Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (or "boys" as they were often known) can no doubt be considered the greatest dual act the comedy has produced. If their star has declined somewhat over the last couple of decades, it is probably due to lack of exposure rather than humor. We can hope that this new movie, which has taken advantage of Steve Coogan's great comedian talents such as Laurel and John C Reilly as Hardy, will do a little to bring their timeless glory back into the foreground.
It's a hearty yet bittersweet story. In 1953, the year of their last trip (the tour as the upcoming movie Stan and Ollie is based), their movie career was over. It had been a downward trend ever since they left Hal Roach Lot (or "Fun Fun" as it was called) to work for 19th Century Fox in 1941. The movement reduced Laurel's freedom as a writer and de facto director of the films and as a result This, the quality was compromised, even though they were still financially successful.
Their latest movie, Atoll K (also known as Robinson Crusoeland and Utopia) appeared in 1951 after a seven-year gap, but due to a number of factors (including Laurel's poor health at that time), the film's thin whey is actually compared to the work they produced in their heyday of the 1930s.
Unlike their personalities on display, it was Laurel who was the brain of the operation – "Babe" (whom Hardy was known to his friends) preferred to spend time on the golf course. "After all," he said, "just doing gags was hard enough work, especially if you've taken so many falls and been dumped in as many mudholes as I have. I think I earned my money".
When he was not in front of the camera, Laurel would spend his time writing, training out gags, and assisting the director and editor of his films. In fact, even after Hardy died in 1957, Laurel found sold written sketches for the two who would obviously never be produced.
The couple had toured Britain in 1947 and again in 1952, although this last tournament had not included any London dates. The theatrical impresario Bernard Delfont, who had brought Laurel and Hardy over from the US, seemed more intent on promoting a new star, a beginner comedian called Norman Wisdom. In fact, Laurel and Hardy's only visit to a theater in London in 1952 was selected as the audience of the Wisdom show at the Prince of Wales Theater before returning to the United States at Queen Mary in October 1952.
The 1952 tour had been a success, despite the star's failing health – in 1949, Laurel realized that he was suffering from diabetes and Hardy's weight had risen to well over 300 pounds (21 stones).
Delfont tempted them back for what turned out to be their last trip in 1953. They landed in the small port of Cobh, County Cork on September 9, 1953, and although there had been no advance notice of their arrival, it was clear that The news had reached the city. Not only was the quay filled with people, but as a special tribute to the duo, the church bells played their "Cuckoo" voice. As Laurel later recalled:
All church bells in Cobh started calling out our theme song, and Babe looked at me and we cried. Maybe people loved us and our pictures because we put so much love into them. I do not know. I will never forget that day. Never.
It was to be the highlight of what would be a difficult and exhausting trip. Once again, the tour would not include a major West End London theater, even though they played at venues in Finsbury Park and Brixton. On May 17, 1954, they played the Plymouth Palace. Plymouth Evening Herald reported that:
Laurel and Hardy … look a bit older and are not as boisterous as they used to be – maybe because Oliver Hardy suffers from a chill and had to have penicillin treatment before last night's action – but all his old intelligence and glorious madness are still there.
It was not a chill that had hit Hardy, but a mild heart attack. The trip was scheduled to continue for a few months, but even if they appeared This is your life in December 1954 filmed a small vignette for a 1955 BBC program celebrating the Grand Order of Water Rats, (a charity that mainly consists of showbiz personalities), it was Plymouth who saw the curtain come down on his career.
Hardy's health was never completely restored, and he died in 1957 at the age of 65. Laurel retired to an apartment complex in Santa Monica with his wife Ida where he lived a comfortable pension. Incredibly, he was listed in the telephone directory and fans shouted just him regularly. He also received visits from fans such as Dick van Dyke, Peter Sellars and Jerry Lewis before he also died in 1965.
Their influence lives on comedians such as Ricky Gervais, Frank Skinner, and Stuart Lee as well as Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, and Bette Midler have all confirmed their love for "boys." What comes through the screen is their indelible love for each other. No matter how they bicker or poke, punch and squeeze each other, they-and we know their ties are unbreakable and what can be more lovable than that?
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