THE FINISHING TOUCH
Cast Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Kennedy (Policeman), Dorothy Coburn (Nurse), Sam Lufkin (House owner) Production Hal Roach Studios, 1928 Director Clyde A. Bruckman Producer Hal Roach Titles H. M. Walker Photography George Stevens Supervisor Leo McCarey Editor Richard Currier Print Source Library of Congress
Cast Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson (Store Owner), Tom Kennedy (Prison Warden), Jean Harlow (Woman entering cab), Harry Bernard (Worker at seafood place), Ed Brandenburg (Cab driver), Sam Lufkin (Getaway driver), Jack Raymond (Getaway driver), Jack Hill (Officer) Production Hal Roach Studios, 1929 Director Leo McCarey Producer Hal Roach Story Leo McCarey Titles H. M. Walker Photography George Stevens Editors Richard Currier and William Triune Print Source David Shepard, Film Preservation Associates
Cast Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Del Henderson (Painting owner), Harry Bernard (Policeman), Charlie Hall (Neighbor), William Gillespie (Horse owner), Jack Hill (Man in buckboard), Sam Lufkin (Sullivan), Josephine Crowell (Painting owner’s mother), Fred Holmes (Stable boy) Production Hal Roach Studios, 1929 Director Leo McCarey Producer Hal Roach Assistant Director Lewis R. Foster Story Lewis R. Foster and Leo McCarey Titles H. M. Walker Photography George Stevens and Jack Roach Editor Richard Currier Print Source Library of Congress
Stan Laurel, the skinny guy, and Oliver Hardy, the fat fellow, have perhaps inspired more pure laughter than any film comedians. Their movies have always been available, from silent days to “talkies,” from one generation that discovered them on television to another that enjoys them today on DVDs. Laurel and Hardy fans are so devoted that they formed an appreciation society, named after the 1933 feature The Sons of the Desert. At last count, there are 220 chapters—named “tents”—around the world, including the Midnight Patrol tent in San Jose and the Call of the Cuckoos tent in San Francisco.
Unlike most teams, Laurel and Hardy didn’t start in films together. They each had long separate careers before they began costarring at the Hal Roach Studios in 1927. By that time, Laurel had made around 90 movies, and Hardy more than 250.
Laurel, whose real name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, was born in Ulverston, England, in 1890, the son of a playwright-comedian-theater manager. Young Stanley made his theatrical debut at 16 and, at 20, joined the Fred Karno comedy troupe and went to America as understudy to their principal comedian, Charlie Chaplin. After Chaplin left in 1913 for the Keystone Film Company, the Karno company shut down and Stan worked in vaudeville. A turning point came for him in 1917, when he teamed with Mae Dahlberg, who suggested a new name: Stan Laurel. She also took the Laurel name although they weren’t married, and they performed a stage routine called “Raffles, the Dentist.” That year they were an opening-week act at the new Casino Theater in San Francisco, owned by movie star Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson.
The Laurels left vaudeville briefly to make their first movie, Nuts in May (1917). In 1921, Laurel went solo and was hired by Broncho Billy Anderson to star in the first film of a projected series. That film, The Lucky Dog, was another landmark, the first time Laurel and Hardy appeared together on screen, although not as a team. Hardy played a bit part as a crook who tries to rob Laurel. Anderson couldn’t sell the series but was so impressed with Laurel, he tried again the next year, and this time Metro Pictures bought it.
The series was short-lived, and Laurel was hired by the Hal Roach Studios to act in one-reel films then was promoted to two-reelers. In 1924, Laurel was lured away for a series advertised as Stan Laurel Comedies. The films sharpened his comic personality but didn’t enrich his pocketbook, so he returned to Roach as a writer and director. By mid-1926, Laurel was acting again at the studio, and so was Oliver Hardy.
Hardy began life as Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia, in 1892. Following the death of his father, Oliver, the boy honored that name by changing his own to Oliver Norvell Hardy. From 1910 to 1913, Hardy operated a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia. He left that job, convinced he could act in movies, and found work with the Lubin Film Company in Jacksonville, Florida. He also acquired the lifelong nickname “Babe” because of his pudgy, youthful looks.
By the time the Lubin studio closed in 1915, Hardy had appeared in more than 65 films. He was hired by the Edison Company to act at their New York studio then got his own series back in Jacksonville with the Vim company, costarring with Billy Ruge in the “Plump and Runt” comedies.
In 1917, the producer organized a new company, King Bee, and Hardy played supporting roles to Chaplin imitator Billy West. King Bee moved to Hollywood, but the series ended when West got sick. After working for two years with comedian Jimmy Aubrey at Vitagraph, and with comedy star Larry Semon for five more, Hardy ended up at the Hal Roach studio.
Hal Roach began as an extra in films for Universal Pictures in 1912. Thanks to a small inheritance, he became a producer, hiring Harold Lloyd in 1915. Success brought them both fame and fortune. They parted company in 1923, with Lloyd making features and Roach building an empire to rival that of Mack Sennett, “the King of Comedy,” but with a less frantic, friendlier approach to filmmaking than Sennett’s. As film director Fred Newmeyer told historian Sam Gill: “I thought the world of Hal Roach. I don’t think you could work for a better man, a finer fellow.”
Laurel directed or wrote several films with Hardy acting, but it wasn’t until Duck Soup (1927)—no relation to the Marx Brothers film—that they acted together in a film. Future film director Leo McCarey, who then managed production at the Roach lot, recalled their growing popularity: “I commented from time to time on the particular suitability of Hardy as Stan’s comic foil. They seemed to fit so well together…. So, I encouraged their getting larger parts in the films. Gradually, their parts grew larger and the parts of the other players grew smaller. This was the evolution of the team of Laurel and Hardy.” The teammates became known to their coworkers simply as “the boys.”
The studio faced a dilemma after the boys’ heads were shaved for their parts as prisoners in The Second Hundred Years (1927). Their cameraman, future film director George Stevens, said: “They were so tremendous in the convict picture that the studio grew impatient waiting for their hair to grow in. Finally it was decided that there was no use waiting. The boys were just too good to be kept inactive, so they were put almost right away into the next picture, brush cut and all.”
Laurel and Hardy breezed through the transition to sound. Their voices matched their appearances, but they didn’t need to rely on dialogue. Their Academy Award-winning talkie, The Music Box (1932), has more action than words.
Although they were now a team, their contracts with Roach had been negotiated individually, and renewals came at different times, putting them at a disadvantage during contract discussions. In 1939, Laurel decided not to sign again until it coincided with Hardy’s contract. After much haggling, the team agreed to a two-feature deal with Roach. When that ended, the duo formed Laurel and Hardy Feature Productions, signing a five-year pact with 20th Century Fox. Unfortunately, the contract had a flaw. According to Laurel, “We had no say in those films, and it sure looked it.” After eight films at Fox, Laurel and Hardy ended their association with the studio. One last film, a disastrous French-Italian production called Atoll K(1951), was an embarrassing end to their film career. As Laurel described it, “Part of the cast was talking French, some were talking Italian, and there were the two of us, the stars, talking English. Nobody—and that included the director and us—knew what the hell was going on.”
Laurel and Hardy, however, did not give up. They toured England performing on stage and tried to put together more film projects, but ill health ended those hopes. Hardy suffered a stroke and died in 1957. Laurel died in 1965.
Presented at SFSFF 2006 with live music by Michael Mortilla