Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - Actors and Actresses

Laurel. Nationality: British/American. Born: Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, England, 16 June 1890. Education: Attended King James Grammar School, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham. Family: Married 1) Mae Dahlberg (common-law marriage), 1919–25; 2) Lois Nelson, 1926 (divorced 1935), daughter: Lois Jr.; 3) Ruth Rogers, 1935 (divorced 1936); 4) Illeana Shuvalona, 1938 (divorced 1939); 5) remarried Ruth Rogers, 1941 (divorced 1946); 6) Ida Kitaeva Raphael, 1946. Career: 1906—stage debut in Glasgow; joined Levy and Cardwell Pantomime Company as stage manager, then as actor and featured comedian; 1910—joined the Fred Karno Company, worked as Charlie Chaplin's understudy on two U.S. tours, 1910 and 1912; from 1912—stayed in the U.S. and worked in vaudeville, first with Alice and Baldwin Cooke, then as a single act; 1917—film debut in Nuts in May (some scholars suggest an earlier appearance); 1917–26—more than 70 films for Universal, Vitagraph, Hal Roach, Pathe, and Metro as writer, performer, and occasionally director. Awards: Special Oscar, "for his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy," 1960. Died: In Santa Monica, California, 23 February 1965.

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy
Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy

Hardy. Nationality: American. Born: Norvell Hardy Jr. in Harlem, Georgia, 1892. Education: Attended Georgia Military College; Atlanta Conservatory of Music; studied law briefly at the University of Georgia, Atlanta. Family: Married 1) Madelyn Saloshin, 1913 (divorced); 2) Myrtle Lee, 1921 (divorced 1937); 3) Virginia Lucille Jones, 1940. Career: 1900—debut as singer with the Coburn Minstrel Show, then toured with his own singing act; 1910–13—operated a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia; 1913—joined the Lubin film company in Jacksonville, Florida, and made film debut in Outwitting Dad , 1914; 1914–26—made films for Vim, Edison, and other companies in New York and Florida (and after 1918 in California). Died: In North Hollywood, California, 7 August 1957.

1926—Laurel and Hardy brought together as a team by Hal Roach (though they had both appeared in A Lucky Dog , 1917); worked together as team for the next 30 years, making both shorts and features for Hal Roach until 1940, then for other studios; toured Britain with a music hall revue, 1947 and 1954; Laurel stopped acting upon Hardy's death, but continued to write.

Films as Actor: Hardy:

(as Oliver "Babe" Hardy or Babe Hardy in early films)


Outwitting Dad ; Back to the Farm (Louis); Pins Are Lucky ; The Soubrette and the Simp (Hotaling?); The Smuggler's Daughter (Hevener); The Female Cop (Hevener); Those Love Pangs ( The Rival Mashers ; Busted Hearts ) (Chaplin); The Rise of the Johnsons


What He Forgot (Hevener); Cupid's Target (Hevener); Spaghetti and Lottery (Louis); Gus and the Anarchists (Murphy); Shoddy the Tailor (Louis); The Paperhanger's Helper ; Spaghetti a la Mode ; Charley's Aunt ; Artists and Models ; The Tramps ; The Prize Baby (Hevener); An Expensive Visit (Louis); Cleaning Time (Louis); Mixed Flats (Louis); Safety Worst ; Twin Sisters (Hotaling); Baby (Myers); Who Stole the Doggies? ; A Lucky Strike (Hotaling); The New Butler (Hotaling); Matilda's Legacy (Hotaling); Her Choice (Price); Cannibal King ; What a Cinch (Louis); Clothes Make the Man (Louis); The Dead Letter (Louis); Avenging Bill (Hotaling); The Haunted Hat (Louis); The Simp and the Sophomores (Louis); Babe's School Days (Louis); Ethel's Romeos (Middleton); The New Adventures of J. Rufus Wallingfod (Wharton—serial); Something in Her Eye ; A Janitor's Joyful Job ; Fatty's Fatal Fun ; Ups and Downs (Stull and Burns); This Way Out (Stull and Burns)


