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An Abiding Friendship and Laughter for the World – The Story of Laurel and Hardy

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A Happy Diwali to all MSFL clients and readers of this story. I hope this story brings us all a happy and encouraging beginning to the New Year. This is a story about:

  • The deep and long friendship between Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
  • The immense joy and happiness Laurel and Hardy’s movies gave, and still give, to millions around the world

Beginnings in the new movie industry

Laurel was born in England in 1890 into a theatrical family. His father was a theatre manager, and his mother was a stage actress. From an early age, he acted on stage and did not ever consider any other profession. In 1912 he was part of a theatre group that toured the United States. He never left the US and built his career in Hollywood. Laurel acted in over 50 films before he was teamed up with Hardy.

Hardy was born in 1892 in Georgia, USA. Hardy had a difficult time in school as he had no academic interests. Hardy, however, showed an excellent aptitude for music and acting. When he ran away from his boarding school, his mother, who was always supportive and encouraging of his interests, sent him to study singing and acting with well-known performers. Hardy was so interested in the new movie industry that he took up any associated jobs, including being a projectionist, usher, cleaner, and theater manager before getting his first break as an actor. Before teaming up with Laurel, Hardy acted in over 200 silent short movies, acting a wide variety of roles.

The Greatest of Friendships

Hal Roach, an American film and TV producer, first got Laurel and Hardy to act together in the 1921 movie, The Lucky Dog. Hardy was tall (6 ft 1 in) heavy (just under 130 kg). Laurel was shorter and thinner. From the first movie together, Laurel and Hardy complimented each other perfectly. Laurel would pretend to cry and pull out his thinning hair. Hardy would act as if he were cross and would try and teach Laurel how to do things properly – which usually meant doing things the wrong way!

In real life, they became the closest of friends. Unusually, even amongst good friends, they never argued over anything, not about each others’ screen time or money. Only once did they slightly disagree regarding how untidy Hardy’s hair should be in a particular movie episode! In their movies, Hardy would get the pair into trouble but still then accuse Laurel by saying, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

Laurel usually wrote their scripts and edited the films. Off-screen, Hardy was more easy going. Laurel was the better actor on a theater stage, but Hardy knew better what was required in front of the camera.

Laurel had the more difficult personal life. He had three failed marriages one after each other. Hardy had problems with his weight. They had, however, each other to discuss and confide in. They accepted each others’ strengths and weaknesses and forged a fantastic partnership bringing laughter to all parts of the world. Importantly they also had harmonious relations with everyone on their movie sets. Laurel said that “We had friendly and pleasant relationships with all that worked in our films – many happy memories.”

Ralph Edwards, who interviewed the two in 1954, described them as “Two heads, two bodies, and one big laugh.” Edwards said that “laughter is the highest gift of the gods” and that “laughter rolled down from the blue vault of the skies and broke into two [equal] parts – into Laurel and Hardy.”
Some of their most famous movie lines are:

  • “I had a dream that I was awake, and I woke up to find myself asleep.”
  • “If any of you cry at my funeral, I’ll never speak to you again!”

In the movie “Sons of the Desert”, Oliver is feeling unwell. The following dialogue is then seen:

Hardy: You’d better take my temperature….. get that thermometer.
Laurel: The what?
Hardy: Thermometer! You’ll find it on the shelf.
(Laurel puts the thermometer into Hardy’s mouth but then starts to take Hardy’s pulse)
Hardy: What does it say?
Laurel: Wet and windy.

In August 1957, when Hardy died, Laurel was devastated and never acted again. Laurel wrote, “I feel lost without him after 30 odd years of close friendship and happy association.”

Both Laurel and Hardy always responded to their fans and replied to nearly every fan letter that was written to them. The two brought happiness, light, and warmth into this world, for which we can all be deeply grateful.

We should remember what Laurel said just before he died in 1965, “Humor is the truth.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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