Comedic actors Laurel and Hardy were popular for their slapstick comedy from the late 1920s through the mid-1940s. Laurel was klutzy and childlike, while Hardy was his pompous bully foil. The pair appeared in over 100 films together and are considered one of the most iconic comedy acts of all time.
But there are some things you may not know about the famous silver screen stars, such as their relationship with one another behind the scenes and how their work influenced others. Read on for some fascinating facts about the comedy team…
Hardy Was Initially Known As “Babe”
Oliver Hardy’s real name was Norvell Hardy. He was born in Harlem, Georgia, on January 18, 1892. He became a stage singer in his teen years and had the nicknames Ollie and Babe. The latter was from an Italian barber with the motion picture company Lubin Studios who rubbed Hardy’s face with talcum powder and said, “That’s nice-a baby!”
Hardy’s fellow actors liked the expression, and in early films Hardy was credited as Babe Hardy. Hardy started out working backstage in film before becoming a script clerk for Lubin Motion Pictures.
Hardy’s Talent Was Unmatched
Hardy starred in 177 shorts as Babe between 1914 and 1916. He was very talented and able to play numerous types of characters, including heroes, villains, and even women. This made him quite popular among casting agents. Overall, he starred in over 250 silent shorts.
He married pianist Madelyn Saloshin on November 17, 1913. The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1917 where he made 40 films. The pair split two years later and divorced in 1921. Later that year Hardy married actress Myrtle Reeves, who was reportedly an alcoholic.
Laurel Came From A Theatrical Family And Also Started Performing As A Teen
Stan Laurel was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England, on June 16, 1890. His father was a theater owner, and his mother was also very involved in the industry. Laurel made his stage debut at age 15 in Glasgow and wound up working for comedy legend Fred Karno, who was an understudy for Charlie Chaplin.
After touring America in 1912, Laurel decided to stay there. He shacked up with Mae Dahlberg, who became his common-law wife and costar. He made his film debut with her in 1917.
Laurel And Hardy’s First Film Together Was The Lucky Dog
Before becoming a famous comedic duo, Laurel and Hardy appeared in the film The Lucky Dog together. It was made from 1920-21 and released in 1921. It cost around $3,000 to make and was shot as two reels. However, some versions end following the first reel after the character Ollie robs Stan.
The men appeared in scenes together, but they were cast independently and not as a team. Laurel played a character simply described as “young man,” while Hardy was the Bandit.
Hardy Was Rejected From The Military Because He Was Overweight
Hardy was six feet and one inch tall and weighed about 280 pounds, while Laurel was an average-sized man. The Army rejected Hardy when he tried to enlist during World War I due to his weight. However, it didn’t affect his showbiz career. Producers took advantage of the pair’s differences by emphasizing certain characteristics.
For example, Hardy had a toothbrush mustache, and his thinning hair was flattened to his forward with spit curls. He also wore shoes without heels to create a flat-footed walk. Laurel grew his hair long on the top, and when in shock he would cry and pull up his hair.
The Simpsons Catchphrase “D’oh!” Originated With Laurel And Hardy Films
Scottish actor James Finlayson starred in 33 Laurel and Hardy films. One of his trademark phrases was “dohhhhhhh!” which he used as a substitute for cursing. Fast forward several decades, and Homer Simpson voice actor Dan Castellaneta borrowed the phrase for his character.
When The Simpsons was part of the Tracey Ullman Show, Castellaneta was directed to utter an “annoyed grunt.” Instead, he mimicked Finlayson by saying “dohhhhhhh.” Simpsons creator Matt Groening then suggested a shorter version, and “D’oh!” was born.
Their Cardboard Cutouts Appeared On A Famous Beatles Album
One of history’s most iconic album covers is 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles. The Beatles appear in costume and are surrounded by a total of 58 iconic figures, including Laurel and Hardy.
Both Laurel and Hardy died before the album was released. Hardy passed away on August 7, 1957, and Laurel died on February 23, 1965. The pair made a recording, “The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine,” in 1937 that reached number two on the UK singles chart in December 1975, years after their deaths. That’s because Laurel and Hardy’s films were very popular on British television at that time.
They Only Appeared On American TV Once, And Laurel Wasn’t Happy About It
Laurel and Hardy only appeared on one American television program, which occurred on December 1, 1954. Ralph Edwards hosted a live TV program called This Is Your Life. Edwards surprised guests in front of a live audience by giving them a retrospective of their lives. Various family members, friends, and colleagues would also participate.
Apparently, Laurel was not happy about being featured on the program. He felt that he was “tricked” into it and was upset that he wasn’t given a heads up.
Hardy’s Signature Tie Twiddle Was Accidental
The first time Hardy used his signature “tie twiddle” gesture was in the 1927 film Sailors Beware. When he opens the door of stateroom, his face is struck with a pail of water. “It threw me mentally, just for a second or so, and I just couldn’t think of what to do next,” he said, according to John McCabe´s biography of Laurel & Hardy.
“There were some ladies watching us. So I waved the tie in a kind of tiddly-widdly fashion, in a kind of comic way, to show that I was embarrassed.”
They Rarely Rehearsed And Tossed Out Nearly Half Of Each Script During Filming
Laurel and Hardy were a bit unconventional when it came to making films. First, they shot scenes in sequence, which was unusual. Typically, scenes are shot out of order. The reason they did this was because they often threw out 50 percent of the script, according to Randy Skretvedt, author of the book Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies.
