(1892 - 1957)
Biography reproduced with kind permission of Baseline
AKA: Babe Hardy, Oliver Norvell Hardy
Occupation: Actor, comedian
Born As: Norvell Hardy
Born: January 18, 1892, Harlem, GA
Education: Georgia Military College; Atlanta Conservatory of Music
Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, one a lank, childlike innocent with a penchant for
anarchy, the other a rotund, bossy incompetent with a na´ve pomposity,
arrived on the film scene late in the silent era. Their brand of comedy
served as a link between the era of silent character comedy, with its
emphasis on aspirations to success and happiness, and the chaotic comedies
of the 1930s, with its complete bedlam created by the characters' consistent
failures. Laurel and Hardy slowed down the pace of silent slapstick,
adjusting its gag structure for the more mundane pacing of sound film comedy.
In the process, the duo became two of the most recognized faces in the film
Before their pairing in 1927, Laurel and Hardy had separate film careers,
Stan's dating back to 1917 and Ollie's to 1913. As a teenager, Laurel joined
Fred Karno's British music hall troupe, understudying Charlie Chaplin.
During the Karno troupe's first tour of the United States, he quit the
company in 1911, seeking success on the American vaudeville stage.
He would later rejoin Karno, only to quit a final time. Although he did
meet with limited success in American vaudeville, he made his first film
appearance in NUTS IN MAY (1917), a slapdash slapstick chaser.
He then signed with Universal to make a series of shorts as the character
Hickory Hiram. In 1919, Laurel appeared in a modestly successful group of
comedies that parodied contemporary film hits. Despite two stints with the
successful producer Hal Roach, by the mid-20s, Laurel had practically given
up the hope of being a successful comic performer; he signed once again with
Roach in 1926, this time as a writer and gagman.
As a young man, Oliver Hardy liked to sneak out of college and music school
to go on the road singing with theater quartets and minstrel shows. At 18,
he managed the first movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia, but in 1913,
he abandoned theatrical management for a film career, joining the Lubin
Company as a character player and general assistant. After three years with
Lubin, Hardy appeared through the late teens and early 20s in the Frank Baum
"Oz" series and as a comic foil for various silent film comedians such as
Billy West, Earl Williams, Jimmy Aubrey and Larry Semon. By the mid-20s,
Hardy, like Laurel, had signed with Roach.
At that point, Roach was frantically seeking to regain the commercial
success he had enjoyed with Harold Lloyd, who had left him for feature
film stardom. In an act of desperation, Roach formed the Hal Roach Comedy
All-Stars, into which he thrust his stock company of James Finlayson,
Max Davidson, Clyde Cook, Eugene Pallette, Edgar Kennedy, Noah Young,
Mae Busch, Anita Garvin and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
It was only a matter of time before Roach's shuffling of his players would
deal Laurel and Hardy into the same film. SLIPPING WIVES (1927),
however, found Laurel supporting Hardy. It was PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP (1927)
in which the Laurel and Hardy team first flowered. The famous mannerisms
appeared, in Hardy's pomposity and Southern courtliness and Laurel's squeaky,
squashed-faced cries. Previously known for his frenetic slapstick pace,
Laurel slowed down and instead of a catalyst of action became a reactor to
the destruction raining down upon Hardy's head.
In their methodical style, Laurel and Hardy transformed silent comedy and
conducted a scientific investigation of gag structures. The jokes became
rituals in which a gag is dissected, studied and explained in a process
of passionless stateliness. In this emotionless artifice, the characters
paused to await their fate. One character would stand by as his partner
clipped off his tie with a pair of garden shears. Equally detached, the
second character would watch as the tie-less gentleman clasps the shears and
hurls them through the second character's car windshield. In the world of
Laurel and Hardy, there are continually dispassionate shifts between victims
and victimizers, resulting in mammoth destruction of hundreds of pies, a
traffic jam of dozens of cars or the gutting of an entire residential
Over the next several years, Laurel and Hardy refined their pace in such
shorts as LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING (1928), FROM SOUP TO NUTS (1928),
BIG BUSINESS (1929) and THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1927). The pair easily
made the transition to sound, their slapstick style perfectly suited to its
reality-bound pacing. From 1930 to 1935, Laurel and Hardy made several dozen
shorts containing their best screen work, highlighted by the Academy
Award-winning THE MUSIC BOX (1932).
But the popularity of sound animated cartoons forced Laurel and Hardy into
features, which either encased the team in cumbersome operettas or expanded
their short-subject comic routines into clumsy assemblages. For every success
- SONS OF THE DESERT (1933) or WAY OUT WEST (1937), there were several
stumbles - BABES IN TOYLAND (1934), PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (1932) or
SAPS AT SEA (1940). The end came when Laurel and Hardy signed on with the
big Hollywood studios (RKO, Fox, MGM), who emasculated the darker aspects of
their comedy and forced them into hackneyed formula films that denied them
the creative freedom permitted by Roach. By the time their last film,
UTOPIA/ATOLL K, was released in 1951, the team was bedraggled and gutted,
Laurel looking seriously ill and Hardy shocked and embarrassed.
But in their early films of 1927-35, Laurel and Hardy created brilliant
comic structures and developed two characters who perfectly complemented one
another in a poetic, primordial relationship that shifted from the realm of
the comic into something broader which found its ultimate reflection in the
barren landscapes of Samuel Beckett.