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Whatever Happened to Laurel & Hardy?

Updated on December 29, 2017
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Recently married on Sept. 8, 2017, Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy

Lasting Harmony

The revolutionary comedy team unbeatable in both legacy and professionalism, Laurel and Hardy spent nearly forty years together entertaining on stage and screen. Over fifty films, 250 performances on stage, Their chemistry so unmatched that even today, many in Hollywood have pulled inspiration from this legendary duo.

Unlike other great comedy teams, like fabled Abbot & Costello or Martin & Lewis. Laurel and Hardy's partnership only ended after Hardy's untimely death. In the thirty years of professional work, Laurel and Hardy never warred in the battle of egos that ultimately poisoned and destroyed the working relationships of the other teams. They were the perfect pair who respected each other on and off the screen.

Stan Laurel was the boss, the brains, the creative. In the early years of their career, he had total creative control and the films of that era were by far the better ones. Rather than but heads with his partner, Oliver Hardy was content playing a supporting roll behind the scenes. More interested in playing golf than scriptwriting, he trusted Laurel in the big decisions.

The Team

Originally they had starred together in the film 1921 The Lucky Dog, though not officially as a team. The two were brought together by Hal Roach Studios, made a comedy team in 1926. There they began their immortal legacy as one of the most successful comedy duos in history. Over the next thirty years, they would star in 107 films: 32 silent shorts, 40 shorts with sound and 23 features. Unlike other greats of the silent era, Laurel & Hardy successfully smashed the barrier into talkies without hindrance.

Hal Roach was invaluable to the success of Laurel & Hardy's early films. Despite his staff writers and directors, he allowed Laurel unprecedented creative freedom in the creation of these films. He would often rewrite entire scenes with an unspoken blessing of respect from the studio executives. Unfortunately this working relationship eventually became strained. In 1934, the feature 'Babes in Toyland', divided Stan Laurel and Hal Roach. Laurel hated the original plot and an argument ensued before Roach allowed him to make it his own way. The decision came with a price and Hal Roach wished to end his twenty year partnership with the comedy team after the film's release. Six years later, it finally ended as Laurel and Hardy signed with 20th Century Fox and MGM.

The grass wasn't greener on the other side. The new studios did not allow the team as much freedom as they had with Hal Roach. The eight feature films that were produced under these studios were largely successful. Fox enjoyed fantastic profits off the two.

Atoll K showing Laurel's particularly sickly appearance.
Atoll K showing Laurel's particularly sickly appearance.

Film Decline

1951. It wasn't egos. It wasn't money. It was health. The production of the team's final film Atoll K was plagued with problems. In addition to the typical production setbacks, both men began experiencing declining health. Hardy began loosing weight at an alarming rate and Laurel experienced major prostate problems. Their sickly appearances spelled doom for a film who's plot was already disappointing. The resulting flop ended both men's filming careers.

Laurel & Hardy in 1955.
Laurel & Hardy in 1955.

Final Years

After several months off for recovery. Laurel and Hardy returned to the public eye on the European stage. This full circle final curtain call was met by thousands of fans. The admiration moved both men to tears. They would spend 1953 touring Britain and Ireland. Performing new stage material to sold out crowds, it was one of the happiest years the team experienced. Unfortunately there very little archival record of these performances and few photos have survived. The tour sadly had to be cut short when Hardy had a heart attack.

Making there first and only US television appearance in 1954 began an attempt to return to screen for the two. They were surprised by Ralph Edwards for the then popular NBC show This Is Your Life. The two were lured to a hotel with the promise of the meeting with a producer and where sent into a room with cameras rolling and Edwards there to greet them. The high ratings and response prompted Laurel and Hardy to begin negotiations with Hal Roach Jr. about a possible film resurgence. Unfortunately health problems once again surfaced when Laurel had a stroke and the plans were officially dropped. The retirement of the two was inevitable.

Hardy's health then took a several dive in 1956. Plagued with an irregular heartbeat, he once again began to loose weight, dropping over 100 pounds in one year. Then came the strokes, debilitating ones. He would loose his ability to speak and move and was bedridden. The mounting medical bills forced Hardy's family to sell off much of his assets, despite being well off. A final stroke would claim him on August 7, 1957.

The Last Known Footage of Laurel and Hardy together.

Laurel After Hardy

The loss of his longtime comedy partner absolutely devastated Stan Laurel. To make matters worse, Laurel's own declining health prevented him from attending Hardy's funeral. "Babe [Hardy] would understand." He is quoted in saying afterwards.

Laurel would never recover from Hardy's death. He refused to perform in any capacity afterwards, turning down interviews, stage and screen roles. Instead, Laurel decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to his fans and offering tips to up and coming comedians.

His address to his small Santa Monica apartment and phone number where published in the phonebook. He eagerly greeted fans and guests that would show up unannounced. Fans were surprised that Laurel, himself, would answer the phone. Much of his free time was dedicated to answering his fan mail. He insisted that each and every letter be answered personally.

Amongst the up and coming Comedians that often visited Stan Laurel were Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke. The advice they received from Laurel was invaluable to the later success of their careers.

Stan Laurel out lived Oliver Hardy by eight years. As his health continued to decline, he remained out of public eye, fearing that children would be horrified by his current old appearance. In 1965, he suffered a final heart attack and four days later passed away. At his funeral, Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy and among the attendees were Hal Roach Sr and silent film comedian Buster Keaton who remarked "Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I wasn't the funniest, he was the funniest."

Stan Laurel at his tiny deck where he would spend hours every day answering fan mail.
Stan Laurel at his tiny deck where he would spend hours every day answering fan mail.

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