a Charlie Chaplin imitator.[22]

Oliver Hardy[edit]

Oliver Hardy (January 18, 1892 – August 7, 1957) was born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia.[23] By his late teens, Hardy was a popular stage singer and he operated a movie house in Milledgeville, Georgia, the Palace Theater, financed in part by his mother.[24] For his stage name he took his father's first name, calling himself "Oliver Norvell Hardy", while offscreen his nicknames were "Ollie" and "Babe".[25] The nickname "Babe" originated from an Italian barber near the Lubin Studios in Jacksonville, Florida, who would rub Hardy's face with talcum powder and say "That's nice-a baby!" Other actors in the Lubin company mimicked this, and Hardy was billed as "Babe Hardy" in his early films.[26][27]

Seeing film comedies inspired him to take up comedy himself and, in 1913, he began working with Lubin Motion Pictures in Jacksonville. He started by helping around the studio with lights, props, and other duties, gradually learning the craft as a script-clerk for the company.[24] It was around this time that Hardy married his first wife, Madelyn Salosihn.[28] In 1914, Hardy was billed as "Babe Hardy" in his first film, Outwitting Dad.[27] Between 1914 and 1916 Hardy made 177 shorts as Babe with the Vim Comedy Company, which were released up to the end of 1917.[29] Exhibiting a versatility in playing heroes, villains and even female characters, Hardy was in demand for roles as a supporting actor, comic villain or second banana. For 10 years he memorably assisted star comic and Charlie Chaplin imitator Billy West, Jimmy Aubrey, Larry Semon, and Charley Chase.[30] In total, Hardy starred or co-starred in more than 250 silent shorts, of which roughly 150 have been lost. He was rejected for enlistment by the Army during World War I due to his size. In 1917, after the collapse of the Florida film industry, Hardy and his wife Madelyn moved to California to seek new opportunities.[31][32]

History as Laurel and Hardy[edit]

Hal Roach[edit]

Hal Roach has described how the two actors came together as a team. First, Hardy had already been working for Roach (and others) when Roach hired Laurel, whom he had seen in vaudeville. Laurel had very light blue eyes, and Roach discovered that, due to the technology of film at that time, Laurel's eyes wouldn't photograph properly — blue photographed as white. This problem is apparent in their first silent film together, The Lucky Dog, in which an attempt was made to compensate for the problem by making-up Laurel's eyes very heavily. For about a year, Roach had Laurel work at the studio as a writer. Then panchromatic film was developed, they did a test for Laurel, and found that the problem was solved. Laurel and Hardy were then put together in a film, and the two seemed to complement each other. Usually comedy teams were composed of a straight man and a funny man, but these two were both comedians; however, they both knew how to play the straight man when the script needed it. Roach said, "You could always cut to a close-up of either one, and their reaction was good for another laugh."[33]

Style of comedy and characterisations[edit]

Laurel and Hardy in The Lucky Dog (1917)

The humor of Laurel and Hardy was highly visual, with slapstick used for emphasis.[34] They often had physical arguments with each other (in character), which were quite complex and involved cartoon violence, and their characters precluded them from making any real progress in the simplest endeavors. Much of their comedy involves milking a joke, where a simple idea provides a basis from which to build multiple gags without following a defined narrative.

Stan Laurel was of average height and weight, but appeared small and slight next to Oliver Hardy, who was 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) tall[35] and weighed about 280 lb (127 kg) in his prime. They used some details to enhance this natural contrast. Laurel kept his hair short on the sides and back, growing it long on top to create a natural "fright wig". At times of shock, he would simultaneously cry while pulling up his hair. In contrast, Hardy's thinning hair was pasted on his forehead in spit curls and he sported a toothbrush moustache. To achieve a flat-footed walk, Laurel removed the heels from his shoes. Both wore bowler hats, with Laurel's being narrower than Hardy's, and with a flattened brim.[36] The characters' normal attire called for wing collar shirts, with Hardy wearing a neck tie which he would twiddle and Laurel a bow tie. Hardy's sports jacket was a tad small and done up with one straining button, whereas Laurel's double-breasted jacket was loose fitting.