Chickens (Stull and Burns); Frenzied Finance (Stull and Burns); Busted Hearts (Stull and Burns); A Sticky Affair (Stull and Burns); Bungles' Rainy Day (Stull and Burns); The Tryout (Stull and Burns); Bungles Enforces the Law (Stull and Burns); Bungles' Elopement (Stull and Burns); Bungles Lands a Job (Stull and Burns); One Too Many ; The Serenade ; Nerve and Gasoline ; Their Vacation ; Mamma's Boy's ; A Battle Royal ; All for a Girl ; Hired and Fired ; What's Sauce for the Goose ; The Brave Ones ; The Water Cure ; Thirty Days ; Baby Doll ; The Schemers ; Sea Dogs ; Hungry Hearts ; Edison Bugg's Invention (Hevener); Never Again ; Better Halves ; A Day at School ; A Terrible Tragedy (Hevener); Spaghetti ; Aunt Bill ; The Heroes ; It Hapened in Pikersville (Hevener); Human Hounds ; Dreamy Knights ; Life Savers ; Their Honeymoon ; An Aeriel Joyride (Walter or Charles Reed); Sidetracked ; Stranded (Burstein); Love and Duty ; Artistic Atmosphere ; The Reformers ; Royal Blood ; The Candy Trail ; The Precious Parcel ( The Precious Packet ); A Maid to Order ; Twin Flats ; A Warm Reception ; Pipe Dreams ; Mother's Child ; Prize Winners ; Ambitious Ethel ; The Guilty Ones


He Winked and Won ; Fat and Fickle ; The Boycotted Baby ; Wanted—A Bad Man ; The Other Girl ; The Love Bugs ; Back Stage (Gillstrom); The Hero (Gillstrom); Dough-Nuts (Gillstrom); Cupid's Rival (Gillstrom); The Villain (Gillstrom); A Millionaire (Gillstrom); A Mixup in Hearts (Gillstrom); The Goat (Gillstrom); The Genius (Gillstrom); The Stranger (Gillstrom); The Fly Cop (Gillstrom); The Modiste (Gillstrom); The Star Boarder (Gillstrom); The Chief Cook (Gillstrom); The Candy Kid (Gillstrom); The Station Master (Gillstrom); The Hobo (Gillstrom); The Pest (Gillstrom); The Prospector (Gillstrom); The Band Master (Gillstrom); The Slave (Gillstrom)


The Artist (Gillstrom); The Barber (Gillstrom); King Solomon (Gillstrom); His Day Out (Gillstrom); The Orderly (Gillstrom); The Rogue (Gillstrom); The Scholar (Gillstrom); The Messenger (Gillstrom); The Handy Man (Parrott); Bright and Early (Parrott); The Straight and Narrow (Parrott); Playmates (Parrott)


Freckled Fish (Le Brandt); Hop the Bell-Hop (Parrott); Lions and Ladies (Griffin); Mules and Mortgages (Howe); Tootsie and Tamales (Noel Smith) (+ co-sc); Healthy and Happy (Noel Smith); Flips and Flops (Pratt); Yaps and Yokels (Noel Smith); Mates and Models (Noel Smith); Squabs and Squabbles (Noel Smith); Bungs and Bunglers (Noel Smith); Switches and Sweeties (Noel Smith)


Dames and Dentists (Noel Smith); Maids and Muslin (Noel Smith); Squeaks and Squawks (Noel Smith); Fists and Fodder (Robbins); Pals and Pugs (Robbins); He Laughs Last (Robbins); Springtime (Robbins); The Decorator (Robbins); His Jonah Day (Robbins); The Back Yard (Robbins)


The Nuisance (Robbins); The Blizzard (Robbins); The Tourist (Robbins); Straight from the Shoulder (Van Dyke); The Fall Guy (Semon); The Sawmill (Semon); The Fly Cop (Peebles, Semon, and Taurog)


Golf (Semon); The Counter Jumper (Semon); Fortune's Mask (Ensminger); The Little Wildcat (Divad); One Stolen Night (Ensminger)