“When they got to the set the props and sets themselves would suggest better gags than the stuff they had written, and they never knew how their ad-libbing would change the story,” Skretvedt told the Los Angeles Times. He added that they rarely rehearsed because they preferred the spontaneity of the process.
One Of Laurel’s Children Died Just Nine Days After Birth
Laurel married actress Lois Neilson on August 13, 1926. Their daughter Lois was born on December 10, 1927, at the start of Laurel’s career with Hardy. The couple welcomed their second child, son Stanley, in May of 1930. He was born two months premature and died when he was just nine days old.
The tragedy contributed to the couple’s problems (as did Laurel’s infidelity). Laurel later regretted the dissolution. “I don’t think I could ever love again like I loved Lois,” he wrote in a letter to his second wife, Ruth, in 1936. “I tried to get over it, but I can’t.”
They Seamlessly Made The Transition From Silent Films To Talkies
One of the pair’s most famous silent film shorts was Duck Soup, and they started doing talkie shorts in 1929 and full-length features by the mid-’30s. They were some of the only stars who were able to do so, largely because they were so good at what they did. Their 1932 film The Music Box won an Academy Award.
The pair also helped raise people’s spirits during the Great Depression. Simon Louvish, author of Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy, told Time in 2019: “During the Great Depression, people are so desperate, and they need comedy…They take failure and make it into something you can laugh about.”
To Appeal To A Global Audience, They Did Numerous Re-Shoots In Other Languages
Laurel and Hardy weren’t only popular in the United States and England. They were popular worldwide, and that was largely due to re-shooting scenes in various languages, including German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
This was not an easy process for either of the comedians. They required tutors and often read the lines phonetically on blackboards that were placed behind the cameras. The projects also required a cast of supporting actors that were fluent in various languages. As difficult as it was, this made the pair famous worldwide.
They Rarely Socialized Together At The Height Of Their Fame
When Laurel and Hardy were at the peak of their success, they didn’t hang out very much together off set. Laurel was the workhorse. He spent hours behind the scenes rewriting scripts, editing, and making props. Hardy, who gave it all while the cameras were rolling, liked to relax during his off hours by hanging out with his drinking buddies or playing golf.
The pair ended up getting closer in their later years together when they toured Britain. They were forced to spend time together in hotels and on trains and ships, which only cemented their relationship.
They Were Made Into Cartoons
In 1966, the duo’s likenesses were owned by merchandiser Larry Harmon. In conjunction with Hanna-Barbera Productions, Harmon made several Laurel and Hardy cartoons. The animated pair also appeared in a 1972 episode of Hanna-Barbera’s “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.”
In 1999, Bronson Pinchot and Gailard Sartain starred in a straight-to-video film called The All-New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy: For Love or Mummy. The actors played nephews of Laurel and Hardy named Stanley Thinneus Laurel and Oliver Fatteus Hardy.
They Continued To Work Even As They Battled Health Problems
When the duo filmed the movie Atoll K in 1950 (which was released in 1954 as Utopia), Hardy was quite sick, largely due to being obese. And Laurel was coping with pre-existing diabetes, prostate issues, and colitis. However, they refused to quit working or stop touring Britain even though they were physically exhausted.
Laurel and Hardy’s relationship reportedly deteriorated during this time, but some believe it wasn’t because they had problems with each other. Rather, they struggled because they were both so ill.
They Didn’t Earn As Much Money As They Should Have
Laurel and Hardy were paid well for their work, but they did not receive global residuals due to the agreements they signed with film producer and director Hal Roach. Roach was a shrewd businessman who staggered the pair’s contracts so they expired six months apart, preventing them from negotiating together — which most likely would have resulted in higher pay for both of them.
By the 1950s, Hardy was struggling financially due to his love of gambling and alimony payments to his ex-wife. Laurel also had three ex-wives, one of whom he divorced two times. They resorted to doing live theater shows to make money.
Laurel Was Too Sick To Attend Hardy’s Funeral
Hardy had a heart attack in May 1954 and changed his life, losing 150 pounds within a few months. Two years later he a stroke, followed by two more in 1957. He died at age 65 from cerebral thrombosis. Laurel was too sick to attend the funeral, but noted, “Babe would understand.”
Both Laurel and Hardy were heavy smokers. Laurel quit in 1960, five years before he died from a heart attack. He was 74 years old when he passed away on February 23, 1965.
Laurel Retired From Acting After Hardy Died
Laurel and Hardy were the true definition of partners in crime, and life changed after one of them passed away. When Hardy died, Laurel decided to hang up his acting shoes for good. He would not perform on stage or on film ever again.
Following his friend’s death, he noted in a letter, “I feel lost without him after 30 odd years of close friendship & happy association.” Laurel still had meet-and-greets with fans and was open and willing to share his memories of Hardy with anyone who asked.
An Official Laurel And Hardy Appreciation Society Launched In 1965
The official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, called the Sons of the Desert, was formed in New York City in 1965. The name of the group is based on the lodge that Laurel and Hardy belonged to in the 1933 movie Sons of the Desert. The founding members included writer John McCabe, actor Orson Bean, cartoonist Al Kilgore, TV personality Chuck McCann, and John Municino.
There are over 100 chapters worldwide, but most are in the United States and England. Each chapter is known as a “tent,” which is named after a Laurel and Hardy film.