A popular routine the team performed was a "tit-for-tat" fight with an adversary. This could be with their wives—often played by Mae Busch, Anita Garvin, or Daphne Pollard—or with a neighbor, often played by Charlie Hall or James Finlayson. Laurel and Hardy would accidentally damage someone's property, and the injured party would retaliate by ruining something belonging to Laurel or Hardy.[34] After calmly surveying the damage, they would find something else to vandalize, and the conflict would escalate until both sides were simultaneously destroying items in front of each other.[37] An early example of the routine occurs in their classic short Big Business (1929), which was added to the National Film Registry in 1992. Another short film which revolves around such an altercation was titled Tit for Tat (1935).

One of their best-remembered dialogues was the "Tell me that again" routine. Laurel would tell Hardy a genuinely smart idea he came up with, and Hardy would reply, "Tell me that again." Laurel would attempt to repeat the idea, but, having forgotten it, babble utter nonsense. Hardy, who had difficulty understanding Laurel's idea when expressed clearly, would understand the jumbled version perfectly. While much of their comedy remained visual, various lines of humorous dialogue appeared in Laurel and Hardy's talking films. Some examples include:

  • "You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led." (Laurel, Brats)[37]
  • "I was dreaming I was awake but I woke up and found meself asleep." (Laurel, Oliver the Eighth)
  • "A lot of weather we've been having lately." (Hardy, Way Out West)

In some cases, their comedy bordered on the surreal, in a style that Stan Laurel called "white magic".[34][38] For example, in the 1937 film Way Out West, Laurel clenches his fist and pours tobacco into it as if it were a pipe. He then flicks his thumb upward as if working a lighter. His thumb ignites and he matter-of-factly lights his "pipe". Amazed at seeing this, Hardy unsuccessfully attempts to duplicate it throughout the film. Much later he finally succeeds, only to be terrified when his thumb catches fire. Laurel repeats the pipe joke in the 1938 film Block-Heads, again to Hardy's bemusement. This time, the joke ends when a match Laurel was using relights itself, Hardy throws it into the fireplace, and it explodes with a loud bang.

Rather than showing Hardy suffering the pain of misfortunes, such as falling down stairs or being beaten by a thug, banging and crashing sound effects were often used so the audience could visualize the scene themselves.[34] The 1927 film Sailors Beware was a significant film for Hardy because two of his enduring trademarks were developed. The first was his "tie twiddle" to demonstrate embarrassment.[34] Hardy, while acting, had received a pail of water in the face. He said, "I had been expecting it, but I didn't expect it at that particular moment. It threw me mentally and I couldn't think what to do next, so I waved the tie in a kind of tiddly-widdly fashion to show embarrassment while trying to look friendly."[39] His second trademark was the "camera look", in which he breaks the fourth wall.[37] Hardy said: "I had to become exasperated so I just stared right into the camera and registered my disgust."[40] Offscreen, Laurel and Hardy were quite the opposite of their movie characters: Laurel was the industrious "idea man", while Hardy was more easygoing.[41]


The catchphrase most used by Laurel and Hardy on film is: "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"[37] The phrase was earlier used by W. S. Gilbert in both The Mikado from 1885 and The Grand Duke from 1896. It was first used by Hardy in The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case in 1930. In popular culture the catchphrase is often misquoted as "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into." The misquoted version of the phrase was never used by Hardy and the misunderstanding stems from the title of their film Another Fine Mess.[42] Numerous variations of the quote appeared on film. For example, in Chickens Come Home Ollie says impatiently to Stan "Well. ... " with Stan replying, "Here's another nice mess I've gotten you into." The films Thicker than Water and The Fixer-Uppers use the phrase "Well, here's another nice kettle of fish you pickled me in!" In Saps at Sea the phrase becomes "Well, here's another nice bucket of suds you've gotten me into!" The catchphrase is used in its original form in the duo's 1951 film Atoll K, where it fittingly serves as the final line of dialogue in what is the final Laurel and Hardy film. Most times, after Hardy said that phrase, Laurel would start to cry, exclaiming "Well, I couldn't help it..." and begin to whimper while speaking gibberish.

Another regular catchphrase, cried out by Ollie in moments of distress or frustration, as Stan stands helplessly by, is "Why don't you do something to help me?"