The Three Ages (Keaton and Cline); Rex, King of the Wild Horses (Jones); Be Your Age (McCarey)


The Girl in the Limousine (Semon); Her Boy Friend (Semon); Kid Speed (Semon); The Wizard of Oz (Semon) (as the tin woodsman); The Perfect Clown (Newmeyer)


Is Marriage the Bunk? (McCarey); Isn't Life Terrible? (McCarey); Enough to Do (Laurel); Wandering Papas (Laurel); Yes, Yes, Nanette (Laurel and Hennecke); Navy Gravy (Parrott); Stick Around ; Hop to It ; Should Sailors Marry?


Stop, Look, and Listen (Semon); Madame Mystery (Laurel and Wallace); Long Live the King (McCarey); Thundering Fleas (McGowan); Along Came Auntie (Guiol); Crazy Like a Fox (McCarey); Be Your Age (McCarey); Should Men Walk Home? (McCarey); The Nickel Hopper (Jones); The Gentle Cyclone (Van Dyke); A Bankrupt Honeymoon (Seiler); A Sea Dog's Tale (Lord); Crazy to Act ; Say It with Babies


No Man's Law (Jackman); Fluttering Hearts (Parrott); The Lighter that Failed (Parrott); Love 'em and Feed 'em (Bruckman); Assistant Wives (Parrott); Galloping Ghosts (Parrott); Barnum and Ringling Inc. (McGowan); Why Girls Say No (McCarey); The Honorable Mr. Buggs (Jackman)


Zenobia ( Elephants Never Forget ) (Gordon Douglas) (as Dr. Tibbitt)


The Fighting Kentuckian ( A Strange Caravan ) (Waggner) (as Willie Paine)


Riding High (Capra) (as horse player)

Films as Actor: Laurel:


Nuts in May (Williamson); The Evolution of Fashion


Hickory Hiram (Frazee); Phoney Photos (Frazee); Whose Zoo (Hutchinson); It's Great to Be Crazy ; Huns and Hyphens (Semon); Bears and Bad Men (Semon); Frauds and Frenzies (Semon) (as second prisoner)


No Place Like Jail (Roach and Terry); Just Rambling Along (Roach and Terry); Do You Love Your Wife? (Roach and Terry); Hustling for Health (Roach and Terry); Hoot Mon (Roach and Terry); Scars and Stripes (Semon); Mixed Nuts (Parrott)


Oranges and Lemons (Jeske); The Spilers


The Rent Collector (Semon and Taurog)


The Carpenter ; The Bootlegger ; The Gardener ; The Miner ; The Egg (Pratt); Weak-End Party (Pratt); When Knights Were Cold (Rouse); Mud and Sand (Pratt); White Wings (Jeske); The Pest


The Handy Man (Kerr); The Noon Whistle (Jeske); Under Two Jags (Jeske); Pick and Shovel (Jeske); Collars and Cuffs (Jeske); Kill or Cure (Pembroke); Gas and Air (Jeske); Wild Bill Hiccup (Jeske); Short Orders (Roach); A Man about Town (Jeske); Roughest Africa (Cedar); Frozen Hearts (Howe); The Whole Truth ; Save the Ship (Roach); The Soilers (Cedar); Scorching Sands (Roach); Mother's Joy (Cedar); A Dark House ; Cowboys Cry for It (Bruckman)


Smithy (Jeske); Postage Due (Jeske); Zeb vs. Paprika (Cedar); Brothers under the Chin (Cedar); Near Dublin (Cedar); Rupert of Cole-Slaw ( Rupert of Hee-Haw ) (Pembroke); Wide Open Spaces (Jeske); Short Kilts (Jeske); Mandarin Mix-Up (Rock and Pembroke); Detained (Rock and Pembroke); Monsieur Don't-Care (Rock and Pembroke); West of Hot Dog (Rock and Pembroke)


Somewhere in Wrong (Rock and Pembroke); Twins (Rock and Pembroke); Pie-Eyed (Rock and Pembroke); The Snow Hawk (Rock and Pembroke); Navy Blue Days (Rock and Pembroke); The Sleuth (Semon and Taurog); Dr. Pickle and Mr. Pryde (Rock and Pembroke); Half a Man (Rock and Pembroke)


