Laurel circa 1920
|Born||Arthur Stanley Jefferson
16 June 1890
Ulverston, Lancashire (now Cumbria), England
|Died||23 February 1965
Santa Monica, California, United States
Cause of death
|Other names||Stan Jefferson, Stanley Laurel|
|Occupation||Actor, writer, comedian, entertainer, film director|
Virginia Ruth Rogers
(m.1935–1937; 1941–1946; divorced twice)
Vera Ivanova Shuvalova
Ida Kitaeva Raphael
(m.1946–1965; his death)
|Partner(s)||Mae Charlotte Dahlberg
Arthur Stanley Jefferson (16 June 1890 – 23 February 1965), better known by his stage name Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, most famous as Laurel of comedic duo Laurel and Hardy–Hardy being Oliver Hardy. Laurel began his career in the British music hall, from where he took a number of his standard comic devices: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and the nonsensical understatement. He was a member of "Fred Karno's Army," where he was Charlie Chaplin's understudy. The two arrived in the US on the same ship from Britain with the Karno troupe. Laurel went into films in the United States, with his acting career stretching between 1917 and 1951, and from "silents" to "talkies." It included a starring role in the film The Music Box (1932), which won an Academy Award.
In 1961, Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. In a 2005 UK poll to find The Comedians' Comedian, Laurel and Hardy ranked top among best double acts and seventh overall. In 2009, a bronze statue of the duo was unveiled in Laurel's hometown of Ulverston, Cumbria.
His parents, Arthur and Margaret Jefferson, were both active in the theatre and always very busy. In his early years, the boy spent much time living with his grandmother Sarah Metcalfe. He attended school at King James I Grammar School, Bishop Auckland, County Durham and the King's School, Tynemouth. He moved with his parents to Glasgow, Scotland, where he completed his education at Rutherglen Academy. His father managed Glasgow's Metropole Theatre, where Laurel began work. His boyhood hero was Dan Leno, one of the greatest British music hall comedians. At the age of 16, with a natural affinity for the theatre, Laurel gave his first professional performance on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow.
In 1910, with the stage name of "Stan Jefferson", he joined Fred Karno's troupe of actors, which also included a young Charlie Chaplin. The British music hall nurtured him, and for some time, he acted as Chaplin's understudy. Chaplin and Laurel arrived in the United States on the same ship from Britain with the Karno troupe and toured the country. From 1916 to 1918, he teamed up with Alice Cooke and Baldwin Cooke, who became lifelong friends. Amongst other performers, Laurel worked briefly alongside Oliver Hardy in a silent film short The Lucky Dog (1921). This was before the two were a team.
It was around this time that Laurel met Mae Dahlberg. Around the same time he adopted the stage surname of Laurel, at Dahlberg's suggestion.[N 1] The pair were performing together when Laurel was offered $75 per week to star in two-reel comedies. After the making of his first film, Nuts in May, Universal offered him a contract. The contract was soon cancelled during a reorganisation at the studio. Among the films Dahlberg and Laurel appeared in together was the 1922 parody, Mud and Sand, of which a short clip can be seen at the left.
By 1924, Laurel had given up the stage for full-time film work, under contract with Joe Rock for 12 two-reel comedies. The contract had one unusual stipulation, that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films; Rock thought her temperament was hindering Laurel's career. In 1925, when she started interfering with Laurel's work, Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted. The 12 two-reel comedies were Mandarin Mix-Up (1924), Detained (1924), Monsieur Don't Care (1924), West of Hot Dog (1924), Somewhere in Wrong (1925), Twins (1925), Pie-Eyed (1925), The Snow Hawk (1925), Navy Blue Days (1925), The Sleuth (1925), Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925), Half a Man (1925).
Laurel and Hardy
Laurel next signed with the Hal Roach studio, where he began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director, but fate stepped in.
In 1927, Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap, and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup (1927) and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios' supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year.
Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in a lavish all-colour (in Technicolor) musical feature, The Rogue Song. In 1931, their first starring feature, Pardon Us was released. They continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box, which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.
Trouble at Roach Studio
During the 1930s, Laurel was involved in a dispute with Hal Roach, which resulted in the termination of his contract. Since Roach maintained separate contracts for Laurel and Hardy that expired at different times, Hardy remained at the studio and was "teamed" with Harry Langdon for the 1939 film Zenobia. The studio discussed a series of films co-starring Hardy with Patsy Kelly, to be called "The Hardy Family." But Laurel sued Roach over the contract dispute. Eventually, the case was dropped and Laurel returned to Roach. After returning to Roach studios, the first film Laurel and Hardy made was A Chump at Oxford. Subsequently, they made Saps at Sea, which was their last film for Roach.
