Stan Laurel life and biography

Stan Laurel picture, image, poster

Stan Laurel biography

Date of birth : 1890-06-16
Date of death : 1965-02-23
Birthplace : Ulverston, Lancashire, England
Nationality : British
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-05-31
Credited as : Actor and comedian, Producer and screenwriter, Laurel and Hardy

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Out of the vast array of comic talent found at the Hal Roach Studios during its heyday, Stan Laurel emerged as The Lot of Fun's supreme comic genius. Given carte blanche by Roach when it came to the writing, direction, editing and production design of the Laurel and Hardy films, he enjoyed a close and professional relationship with Roach until their falling out over the script of "Babes in Toyland" (1934). Nevertheless, 'The Boys' continued to work another six years at Roach without interference from the boss. Though his name never appeared on the credits as such, Laurel was the de facto director and head writer for virtually every L & H film, a fact which enabled him to make twice as much money as his portly partner, but despite rumors that the two were bitter enemies, they remained close friends until Hardy's death in 1957. Having had only modest success as a solo performer, Laurel readily acknowledged Hardy as the missing ingredient which made his own character more sympathetic. There simply was no viable Laurel without Hardy. They needed each other; it was the pairing that made them funny.

Born into a show business family, Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson) made his stage debut in Glasgow, Scotland at the age of 16 and four years later joined Fred Karno's company, understudying Charlie Chaplin. When Chaplin's departure to work with Mack Sennett led to the cancellation of the troupe's remaining US dates, Laurel remained in the USA and toured the North American vaudeville circuit in "The Nutty Burglars", a sketch of his own devising. He then made a living impersonating Chaplin before teaming with common-law wife Mae Dahlberg (billed as Stan and Mae Jefferson; later as Stan and Mae Laurel), with whom he appeared in his first movie, "Nuts in May" (1917). Laurel bounced between pictures and vaudeville, working for Universal, Essanay (where he acted by chance with Oliver 'Babe' Hardy in "Lucky Dog" 1921) and Roach. After questioning his abilities as a performer, he pretty much decided to concentrate on a career behind the camera. In fact, Roach hired him back in 1925 with the understanding that his primary duties would be as writer, director, gagman--and only occasionally--performer.

Though not credited as director on any of the signature Laurel and Hardy films, he did receive credit as helmsman on 10 Roach shorts, three of which included Hardy. If not for Laurel's occasional appearances as one of the Hal Roach all-stars, director Leo McCarey, credited with urging Roach to make Laurel and Hardy an official team, might never have recognized the extra comic sparks flying whenever the duo were in a scene together. After their pairing, it took a little while for them to develop the winning formula. Their trademark costumes did not appear until their eighth film ("Do Detectives Think?" 1927), and McCarey and Roach both cited "Putting Pants on Philip" (also 1927) as the first "official" L & H film. By the end of that year, they had caught on so well with the public that there was no turning back, yet no one except Roach would have allowed their growing pains. He understood comedy and gave his people the time and freedom to get things just right, saving the pair from the kind of studio meddling that eviscerated the genius of Buster Keaton.

Laurel and Hardy each beautifully complemented the other's screen presence, achieving a connection that can only be called soulful on their way to becoming Hollywood's greatest acting team. (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello only proved how much more L & H had brought to the arena of fat man-thin man humor.) The perfect pairing of opposites, they thrived on maintaining their decency in a world constantly inflicting its irreverence and cynicism on them. Despite suffering defeat after defeat at the cruel hand of fate, they dusted themselves off to face whatever calamity awaited with renewed optimism, lampooning life's difficulties in a way that appealed to children and scholars alike. Stanley, the well-intentioned, bungling simpleton, always found a way to sabotage the dainty and painstaking plans of Ollie, eliciting from him, "This is another fine mess you've got us into." Their well thought-out comic interplay featured peerless one-upmanship, with each getting ample opportunity to upstage the other, though Hardy may have earned more laughs for his endless capacity for "falling in the whitewash."