"D'oh!" is a catchphrase used by the mustachioed Scottish actor James Finlayson who appeared in 33 Laurel and Hardy films.[37] The phrase, expressing surprise, impatience, or incredulity, was the inspiration for "D'oh!" as spoken by the actor Dan Castellaneta portraying the character Homer Simpson in the long-running animated comedy The Simpsons. Homer's first intentional use of "d'oh!" occurred in the Ullman short "Punching Bag" (1988).[43] In Laurel and Hardy's first sound film, Unaccustomed As We Are, Hardy uses the expression when his character's wife smashes a record over his head.[44]


Laurel and Hardy appeared for the first time together in The Lucky Dog (1921).

The first film pairing of the two, although as separate performers, took place in the silent film The Lucky Dog in 1921. The exact date the film was produced is not recorded but film historian Bo Bergulund dated it between September 1920 and January 1921.[45] The association was casual, according to interviews given in the 1930s, and both of them had forgotten it entirely.[46] The plot sees Laurel's character befriended by a stray dog which, after some lucky escapes, saves him from being blown up by dynamite. Hardy's character is a mugger attempting to rob Laurel.[47] Several years later both comedians separately signed with the Hal Roach film studio and next appeared in the 1926 film 45 Minutes From Hollywood.[48]

Hal Roach was considered to be the most important person in the development of their film careers. He brought the team together and they worked for Hal Roach Studios for over 20 years.[49] Charley Rogers worked closely with the three men for many years and said, "It could not have happened if Laurel, Hardy and Roach had not met at the right place and the right time."[50] Their first "official" film together as a team was Putting Pants on Philip,[51] released on December 3, 1927.[52] The plot involves Laurel as Philip, a young Scotsman newly arrived in the United States, in full kilted splendor, suffering mishaps involving the kilt. His uncle, played by Hardy, is shown trying to put trousers on him.[53] Also, in 1927, the pair starred in The Battle of the Century, a lost but now found classic short, which involved over 3,000 cream pies.[54]

Laurel and Hardy with Lupe Vélez in Hollywood Party (1934)

Laurel said to the duo's biographer John McCabe: "Of all the questions we're asked, the most frequent is how did we come together? I always explain that we came together naturally."[55] Laurel and Hardy were joined by accident and grew by indirection.[56] In 1926, both were part of the Roach Comedy All Stars which was a group of actors of similar standing who took part in a series of films. Quite unwittingly Laurel and Hardy's parts grew larger while those of their fellow stars diminished because Laurel and Hardy were considered to be great actors.[57] Their teaming up was suggested by Leo McCarey who was their supervising director from 1927 and 1930. During this period McCarey and Laurel jointly devised the team's format.[58] McCarey also influenced the slowing down of their comedy to a more natural pace. After teaming up they played the same characters for 30 years.[59]

Although Hal Roach employed writers and directors such as H. M. Walker, Leo McCarey, James Parrott and James W. Horne on the Laurel and Hardy films, Laurel would rewrite entire sequences or scripts. He would also have the cast and crew improvise on the sound stage; he would then meticulously review the footage during the editing process.[60] By 1929 Laurel was the head writer and it was reported that the writing sessions were gleefully chaotic. Stan had three or four writers who joined in a perpetual game of 'Can You Top This?'[61] As Laurel obviously relished writing gags, Hardy was more than happy to leave the job to his partner and was once quoted as saying "After all, just doing the gags was hard enough work, especially if you have taken as many falls and been dumped in as many mudholes as I have. I think I earned my money".[32][62] From this point, Laurel was an uncredited film director for their films. He ran the Laurel and Hardy set, no matter who was in the director's chair, but never felt compelled to assert his authority. Roach remarked: "Laurel bossed the production. With any director, if Laurel said 'I don't like this idea,' the director didn't say 'Well, you're going to do it anyway.' That was understood."[63] As Laurel made so many suggestions there was not much left for the credited director to do.[64]

Laurel and Hardy in the 1939 film The Flying Deuces

In 1929 the silent era of film was coming to an end, and many actors saw their careers decline with the advent of sound.[65] Many silent film actors failed to make the transition because they decided their prime duty was to tell stories in words or they overemphasized their speech. Laurel and Hardy avoided this pitfall because they continued making primarily visual films.[66] They did not ignore sound but were not ruled by it.[66] As a team they proved skilful in their melding of visual and verbal humor and made a seamless transition to the talking era in their first sound film Unaccustomed As We Are from 1929.[44] The title took its name from the familiar phrase "Unaccustomed as we are to public speaking".[67] In the opening dialogue, Laurel and Hardy began by spoofing the slow and self-conscious speech of the early talking actors which became a routine they would use regularly.[68]