Atta Boy (Goulding); Now I'll Tell One (Parrott); Should Tall Men Marry? (Bruckman); Eve's Love Letters (McCarey); Get 'em Young (Guiol); On the Front Page


Seeing the World (McGowan)

Films Directed by Laurel:


Yes, Yes, Nanette (co-d with Hennecke); Unfriendly Enemies (co-d with Finlayson); Moonlight and Noses ; Wandering Papas ; Enough to Do


On the Front Page (+ ro); Madame Mystery (co-d with Wallace); Never Too Old (co-d with Wallace); The Merry Widower ; Wise Guys Prefer Brunettes ; Raggedy Rose (co-d with Wallace)

Film Co-Produced by Laurel:


Knight of the Plains (Newfield)

Films as Actors: Laurel and Hardy:



A Lucky Dog (Robbins)


45 Minutes from Hollywood (Guiol)


Duck Soup (Guiol); Slipping Wives (Guiol) (Laurel as handyman; Hardy as butler); Love 'em and Weep (Guiol) (Laurel as business associate; Hardy as party guest); Why Girls Love Sailors (Guiol) (Laurel as Willie Smelt; Hardy as Second Mate); The Second Hundred Years (Guiol) (as convicts); Call of the Cuckoos (Bruckman) (as asylum inmates); Sailors Beware! (Yates) (Laurel as cab driver; Hardy as purser); With Love and Hisses (Guiol) (as recruits); Sugar Daddies (Guiol) (Laurel as lawyer; Hardy as butler); Hats Off (Yates); Do Detectives Think? (Guiol) (as detectives); Putting Pants on Philip (Bruckman) (Laurel as Philip; Hardy as J. Piedmont Mumblethunder); The Battle of the Century (Bruckman) (Laurel as prize fighter; Hardy as manager); Should Tall Men Marry? (Bruckman)


Leave 'em Laughing (Bruckman); Flying Elephants (Butler); The Finishing Touch (Bruckman); From Soup to Nuts (Kennedy); You're Darn Tootin' ( The Music Blasters ) (Kennedy); Their Purple Moment (Parrott); Should Married Men Go Home? (Parrott); Two Tars (Parrott); Habeus Corpus (Parrott); We Faw Down ( We Slip Up ) (McCarey); Early to Bed (Flynn)


Liberty ( Criminals at Large ) (McCarey); Wrong Again (McCarey); That's My Wife (French); Big Business (Horne); Unaccustomed as We Are (Foster); Double Whoopee (Foster); Berth Marks (Foster); Men of War (Foster); Perfect Day (Parrott); They Go Boom (Parrott); Bacon Grabbers (Foster) (as process servers); The Hoose-Gow (Parrott); Angora Love (Foster)


Night Owls (Parrott); Blotto (Parrott); Brats (Parrott) (Laurel as Stanley/Stanley's son; Hardy as Oliver/Oliver's son); Below Zero (Parrott); Hog Wild ( Aerial Antics ; Hay Wire ) (Parrott); The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case (Parrott); Another Fine Mess (Parrott);


Be Big (Parrott); Chickens Come Home (Horne); The Stolen Jools ( The Slippery Pearls ) (McGann) (Laurel as policeman; Hardy as police driver); Laughing Gravy (Horne); Our Wife (Horne); Come Clean (Horne); One Good Turn (Horne); Beau Hunks ( Beau Chumps ) (Horne); On the Loose (Roach)


Helpmates (Parrott); Any Old Port (Parrott); The Music Box (Parrott); The Chimp (Parrott); County Hospital (Parrott); Scram! (McCarey); Their First Mistake (George Marshall); Towed in a Hole (George Marshall); Wild Poses (McGowan)


Twice Two (Parrott) (Laurel as Stanley/Mrs. Hardy, + sc; Hardy as Oliver/Mrs. Laurel); Me and My Pal (Rogers and French) (+ sc by Laurel); The Midnight Patrol (French); Busy Bodies (French) (+ sc by Laurel); Dirty Work (French)