The coming of sound did not shake up Laurel and Hardy's world. They simply continued doing their same brand of humor, adding only the language that seemed appropriate, nothing more nor less. "Pardon Us", their first feature, debuted in 1931, but their main work was still comedy shorts, which they continued to make along with their full-lengths until 1935. Though it is the features of this period (especially "Sons of the Desert" 1933 and "Babes in Toyland") that are now best remembered, the shorts, less flawed by tedium and plotlessness, may represent their highest artistic achievement. Certainly, a critical high point came when arguably their best short, "The Music Box" (1932), won the first Academy Award ever given in the category of Best Short Subjects (Live Action Comedy). When Roach abandoned shorts as commercially impractical, 'The Boys' continued making funny films through the end of the decade, benefiting from the creative contributions of veteran silent comedian Harry Langdon who received screenplay credit on "Blockheads" (1938), "The Flying Deuces" (1939) and "A Chump at Oxford" and "Saps at Sea" (both 1940).

In all, Laurel and Hardy appeared in over 70 films for Roach between the years 1926 and 1940, excelling in the studio's best of all possible worlds working environment. Neither 20th Century-Fox nor MGM would allow Laurel to call the shots, sure that they knew more about L & H's humor than 'The Boys', and their films from 1941-45 were dismal failures. No longer the sweet innocents so carefully perfected at Roach, they came off simply as unendearing idiots in weary, unfunny, juvenile efforts. Though they would make one last disappointing film, "Atoll K/Utopia" (1950), Laurel and Hardy enjoyed phenomenal success on the live stage between 1947 and 1954, particularly in Great Britain. Drawing from his English music hall roots, Laurel wrote delightful sketches that the team performed before sellout crowds, and the rejuvenated pair returned to the USA with big plans for a series of TV comedy specials. Sadly, it was not to be. 'Babe' Hardy suffered a mild heart attack, Laurel, a paralyzing stroke, and though they posed for a series of publicity stills in 1956, Hardy's massive stroke that year dispelled all hope of subsequent triumphs.

Their close, personal relationship was such that, when Hardy died in 1957, Laurel refused to work on film again. Realizing that one of its treasures had slipped away without proper recognition, Hollywood resolved to not make the same mistake twice, presenting Laurel with an honorary Academy Award in 1960. The comedy of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy remains popular today, as evidenced by a contemporary fan club called Sons of the Desert (which Laurel helped co-found), named for one of their best-loved films, in which 'The Boys' sneak off to a fraternal convention while pretending to go on a "medicinal" sea voyage. When the ship sinks and their wives see them cavorting on a newsreel report of the convention, the stage is set for a delicious send-up of marital strife, just one of the many examples of their art-imitating-life problems. This ability to capture universal truths about the human condition, coupled with the kindness and gentleness of their screen personas even in their roughest vehicles, produced a timeless humor which grows in estimation with each passing year.

Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly giving up when he was about seventy years of age. He died on February 23, 1965, several days after suffering a heart attack. Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment. Somewhat taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. "I'm not," said Laurel, "I'd rather be doing that than have all these needles stuck into me!" A few minutes later the nurse looked in on him again and found that he quietly had died.

Dick Van Dyke, a friend, protege and occasional impressionist of Laurel's during his later years, gave the eulogy at his funeral. Silent screen comedian Buster Keaton was overheard at Laurel's funeral giving his assessment of the comedian's considerable talents: "Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I wasn't the funniest, this man was the funniest."

Laurel wrote his own epitaph; "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again." He was buried at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Legacy

* In 1989 a statue of Laurel was erected in Dockwray Square, North Shields, Northumberland, England where he lived at No. 8 from 1897 to 1902, and where the steps down from the Square to the North Shields Fish Quay were said to have inspired the piano-moving scene in The Music Box. In 2006, BBC Four showed a drama called Stan, based on Laurel meeting Hardy on his deathbed and reminiscing about their career .
* Laurel's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is situated at 7021 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, California.
* In 2008, a statue of Stan Laurel was unveiled in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on the site of the Eden Theatre.
* In April 2009, a bronze statue of Laurel and Hardy was unveiled in Ulverston, Cumbria.

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