The first feature film starring Laurel and Hardy was Pardon Us from 1931.[69] The following year The Music Box, whose plot revolved around the pair pushing a piano up a long flight of steps,[70] won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Subject.[71] While many enthusiasts claim the superiority of The Music Box, their 1929 silent film Big Business is by far the most consistently acclaimed.[72] The plot of this film sees Laurel and Hardy as Christmas tree salesman involved in a classic tit-for-tat battle with a character played by James Finlayson that eventually destroys his house and their car.[73] Big Business was added to the National Film Registry in the United States as a national treasure in 1992.[74] The film Sons of the Desert from 1933 is often claimed to be Laurel and Hardy's best feature-length film.[75] A number of their films were reshot with Laurel and Hardy speaking in Spanish, Italian, French or German.[76] The plots for these films were similar to the English-language version although the supporting cast were often native language speaking actors. While Laurel and Hardy could not speak these foreign languages they received voice coaching for their lines. The film Pardon Us from 1931 was reshot in all four foreign languages while the films Blotto, Hog Wild and Be Big! were made in French and Spanish versions. Night Owls was made in both Spanish and Italian and Below Zero along with Chickens Come Home were only made in Spanish.

The 1934 film Babes in Toyland remains a perennial on American television during the Christmas season.[77] When interviewed Hal Roach spoke scathingly about the film and Laurel's behavior during the production. Laurel was unhappy with the plot, and after an argument was allowed to make the film his way.[78] The rift damaged Roach-Laurel relations to the point that Roach said that after Toyland, he no longer wished to produce Laurel and Hardy films. Nevertheless, their association continued for another six years.[60] Hoping for greater artistic freedom, Laurel and Hardy split with Roach.

Laurel and Hardy signed with 20th Century-Fox in 1941 and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1942.[79] However, the working conditions were now completely different as they were simply hired actors, relegated to both studios’ B-film units, and were initially not allowed to contribute to the scripts or improvise, as they had always done.[80] When the films proved popular, the studios allowed the team more input[81] and Laurel and Hardy starred in eight features until the end of 1944. These films, while far from the team's best work, were still very successful with moviegoers. The films, budgeted between $300,000 and $450,000 each, earned millions at the box office for Fox and MGM. The Fox films were so profitable that the studio kept making Laurel and Hardy comedies after Fox discontinued its other "B" series films.[82]

The busy team decided to take a rest during 1946, but 1947 included their first European tour in 15 years. A film named "Robin Hood" was planned to be filmed during the tour but was not realized. In 1947 Laurel and Hardy famously attended the re-opening of the Dungeness loop of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, where they performed several improvised routines with a steam locomotive for the benefit of the local crowds and dignitaries.

In 1948, upon the team's return to America, Laurel was sidelined by illness and temporarily unable to work. He encouraged Hardy to take movie parts on his own. Hardy's friend John Wayne hired him to co-star in The Fighting Kentuckian for Republic Pictures, and Bing Crosby got him a small part in Frank Capra's Riding High.

In 1950–51, Laurel and Hardy made their final feature-length film together, Atoll K. This film was a French-Italian co-production directed by Leo Joannon, but was plagued by problems with language barriers, production issues, and the serious health issues of both Laurel and Hardy.[78] During the filming, Hardy began to lose weight precipitously and developed an irregular heartbeat. Laurel was experiencing painful prostate complications as well.[83] Critics were disappointed with the storyline, English dubbing, and Laurel's sickly physical appearance in the film.[35] The final draft of the script was handed to Laurel upon arrival, which he found objectionable due to its heavy political content overshadowing the comedy. He quickly rewrote the screenplay, with screen comic Monty Collins contributing visual gags, and hired old American friend Alf Goulding to direct the Laurel and Hardy scenes. The film was not a commercial success on its first release (although it did finally turn a profit when re-released in other countries) and it brought an end to Laurel and Hardy's film careers.[83] In 1954 an American distributor removed 18 minutes of footage and released the film as Utopia; this American edit has been widely released on film and video, and is the best-known version of the film.

After Atoll K wrapped in April 1951, the team returned to America and used the remainder of the year to rest. Stan did take part in a silent TV newsreel, Swim Meet, in character, as co-director of a local California contest.