20th Century Fox
In 1941, Laurel and Hardy signed a contract at 20th Century Fox to make ten films over five months. During the war years, their work became more standardised and less successful, though The Bullfighters, and Jitterbugs did receive some praise. Laurel discovered he had diabetes, so he encouraged Hardy to make two films without him. In 1946, he divorced Virginia Ruth Rogers and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael. In 1947, Laurel returned to England when he and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom, and the duo were mobbed wherever they went. Laurel's homecoming to Ulverston took place in May, and the duo were greeted by thousands of fans outside the Coronation Hall. The Evening Mail noted: “Oliver Hardy remarked to our reporter that Stan had talked about Ulverston for the past 22 years and he thought he had to see it.” The tour included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London. The success of the tour would see them spend the next seven years touring the UK and Europe.
In 1950, Laurel and Hardy were invited to France to make a feature film. The film, a Franco-Italian co-production titled Atoll K, was a disaster. (The film was titled Utopia in the US and Robinson Crusoeland in the UK.) Both stars were noticeably ill during the filming. Upon returning to the US they spent most of their time recovering. In 1952, Laurel and Hardy toured Europe successfully, and they returned in 1953 for another tour of the continent. During this tour, Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks.
In May 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour. In 1955, they were planning to do a television series, Laurel and Hardy's Fabulous Fables, based on children's stories. The plans were delayed after Laurel suffered a stroke on 25 April, from which he recovered. But as he was planning to get back to work, his partner Hardy had a massive stroke on 14 September 1956, which resulted in his being unable to return to acting.
On 7 August 1957, Oliver Hardy died. Laurel was too ill to attend his funeral and said, "Babe would understand". People who knew Laurel said he was devastated by Hardy's death and never fully recovered from it. He refused to perform on stage, or act in another film without his good friend. But, he continued to socialise with his fans. Laurel was described by his fans as a very nice man, with a sense of humour that will never be forgotten.
Life after Laurel and Hardy
In 1961, Stan 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 flat in the Oceana Apartments in Santa Monica, California.
Always gracious to fans, Laurel spent much time answering fan mail. His phone number, EXbrook 3-1851, was listed in the telephone directory, and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to him directly.
Jerry Lewis was among the numerous comedians to visit Laurel, who offered suggestions for Lewis's production of The Bellboy (1960). Lewis paid tribute to Laurel by naming his main character Stanley in the film, and having Bill Richmond play a version of Laurel as well. Van Dyke played Laurel on "The Sam Pomerantz Scandals" episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Laurel was offered a cameo role in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), but he turned it down. He did not want to be on screen in his old age, especially without his comedy partner, Oliver Hardy, who had died in 1957.
Laurel had a complex marital history. He had four wives and married one of them a second time after their divorce.
In December 1927, during the early years of Laurel and Hardy's partnership, Laurel and his first wife Lois had a baby girl, also named Lois. She later married actor Rand Brooks. In May 1930, their second child, Stanley Robert Laurel, died after nine days.
In 1935, Laurel divorced Lois and married Virginia Ruth Rogers. In 1938, he divorced Virginia and married Vera Ivanova Shuvalova. By 1941, he had divorced Vera and remarried Virginia. In 1946, he divorced Virginia and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael, whom he did not divorce.
Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly quitting around 1960. In January 1965, he underwent a series of x-rays for an infection on the roof of his mouth. He died on 23 February 1965, aged 74, four days after suffering a heart attack on 19 February. 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 this!" A few minutes later the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair.
At his funeral, silent screen comedian Buster Keaton was overheard talking about Laurel's talent: "Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I wasn't the funniest, this man was the funniest." Keaton would himself die of lung cancer one year later in February 1966. Dick Van Dyke, a friend, protege and occasional impressionist of Laurel during his later years, gave the eulogy, reading A Prayer for Clowns.
Laurel had earlier quipped: "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again."
He is interred in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
In 1989, a statue of Laurel was erected in Dockwray Square, North Shields, Tyne and Wear, England where he lived at No. 8 from 1897 to 1902. 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 a 2005 UK poll, Comedians' Comedian, Laurel and Hardy were ranked top among best double acts, and seventh overall.
In 2006, BBC Four showed a drama called Stan, based on Laurel meeting Hardy on his deathbed and reminiscing about their career. A plaque on the Bull Inn, Bottesford, Leicestershire, England, marks Laurel and Hardy appearing in Nottingham over Christmas 1952, and staying with Laurel's sister, Olga, who was the landlady of the pub.
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.
There is a Laurel and Hardy Museum in Stan's hometown of Ulverston. There are two Laurel and Hardy museums in Hardy's hometown of Harlem, Georgia. One is operated by the town of Harlem, and the other is a private museum owned and operated by Gary Russeth, a Harlem resident.
