Stan and Ollie by Simon Louvish
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (June 23, 2005)
From Publishers Weekly
Louvish has written a biography of Laurel and Hardy that brims with affection and still preserves an honest, unbiased view of their creativity and personal traumas. He presents a fully rounded, well-paced portrait of their contrasting backgrounds (Laurel was born in England; Hardy in Georgia), early separate careers and eventual union in a Hal Roach production, 45 Minutes from Hollywood, in 1926. Roach claimed to have discovered them before reluctantly conceding partial credit to Leo McCarey, who directed many of the duo’s best movies. After appearances in five undistinguished pictures, their careers soared with such classics as Duck Soup (not to be confused with the Marx Brothers version) and The Second Hundred Years. The two saw themselves as working actors who happened to hit on an incredible streak of good luck. However, their off-camera lives were anything but lucky, and Louvish, in his chapter “Multiple Whoopee or Wives and Woes,” poignantly chronicles each man’s domestic catastrophes, with particularly painful emphasis on Hardy’s marriage to his alcoholic second wife, Myrtle Lee. Laurel, after four disastrous unions, finally found happiness with Russian opera singer Ida Kitaeva Raphael. Thanks to Louvish’s erudite yet accessible style, in-depth studies of Laurel and Hardy films are even more absorbing to read than their marital conflicts. A touching example of Louvish’s deep feeling for his subjects occurs when he describes Hardy’s huge 150-pound weight loss, in which he concludes, “it probably never occurred to Oliver Hardy that his fans actually considered him beautiful.” It’s clear the author does, and this tender admiration invites the reader to share his view.
I know it’s hard to believe but the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy was actually (mostly) before (even) My Time! (this small fact makes me smile. It’s hard to grasp anything being older than I am… and a blessing besides!)
I had found this book at bargain price and having enjoyed Laurel and Hardy as a kid I thought I’d send for the book.. after all, sometimes I read biographies, how different can this be?
Once here the book sat for some time. Partly because I was doing Carl’s Fantasy Challenge, but that was an excuse, as I had read way more than needed for the challenge. I have to be in the mood to read something like this.
I picked it up and flipped the pages, looking to the back to see how long the book was.. oh gawd 544 pages!? Do I want to attempt this now?? (I didn’t think so) With a big sigh I thought, let me read a few pages, just to see what it’s going to be like. Yeah well.. that was 544 pages ago! Yeah.. it grabbed me. I must have been ready without knowing it!
I think I read about 40 pgs and had to set it down to do some work. I quickly found that each time I came back into my room I was heading to sit on the bed and read some more! That was my second surprise!.. I mean, it’s not really a cliff hanger or anything! I just couldn’t leave it for long!
The book begins by alternating chapters between the birth and upbringing of each of these very talented men.
In 1890, Arthur Stanley Jefferson (Stan Laurel) was born in Ulverston England , and in 1892 Norvell ( Babe) Hardy (Ollie) was born in Harlem Georgia.
With travel nothing like it is today what were the chances these two men would ever meet?
Simon Louvish (author) did a very good job describing both England of the 1890’s and down trodden, klu klux klanish, Georgia of the same period.
This was also the time of the beginning of motion pictures, or more correctly silent pictures, most of which may have been only one reel long ( 20 minutes)!
I think this book was written really well. It gave you just enough of how things were that you could follow easily. Actually, it has the benefits of more than one author.. how is that? you ask… well, quite often the author quotes paragraphs from other authors who have written about Laurel or Hardy or both or the era in which this is all taking place. So you get more information than maybe one author could find… not a bad deal.
I want to share bits of information from thebook, and even some quotes. I hope this doesn’t get toooooooooooooooooo long… but no promises!
FYI: Did you know that Stan Laurel worked with and roomed with Charlie Chaplin, before Chaplin or he ever came to America? (cool huh?)
FYI: in 1921 Laurel and Hardy actually made their first movie together… but it was far from when they would become partners.