Most Laurel and Hardy films have survived and are still in circulation. Three of their 107 films are considered lost and have not been seen in their complete form since the 1930s.[84] The silent film Hats Off from 1927 has vanished completely. The first half of the 1927 film Now I'll Tell One is lost and the second half has yet to be released on video. In the 1930 operatic Technicolor musical The Rogue Song, Laurel and Hardy appear in 10 sequences, only one of which is known to exist with the complete soundtrack.[85]

Final years[edit]

Following the making of Atoll K, Laurel and Hardy took some months off to deal with health issues. Upon their return to the European stage in 1952, they undertook a well-received series of public appearances, performing a short sketch Laurel had written called "A Spot of Trouble". Hoping to repeat the success the following year Laurel wrote a routine entitled "Birds of a Feather".[86] On September 9, 1953, their boat arrived in Cobh in the Republic of Ireland. Laurel recounted their reception:

The love and affection we found that day at Cobh was simply unbelievable. There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles and mobs and mobs of people screaming on the docks. We just couldn't understand what it was all about. And then something happened that I can never forget. All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song "Dance of the Cuckoos" and Babe (Oliver Hardy) looked at me and we cried. I'll never forget that day. Never.[87]

While on tour of Britain and Ireland in 1953, Laurel and Hardy appeared on radio in Ireland and on a live BBC television broadcast of the popular show Face the Music with host Henry Hall a week later. These shows do not appear to have been preserved on record, tape, or kinescope, but notes from the Face The Music television appearance have been recently discovered. According to the notes, Ollie informs Stan that the television program has an audience of six million and that host Henry Hall is "going to introduce us to them". To which Stan replies "That's going to take a long time, isn't it?"

Laurel and Hardy on NBC's This Is Your Life December 1, 1954

On May 17, 1954, the pair made their last live stage performance in Plymouth, UK at the Palace Theatre. On December 1, 1954, the team made their only American television appearance when they were surprised and interviewed by Ralph Edwards on his live NBC-TV program This Is Your Life. Lured to the Knickerbocker Hotel under the pretense of a business meeting with producer Bernard Delfont, the doors opened to their suite, #205, flooding the room with light and the voice of Edwards. This telecast was preserved on a kinescope and later released on home video. Partly due to the positive response from the television broadcast the pair began renegotiating with Hal Roach, Jr. for a series of color NBC Television specials to be called Laurel and Hardy's Fabulous Fables. However, plans for the specials had to be shelved as the ageing comedians continued to suffer from declining health.[86] In 1955, America's magazine TV Guide ran a color spread on the team with current photos; the same year they made their final public appearance together while taking part in the program This Is Music Hall. This was a BBC Television program about the Grand Order of Water Rats, a British variety organization. Laurel and Hardy provided a filmed insert in which they reminisce about their friends in British variety. They made their final appearance on camera in 1956 in a private home movie, shot by a family friend at the Reseda, CA home of Stan Laurel's daughter, Lois. It contains no audio and is three minutes in length.[88]

In 1956, while following his doctor's orders to improve his health due to a heart condition, Hardy lost over 100 pounds (45 kg; 7.1 st), nonetheless suffering several strokes resulting in reduced mobility and speech. Despite his long and successful career, Hardy's home was sold to help cover the cost of his medical expenses.[78] He died of a stroke on August 7, 1957, and longtime friend Bob Chatterton said Hardy weighed just 138 pounds (63 kg; 9.9 st) at the time of his death. Hardy was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers' Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood.[89] Following Hardy's death, Laurel and Hardy's films were returned to movie theaters as clips of their work were featured in Robert Youngson's silent-film compilation The Golden Age of Comedy.

For the remaining eight years of his life, Stan Laurel refused to perform and even turned down Stanley Kramer's offer of a cameo in his landmark 1963 movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.[90] In 1960, Laurel was given a special Academy Award for his contributions to film comedy but was unable to attend the ceremony, due to poor health, and actor Danny Kaye accepted the award for him.[91] Despite not appearing on screen after Hardy's death, Laurel did contribute gags to several comedy filmmakers. During this period most of his communication was in the form of written correspondence and he insisted on personally answering every fan letter.[90] Late in life, he hosted visitors of the new generation of comedians and celebrities including Dick Cavett, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers, Marcel Marceau, Johnny Carson and Dick Van Dyke.[92] Jerry Lewis offered Laurel a job as consultant but Stan elected to help out only on Lewis's 1960 feature The Bellboy.[citation needed]

Dick Van Dyke had always been a fan and he based his comedy and dancing style on that of Laurel. One day, out of curiosity he looked in the phone book and discovered the home number for Stan Laurel, who invited him over for the afternoon. [93] Van Dyke hosted a television tribute to Stan Laurel the year he died.