Oliver the Eighth ( The Private Life of Oliver the Eighth ) (French); Going Bye-Bye! (Rogers); Them Thar Hills! (Rogers) (+ co-sc by Laurel); The Live Ghost (Rogers)


Tit for Tat (Rogers) (+ sc by Laurel); The Fixer-Uppers (Rogers); Thicker than Water (Horne) (+ story by Laurel)


On the Wrong Trek (Parrott and Law) (as hitchhikers)


The Tree in a Test Tube (doc)



Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Riesner)


The Rogue Song (Lionel Barrymore and Roach) (Laurel as Ali-Bek; Hardy as Murza-Bek)


Pardon Us ( Jailbirds ; Gaol Birds ) (Parrott)


Pack Up Your Troubles (George Marshall and McCarey)


Fra Diavolo ( The Devil's Brother ; The Virtuous Tramps ) (Roach and Rogers) (Laurel as Stanlio; Hardy as Olio); Sons of the Desert ( Sons of the Legion ; Fraternally Yours ) (Seiter)


Hollywood Party (Boleslawski and Dwan); Babes in Toyland ( March of the Wooden Soldiers ; Laurel and Hardy in Toyland ; Revenge Is Sweet ; Wooden Soldiers ) (Meins and Rogers) (Laurel as Stanley Dum; Hardy as Oliver Dee)


Bonnie Scotland (Horne) (Laurel as Stanley McLaurel, + co-sc; Hardy as Ollie)


The Bohemian Girl (Horne and Rogers); Our Relations (Lachman) (Laurel as himself/Alfie Laurel, + pr; Hardy as himself/Bert Hardyl)


Way Out West (Horne) (+ pr by Laurel); Pick a Star (Sedgwick)


Swiss Miss (Blystone); Block-Heads (Blystone)


The Flying Deuces (A. Edward Sutherland)


A Chump at Oxford (Alfred Goulding); Saps at Sea (Gordon Douglas)


Great Guns (Banks)


A-Haunting We Will Go (Werker)


Air Raid Wardens (Sedgwick); Jitterbugs (St. Clair); The Dancing Masters (St. Clair)


The Big Noise (St. Clair)


Nothing but Trouble (Sam Taylor); The Bullfighters (St. Clair)


Atoll K ( Robinson Crusoeland ; Utopia ; Escapade ) (Joannon)

Selected Compilation Films Featuring Laurel and Hardy:


The Golden Age of Comedy (pr: Youngson and Sennett)


When Comedy Was King (pr: Youngson)


Days of Thrills and Laughter (pr: Youngson); 30 Years of Fun (pr: Youngson)


Laurel and Hardy's Laughing Twenties (pr: Youngson)


The Crazy World of Laurel and Hardy (Garry Moore)


The Further Perils of Laurel and Hardy (pr: Youngson)


Four Clowns (pr: Youngson)


By LAUREL: articles—

"Laurel without Hardy," interview with Boyd Verb, in Films in Review (New York), March 1959.

"An Interview with Stan Laurel," with Larry Goldstein, reprinted in Pratfall , vol. 2, no. 2, 1977.

On LAUREL and HARDY: books—

McCabe, John, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy , New York, 1961; new ed., 1966.

Borde, Raymonde, and Charles Perrin, Laurel et Hardy , Lyon, France, 1965.

Coursodon, Jean-Pierre, Laurel et Hardy , Paris, 1965.

Barr, Charles, Laurel and Hardy , London, 1967.

Everson, William K., The Films of Laurel and Hardy , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1967.

Maltin, Leonard, and others, The Laurel and Hardy Book , New York, 1973.

McCabe, John, The Comedy World of Stan Laurel , New York, 1974.

Anobile, Richard J., A Fine Mess (photographs), New York, 1975.

Lacourbe, Roland, Laurel et Hardy: au l'enfance de l'art , Paris, 1975.