Quote from the book:
It must have been a good Christmas for Stan in 1922. He already had another “burlesque” in the can. When Knights Were Cold was a pastiche of When Knighthood Was in Flower, which starred Marion Davies, and had opened earlier in the year. Stan was Lord Helpus, a Slippery Knight, and Mae was Countess Out, a Classy Eve. The character’s names: Earl of Tabasco, a Hot Knight; Duke of Sirloin, a Tough Knight; Rainy Knights, Foggy Knights and Knights of Pity Us.. look eerily forward to our contemporary Monty Python’s Holy Grail exploits, as does the scene, described by Stan in later years, in which the knights advanced on paper-basket horses, much as the horseless Pythons of our day.
Producer Thomas Ince moved in and built a studio which was later to become the mighty Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Roach, having freed himself of former partners, bought nineteen acres to set up the Hal E Roach Studios, in what was soon to be called Culver City. Roy Seawright’s father was Roach‘s chief architect, but died tragically in a work accident before the studio was completed. The Buildings were ready in 1920, and Roach began to gather around him the coterie of crew and actors who would become his regular stock company. Harold Lloyd was still his main star, though he worked with is own autonomous unit, and when Stan joinedLloyd was riding the crest of his wave with his feature masterpiece, Safety Last. “Snub” Pollard was still going strong and Roach had already launched what would become his most lucrative franchise, the “Our Gang” films in 1922.
1925- a vintage year in America. Cool customer Calvin Coolidge was the new man in the White House. Ace airman Charles B Lindbergh flew alone across the Atlantic on the same days in May that Stan Laurel was directing his second film for Hal Roach in Hollywood– a Jimmy Finlayson vehicle called Unfriendly Enemies. Later in the year the Marx Brothers opened the The Cocoanuts on Broadway. F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, W.C. Fields was starring in the annual Ziegfeld Follies and then shooting his first feature film, for D. W Griffith, the circus tale, Sally of the Sawdust. In Tennessee, John Thomas Scopes went on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in high school. Knute Rockne was riding high as the football coach for Notre Dame, and Babe Ruth was still the name in baseball. Around the world, things were pretty confusing as usual, what with Mussolini trying to make the trains run on time in Italy and a recently released jailbird, Adolf Hitler, trying to set up his own political party in Germany. But back on Wall Street, stocks were up, up, up.
FYI: Laurel and Hardy made 32 silent movies together. 40 short talkies. and 24 feature films. Separately, they appeared in 340 films, in total 440 films.
FYI: During this same period of time some of the stars fighting for contention were: Buster Keaton..W C Fields..Charlie Chaplin.. Harold Lloyd… the Marx Brothers.. and Mae West
FYI: Some of the established regulars in Laurel and Hardy movies were:
Billy Gilbert Mae Busch
Edgar Kennedy Jimmy Finlayson
and Thelma Todd
By 1934, the Hollywood studios had recovered from their worst depression blues, and were producing, on average, about 50 movies each per year. MGM, in any case, had been least hit by the massive dip in profits that bettered the other major studios in the first years of the decade. The studio that had “more stars than there are in heaven” had the added asset of the young Irving Thalberg, registering hit after hit. From Grand Hotel in 1932 he continued to Queen Christina in 1933, and films such as Mutiny on the Bounty and David Copperfield, in 1935, would maintain MGM‘s firm lead. Hal Roach Studios, nestling in the crook of MGM‘s distribution arm, was in a pretty comfortable, if at times pungent position.
I have to say that I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would! Maybe because the author didn’t wind up basically just listing their movies and telling me about each and every one, but described each of their lives leading up to their meeting and then talked about their successes but intermingled it with their life at that time and other people that touched their lives. This was truly a good book!
I remember seeing their movies on television when I was young. Now and then one will still pop up, but not often. There was a lot of silliness in their movies, but you always had to laugh or keep a smile on your face.
It’s good to be a comedian… because nothing but good can happen when you laugh.
Ollie: Where were you born?
Stan: I don’t know, I was too young to remember.
Stan Laurel: June 16, 1890 – Feb 25, 1965
Oliver Hardy: January 18, 1892 – August 7, 1957
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