Laurel lived until 1965 and survived to see the duo's work rediscovered through television and classic film revivals. He died on February 23 in Santa Monica and is buried at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California.[94]

Supporting cast members[edit]

Laurel and Hardy's films included a supporting cast of comic actors, some of whom appeared regularly:[95]


The duo's famous signature tune, known variously as "The Cuckoo Song", "Ku-Ku" or "The Dance of the Cuckoos", was composed by Roach musical director Marvin Hatley as the on-the-hour chime for the Roach studio radio station.[96] Laurel heard the tune on the station and asked Hatley if they could use it as the Laurel and Hardy theme song. The original theme, recorded by two clarinets in 1930, was recorded again with a full orchestra in 1935. Leroy Shield composed the majority of the music used in the Laurel and Hardy short sound films.[97] A compilation of songs from their films, titled Trail of the Lonesome Pine, was released in 1975. The title track was released as a single in the UK and reached #2 in the charts.

Influence and legacy[edit]

Silhouette portrait of the duo in Redcar, England

Laurel and Hardy's influence over a very broad range of comedy and other genres has been considerable. Lou Costello of the famed duo of Abbott and Costello, stated "They were the funniest comedy duo of all time", adding "Most critics and film scholars throughout the years have agreed with this assessment."[98] Writers, artists and performers as diverse as Samuel Beckett,[99] Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers, Marcel Marceau[100] Steve Martin, John Cleese,[101] Harold Pinter,[102] Alec Guinness,[103] J. D. Salinger,[104] Rene Magritte[105] and Kurt Vonnegut[104][106] amongst many others, have acknowledged an artistic debt. Starting in the 1960s, the exposure on television of (especially) their short films has ensured a continued influence on generations of comedians.

Posthumous revivals and popular culture[edit]

Since the 1930s, the works of Laurel and Hardy have been released again in numerous theatrical reissues, television revivals (broadcast, especially public television and cable), 16 mm and 8 mm home movies, feature-film compilations and home video. After Stan Laurel's death in 1965, there were two major motion-picture tributes: Laurel and Hardy's Laughing '20s was Robert Youngson's compilation of the team's silent-film highlights, and The Great Race was a large-scale salute to slapstick that director Blake Edwards dedicated to "Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy". For many years the duo were impersonated by Jim MacGeorge (as Laurel) and Chuck McCann (as Hardy) in children's TV shows and television commercials for various products.[107]

Numerous colorized versions of copyright-free Laurel and Hardy features and shorts have been reproduced by a multitude of production studios. Although the results of adding color were often in dispute, many popular titles are currently only available in the colorized version. The color process often affects the sharpness of the image, with some scenes being altered or deleted, depending on the source material used.[108] Their film Helpmates was the first film to undergo the process and was released by Colorization Inc., a subsidiary of Hal Roach Studios, in 1983. Colorization was a success for the studio and Helpmates was released on home video with the colorized version of The Music Box in 1986.

Statue of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy outside the Coronation Hall Theatre, Ulverston, Cumbria, England (Laurel's birthplace).

There are three Laurel and Hardy museums. One is in Laurel's birthplace, Ulverston, United Kingdom and another one is in Hardy's birthplace, Harlem, Georgia, United States.[109][110] The third one is located in Solingen, Germany.[111] Maurice Sendak showed three identical Oliver Hardy figures as bakers preparing cakes for the morning in his award-winning 1970 children's book In the Night Kitchen.[112] This is treated as a clear example[by whom?] of "interpretative illustration" wherein the comedians' inclusion harked back to the author's childhood.[Note 1] The Beatles used cut-outs of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the cutout celebrity crowd for the cover of their 1967 album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. A 2005 poll by fellow comedians and comedy insiders of the top 50 comedians for The Comedian's Comedian, a TV documentary broadcast on UK's Channel 4, voted the duo the seventh-greatest comedy act ever, making them the top double act on the list.[6]