McCabe, John, Al Kilgore, and Richard W. Bann, Laurel and Hardy , New York, 1975.

Scagnetti, Jack, The Laurel and Hardy Scrapbook , Middle Village, New York, 1976.

Giusti, Marco, Laurel and Hardy , Venice, 1978.

Gehring, Wes D., Leo McCarey and the Comic Anti-Hero in American Film , New York, 1980.

Guiles, Fred, Stan: The Life of Stan Laurel , New York, 1980.

Owen-Pawson, Jenny, and Bill Mouland, Laurel before Hardy , Kendal, Cumbria, 1984.

Governi, Giancarlo, Laurel and Hardy: due teste senza cervello , Turin, 1985.

Jones, Lori S., ed., Laurel and Hardywood (special quadruple ed. of Pratfall magazine), Universal City, California, 1985.

Pantieri, José, I magnifica Laurel e Hardy , Forli, 1986.

Crowther, Bruce, Laurel and Hardy: Crown Princes of Comedy , London, 1987.

Skretvedt, Randy, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic behind the Movies , Beverly Hills, California, 1987.

Leeflang, Thomas, The World of Laurel and Hardy , Leicester, England, 1988.

Smith, Leon, Following the Comedy Trail: A Guide to Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang Locations , Los Angeles, 1988.

McCabe, John, Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy , London, 1989.

Nollen, Scott Allen, The Boys: The Cinematic World of Laurel and Hardy , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1989.

Gehring, Wes D., Laurel and Hardy: A Bio-Bibliography , New York, 1990.

Oust, Ken, Laurel and Hardy in Hull , Beverley, England, 1990.

Blees, Christian, Laurel and Hardy: ihr Leben, ihre Filme , Berlin, 1993.

Grant, Neil, Laurel & Hardy , New York, 1995.

Mitchell, Glen, The Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia , North Pomfret, 1995.

Stone, Rob, Laurel or Hardy: The Solo Films of Stan Laurel & Oliver "Babe" Hardy , Redondo Beach, California, 1996.

MacGillivray, Scott, Laurel & Hardy: From the Fourties Forward , Lanham, Maryland, 1998.

McFerren, Robert, Laurel & Hardy in 'Big Quizness': Trivia & Film Fact on the Boys , Salem, 1999.

On LAUREL and HARDY: articles—

Robinson, David, "The Lighter People," in Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1954.

Obituary on Hardy, in New York Times , 8 August 1957.

Barnes, Peter, "Cuckoo," in Films and Filming (London), August 1960.

Roach, Hal, "Living with Laughter," in Films and Filming (London), October 1964.

Obituary on Laurel, in New York Times , 24 February 1965.

"L. & H. Cult," in Time (New York), 14 July 1967.

Pope, Dennis, "Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy," in Film (London), Autumn 1967.

Everson, William K., "The Crazy World of Laurel and Hardy," in Take One (Montreal), no. 9, 1968.

Maltin, Leonard, "Laurel and Hardy," in Movie Comedy Teams , New York, 1970.

Braucourt, Guy, "Non, Lorèléardi n'est pas mort! (Ah! Ce cher vieil Ollie . . . )," in Ecran (Paris), April and May 1972.

Le Gueay, Philippe, "Laurel et Hardy: une allégorie de la catastrophe," in Positif (Paris), July/August 1978.

Gehring, Wes, on Leo McCarey and Laurel and Hardy, in Films in Review (New York), November 1979; see also issues for February and April 1980.

Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1981; see also issues for September 1981, July 1982, and April 1984.

Robinson, Jeffrey, "Laurel and Hardy," in Teamwork: The Cinema's Great Comedy Teams , New York, 1982.

Anderson, Janice, "Laurel and Hardy," in History of Movie Comedy , New York, 1985.

Torgov, S., "Hardy Har Har!," in American Film (New York), October 1986.

Kimmel, D., "Life Imprisonment," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1987.

Christon, Lawrence, "The Discreet Charm of Laurel and Hardy," in Los Angeles Times (Calendar section), 10 January 1988.