- Stan Laurel filmography (films of Stan Laurel as an actor without Oliver Hardy)
- Laurel and Hardy filmography (filmography of Laurel and Hardy together)
- Laurel disputes this and claims it just "sounded good."
- "Obituary." Variety, 3 March 1965, p. 69.
- McCabe 2005, p. 143. Robson, 2005 Retrieved: 18 June 2012
- Rawlngs, Nate. "Top 10 Across-the-Pond Duos", Time, 20 July 2010. Retrieved: 18 June 2012.
- Cavett, Dick (7 September 2012). "The Fine Mess-Maker at Home". New York Times.
- "The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood", p. 95. McFarland, 2011.
- "Statue honours Laurel and Hardy." BBC, 19 April 2009. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- Midwinter, Eric. "Laurel, Stan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2006. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- "Plea to save Stan Laurel's school." The Laurel & Hardy Forum. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- Bowers 2007, pp. 143–147.
- McCabe 1961, p. 18.
- Bergan 1992, p. 33.
- "Stan at Queen's first Royal Variety Show". North West Evening Mail.
- Bergen 1992, p. 118.
- "Latter." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Archive Project. Retrieved: 8 September 2012.
- "Old Telephone Exchange Names - Los Angeles County". Laalmanac.com. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
- Telephone exchange names
- December 15, 1996 (1996-12-15). "Exchanging Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
- "Western Section of the Los Angeles Extended Area Telephone Directory with Classified Section for Beverly Hills." The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1951.
- Brody, Richard. "Front Row: Jerry Lewis, Writer", New Yorker, 5 May 2011. Retrieved 17 May 2011.Dick Van Dyke told a similar story. When he was just starting his career, he looked up Laurel's phone number, called him, and then visited him at his home.
- Harnisch, Larry. "Stan Laurel's stormy marriage full of off-screen drama." Los Angeles Times, 21 June 2009. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- "Stan Laurel." Find A Grave. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- "Correspondence: April 4–29, 1964." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Project via lettersfromstan.com. Retrieved: 20 August 2011.
- "Correspondence: January 4–29, 1965." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Project via lettersfromstan.com. Retrieved: 10 August 2011.
- "Stan Laurel Dies. Teamed With Oliver Hardy in 200 Slapstick Films-Played 'Simple' Foil." The New York Times, 24 February 1965. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- Bergen 1992, pp. 119–120.
- Holmes, Linda. "Dick Van Dyke Talks About His 'Lucky Life' And What Stan Laurel Left Him", NPR, 10 May 2011. Retrieved: 17 May 2011.
- Levy 2005, p. 5.
- "BBC Four Cinema - Silent Cinema Season." BBC. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- "The Battle for Bottesford – the border town of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire." Leicestershire Magazine, 31 July 2010. Retrieved: 6 October 2010.
- Roberts, Will. "Laurel proves Hardy after disaster delays: Statue of Laurel arrives in Bishop Auckland." thenorthernecho, 13 August 2008. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
- "Hundreds attend Laurel and Hardy statue unveiling", The Telegraph. Retrieved: 25 July 2012.
- Bergen, Ronald. The Life and Times of Laurel and Hardy. New York: Smithmark, 1992. ISBN 0-8317-5459-1.
- Bowers, Judith. Stan Laurel and Other Stars of the Panopticon: The Story of the Britannia Music Hall. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2007. ISBN 1-84158-617-X.
- Louvish, Simon. Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy. London: Faber & Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-21590-4.
- Marriot, A.J. Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours. Hitchen, Herts, UK: AJ Marriot, 1993. ISBN 0-9521308-0-7.
- Levy, Joe, ed. Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. New York: Wenner Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1-932958-61-4.
- McCabe, John. Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy. London: Robson Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-86105-781-4.
- McCabe, John. Comedy World of Stan Laurel. London: Robson Books, 2005, First edition 1975. ISBN 978-1-86105-780-8.
- McCabe, John. Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy: An Affectionate Biography. London: Robson Books, 2004, First edition 1961, ISBN 1-86105-606-0.
- Stone, Rob. Laurel or Hardy: The Solo Films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Temecula, California: Split Reel Books, 1996
- Okuda, Ted and James L. Neibaur. Stan Without Ollie: The Stan Laurel Solo Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2012
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Stan Laurel.|
- The Laurel and Hardy Forum
- The Laurel and Hardy Magazine
- The Official Laurel and Hardy website
- Stan Laurel at the Internet Movie Database
- Laurel and Hardy Museum, Ulverston
- The Stan Laurel Correspondence Archive Project
- The Laurel and Hardy Discussion Group at Yahoo!Groups
- Stan Laurel's Eulogy
- Stan's tempestuous love life