Merchandiser Larry Harmon claimed ownership of Laurel's and Hardy's likenesses and has issued Laurel and Hardy toys and coloring books. He also co-produced a series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons in 1966 with Hanna-Barbera Productions.[115] His animated versions of Laurel and Hardy guest-starred in a 1972 episode of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies. In 1999, Harmon produced a direct-to-video feature live-action comedy entitled The All New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy in For Love or Mummy. Actors Bronson Pinchot and Gailard Sartain were cast playing the lookalike nephews of Laurel and Hardy named Stanley Thinneus Laurel and Oliver Fatteus Hardy.[116]

The Indian comedy duo Ghory and Dixit was known as the Indian Laurel and Hardy.[117] In 2011 the German/French TV station Arte released in co-production with the German TV station ZDF the 90-minute documentary Laurel & Hardy: Their Lives and Magic.[118] The film, titled in the original German Laurel and Hardy: Die komische Liebesgeschichte von "Dick & Doof", was written and directed by German film-maker Andreas Baum. It includes many movie clips, rare and unpublished photographs, interviews with family, fans, friends, showbiz pals and newly recovered footage. Laurel's daughter Lois Laurel Hawes said of the film: "The best documentary about Laurel and Hardy I have ever seen!". It has also been released as a Director's Cut with a length of 105 minutes, plus 70 minutes of bonus materials on DVD.[119]

Appreciation society[edit]

The official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society is known as The Sons of the Desert, after a fraternal society in their film of the same name (1933).[120] It was established in New York City in 1965 by Laurel and Hardy biographer John McCabe, with Orson Bean, Al Kilgore, Chuck McCann, and John Municino as founding members, with the sanction of Stan Laurel.[121] Since the group's inception, well over 150 chapters of the organization have formed across North America, Europe, and Australia. An Emmy-winning film documentary about the group, Revenge of the Sons of the Desert, has been released on DVD as part of The Laurel and Hardy Collection, Vol. 1.

Around the world[edit]

Laurel and Hardy are popular around the world but are known under different names in various countries and languages.

Country Nickname
Egypt (لوريل وهاردي) (Laurel and Hardy)
Iran (لورل و هاردی) (Laurel and Hardy)
Poland "Flip i Flap" (Flip and Flap)
Germany "Dick und Doof" (Fat and Dumb)
Brazil "O Gordo e o Magro" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Sweden and Norway "Helan och Halvan" (The Whole and the Half)
Spanish-speaking countries "El Gordo y el Flaco" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Italy "Stanlio e Ollio" also as "Cric e Croc" up to the 1970s
Hungary "Stan és Pan" (Stan and Pan)
Romania "Stan și Bran" (Stan and Bran)
The Netherlands, Flemish Belgium "Laurel en Hardy", "Stan en Ollie", "De Dikke en de Dunne" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Denmark "Gøg og Gokke" (Roughly translates to Wacky and Pompous)
Portugal "O Bucha e o Estica" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia "Stanlio i Olio"
Macedonia "Olio i Stanlio" (Олио и Станлио)
Slovenia "Stan in Olio"
Greece "Hondros kai Lignos" (Χοντρός και Λιγνός) (Fat and Skinny)
India (Punjabi) "Moota Paatla" (Laurel and Hardy) (Fat and Skinny)
Finland Ohukainen ja Paksukainen (Thin one and Thick one)
Iceland "Steini og Olli"
Israel "השמן והרזה" (ha-Shamen ve ha-Raze, The Fat and the Skinny)
Vietnam (South) "Mập - Ốm" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Korea (South) "뚱뚱이와 홀쭉이" (The Fat and the Skinny)
Malta "L-Oħxon u l-Irqiq" ("The Fat and the Thin One")
Thailand "อ้วนผอมจอมยุ่ง" ("The Clumsy Fat and Thin")
Sweden "Helan och Halvan" ("the whole and the half")
France "Laurel et Hardy"


A biopic titled Stan & Ollie directed by Jon S. Baird and starring Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Oliver was released in 2018 and chronicled the duo's 1953 tour of Great Britain and Ireland. The film received positive reviews from critics, garnering a 94% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For their performances, Reilly and Coogan were nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award respectively.


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Sendak described his early upbringing as sitting in movie houses fascinated by the Laurel and Hardy comedies.[113][114]


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External links[edit]