Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Stan Laurel 6/16/1890 - 2/23/1965
Arthur Stanley Jefferson (June 16, 1890 – February 23, 1965), better known as Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy double-act Laurel and Hardy, whose career stretched from the silent films of the early 20th century until after World War II.
Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular comedy teams of the early to mid Classical Hollywood era of American cinema. Composed of thin, English-born Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and heavy, American-born Oliver Hardy (1892–1957) they became well known during the late 1920s to the mid-1940s for their work in motion pictures; the team also appeared on stage throughout America and Europe.
The two comedians first worked together on the silent film The Lucky Dog. After a period appearing separately in several short films for the Hal Roach studio during the 1920s, they began appearing in movie shorts together in 1926. Laurel and Hardy officially became a team the following year, and soon became Hal Roach's most lucrative stars. Among their most popular and successful films were the features Sons of the Desert (1933), Way Out West (1937), and Block-Heads (1938) and the shorts Big Business (1929), Liberty (1929), and their Academy Award–winning short, The Music Box (1932).
The pair left the Roach studio in 1940, then appeared in eight "B" comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1941 to 1944. Disappointed in the films in which they had little creative control, from 1945 to 1950 the team did not appear on film and concentrated on their stage show, embarking on a musical hall tour of England, Ireland and Scotland. They made Atoll K, a French/Italian production and their last film, in 1950/1951, before retiring from the screen. In total they appeared together in 106 films. They starred in 40 short sound films, 32 short silent films and 23 full length feature films, and in the remaining 11 films made guest or cameo appearances.
Stan Laurel (June 16, 1890 – February 23, 1965) was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire (now Ulverston, Cumbria), England. His father, Arthur J. "A.J." Jefferson, was a showman who served as actor, director, playwright and theatrical entrepreneur in many northern English cities.
Laurel began his career in the Glasgow Britannia Theatre of Varieties and Alhambra Theatre Glasgow at the age of 16, where he crafted a comedy act largely derivative of famous music hall comedians of the day, including George Robey and Dan Leno. He gradually worked his way up the ladder of supporting roles until he became the featured comedian, as well as an understudy to Charlie Chaplin in Fred Karno's comedy company. He emigrated to America in 1912 where he decided to change his name; he worried that "Stanley Jefferson" was too long to fit onto posters. He shortened it to "Stan" and added "Laurel" at the suggestion of his superstitious vaudeville partner, Mae Dahlberg who fretted that his original stage name was composed of 13 letters.
Making his first film appearance in Nuts in May (1917), Laurel continued to make more than 50 other silent films for various producers. At first he experienced only modest success as a solo comedian. Producer Hal Roach later attributed this to the difficulty in photographing Laurel's pale blue eyes on early pre-panchromatic film stock, perhaps giving the appearance of blindness (which, in his earliest films, Laurel tried to remedy by adding heavy defining makeup around his eyes). Moreover, Laurel did not have an identifiable or easily marketable screen character, like that of Chaplin, Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.
It was only when Laurel began appearing in satires of popular screen dramas that audiences really took notice of him. Between 1922 and 1925 he starred in a number of films including Mud and Sand (1922) (a parody of Blood and Sand, featuring Stan as "Rhubarb Vaselino") and Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925) (with Stan playing both the gentle doctor and the manic monster). Many of these comedies had crazy visual gags along with Laurel's eccentric pantomime, establishing the star as an inspired "nut comic."
On August 7, 1957, Oliver Hardy died. Laurel did not attend his funeral, stating "Babe would understand." Afterwards, Laurel decided he would never act again without his long-time friend, but he did write gags and sketches for fellow comedians. People who knew Laurel said he was absolutely devastated by Hardy's death and never fully recovered.
In 1961, Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He had achieved his lifelong dream as a comedian and had been involved in nearly 190 films. He lived his final years in a small apartment in the Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica. Always gracious to fans, he spent much time answering fan mail. His phone number was listed in the telephone directory, and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to Stan Laurel. Jerry Lewis was among the comedians to visit Laurel, who offered suggestions for Lewis' production of The Bellboy (1960). Lewis had even paid tribute to Laurel by naming his main character Stanley in the film, and having Bill Richmond play a version of Laurel as well.
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.