Berglund, B., "Did Stan Laurel Make His Film Debut as Early as 1915?," in Griffithiana (Gemona, Italy), September 1988.

Hind, J., "Laughing Boys," in Listener , 14 June 1990.

Roberts, Richard M., "Past Humor, Present Laughter: The Comedy Film Industry 1914–1945. Mixed Nuts and Educational Pictures," in Classic Images (Muscatine), January 1993.

Rudolph, Alan, "The Boys," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.

Weddle, David, "Sheer Exertion," in Sight & Sound (London), July 1995.

Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 10 February 1996.

Medhurst, A., "G Gags," in Sight & Sound (London), December 1996.

* * *

Of all the truly great screen clowns of the silent and early sound periods, Laurel and Hardy took longest to gain serious critical recognition, perhaps because, unlike Chaplin and Keaton, they were never their own directors. Nevertheless, Charles Barr's book—one of the most delicate and sensitive works of film criticism so far published, to which this present note is, inevitably, heavily indebted—amply makes amends.

It was their peculiar distinction to be the great comic poets of the mainstream bourgeoisie. Chaplin was always "the tramp;" Lloyd was too genteel to be representative. Fields's character deliberately withdrew into alcoholism and misanthropy; Keaton was by nature—if quite unconsciously and reluctantly—alienated from everything . But Stan and Ollie, even when they played convicts or down-and-outs, were incorrigibly addicted to the bourgeois norm. Not that they represented conformity to those norms—not in the least. On the contrary, they dramatize the contradictions of bourgeois life carried to their most extreme. Everything they do is based on contradiction. Totally committed to each other, they are also totally and continuously at odds. Similarly, their apparent total commitment to the norms, mores, manners, conventions, and rituals of bourgeois culture is accompanied by an equally absolute resistance to them. Even when they are not knowingly transgressing (because they can never resist temptation), they are expressing their discontent, their instinctive refusal to be safely contained, by an extraordinary and virtually continuous barrage of accidents, destruction, misunderstandings, and Freudian slips. In this they surely speak, more eloquently than any other comedians, most hilariously and touchingly, for the great mass of human individuals trapped within bourgeois norms (because, like Stan and Ollie, they do not know there are or could be any other), continually trying to adjust, continually, in their behavior, betraying their frustrations and resentment. Laurel and Hardy represent the bourgeois condition simply taken to its logical absurdity.

The main body of their great work lies clearly in the shorts, and it can hardly be accidental that their work during their finest, most consistently brilliant period was under the supervision of Leo McCarey. It is not clear how much McCarey actually contributed, but what is clear, is the perfect compatibility: the same contradictions, the same tensions between conformity and anarchy, structure many of McCarey's finest feature films ( Make Way for Tomorrow , The Bells of St. Mary's , Rally 'round the Flag, Boys! ).

There are extraordinary shorts in which they play tramps, servants, and convicts, in which much of the humor derives from the contradiction between their situation and their inveterate commitment to bourgeois gentility; but perhaps the most fully characteristic are those in which they act out the contradictions directly, in representations of bourgeois marriage, courtship, family, or (as in Big Business ) capitalist competition. There are "doubling" films: Brats , in which they play themselves and their own children, a film about the horrors of "socialization;" and Twice Two , in which they play themselves and each other's wives, a film about the horrors of bourgeois marriage. Or there are those in which they try to circumvent the constraint of domesticity: Helpmates and, arguably their finest feature-length film, Sons of the Desert . As Charles Barr argues, the essence of their subversiveness lies in their connotations of the childish or childlike: they are children arrested somewhere in the middle of the process of socialization, still committed to the pleasure principle but extremely uneasy about it, vaguely grasping the reality principle but instinctively resistant to its domination, more polymorphously perverse than homosexual (for all their scenes in bed together), preferring each other's company to anyone else's (including, and especially, their wives') because, although continually at loggerheads, they know they are two of a kind (however different in physique and temperament), in their reluctant, unwitting, but absolute incorrigible refusal to be definitively integrated within the culture they also represent.

—Robin Wood

Other articles you might like:

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: