(1890 - 1965)
Biography reproduced with the kind permission Katz's Film Encyclopedia
Also: Screenwriter, vaudevillian, producer
Born As: Arthur Stanley Jefferson
Born: June 16, 1890, Ulverston, England
The son of an actress and an actor-director-producer-playwright-impresario,
he made his own stage debut at 16 at a small Glasgow, Scotland,
theater and for the next few years played both drama and comedy in plays and
danced and clowned in British music halls. In 1910 he joined the famous Fred
Karno company and became Charlie Chaplin's understudy in the troupe's
first American tour that same year. He also played various roles in the
company's feature attraction A Night in an English Music Hall.
He was Chaplin's understudy again during Karno's second US tour in 1912. When
the troupe returned to England, he stayed behind and began a lengthy stint
in American vaudeville, changing his name to Stan Laurel.
In 1917 he made the first of 76 film appearances that preceded his
fortuitous teaming with Oliver Hardy in 1927. The two comedians appeared in
the same two-reel short, LUCKY DOG (1917), but their pairing in that film
was accidental, with Hardy playing a bit and Laurel starring.
Laurel's screen character in those early days was that of a clown, typically
wearing oversized clothes and playing the misfit. He continued performing in
vaudeville while pursuing a part-time film career in comedy shorts.
He worked for various studios, including Universal, Vitagraph,
Hal Roach-Pathé and Metro, where he performed for a unit supervised
by G. M. Anderson of "Broncho Billy" fame. Many of these comedy shorts
were spoofs of popular feature films of the period. Laurel wrote many of his
own comedy routines and occasionally helped with the directing.
In 1926 he signed a long-term contract with Hal Roach as a gagman and
director but shortly after was persuaded to return to acting, and to begin
his long and auspicious partnership with Oliver Hardy.
The "thin man" of the fat-thin duo, Laurel was often also the funnier member
of the team, with a wide array of mannerisms that endeared him to film
audiences, among them a babylike weep, a confused eye-blink, and
a bewildered scratching of the top of the head. He was the creative mind
behind many of the team's comedy routines, a master of comedy nuance
and technique. Unconsolable after Hardy's death in 1957, he refused to
resume performing although he continued writing until his own death in 1965.
In the Academy Award ceremony for 1960, he received a special Oscar
"for his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy."