It seems, in the past month, I have marked the passing of several personal idols. I choose the word 'idol' with great care and precision. All of those whom I have memorialised thus far have, for me, been constant companions throughout my life, bringing me pleasure, each in their own, unique way.
Today, the 23rd February 2015 marks the 50th Anniversary of the passing of one of my greatest idols, and, for me, one half of the funniest comedy duo ever to have graced the big screen. 50 years ago, we lost the inimitable Stan Laurel.
Born, Arthur Stanley Jefferson, on 16th June 1890, In Ulvereston, England, the son of an actress and an actor-director-producer-playwright-impresario, Stan made his own stage debut at 16 at a small Glasgow, Scotland, theater and for the next few years played both drama and comedy in plays and danced and clowned in British music halls. In 1910 he joined the famous Fred Karno company and became Charlie Chaplin's understudy in the troupe's first American tour that same year. He also played various roles in the company's feature attraction A Night in an English Music Hall.
He was Chaplin's understudy again during Karno's second US tour in 1912. When the troupe returned to England, he stayed behind and began a lengthy stint in American Vaudeville, changing his name to Stan Laurel. In 1917 he made the first of 76 film appearances that preceded his fortuitous teaming with Oliver Hardy in 1927. The two comedians appeared in the same two-reel short, 'Lucky Dog' in 1917, however their pairing in that film was accidental, with Stan playing the lead role, whilst Hardy had a 'bit part'.
Laurel's screen character in those early days was that of a clown, typically wearing oversized clothes and playing the misfit. He continued performing in Vaudeville while pursuing a part-time film career in comedy shorts. He worked for various studios, including Universal, Vitagraph, Hal Roach-Pathé and Metro, where he performed for a unit supervised by G. M. Anderson of "Broncho Billy" fame. Many of these comedy shorts were spoofs of popular feature films of the period. Laurel wrote many of his own comedy routines and occasionally helped with the directing. In 1926 he signed a long-term contract with Hal Roach as a gagman and director but shortly after was persuaded to return to acting, and to begin his long and auspicious partnership with Oliver Hardy.
The "thin man" of the fat-thin duo, Laurel was often considered the funnier member of the team, with a wide array of mannerisms that endeared him to film audiences, among them a infantile weep, a confused eye-blink, and a bewildered scratching of the top of the head. He was the creative mind behind many of the team's comedy routines, a master of comedy nuance and technique.
On 7 August 1957, Oliver Hardy died. Laurel was too ill to attend his funeral and said, "Babe would understand". Those who knew Stan 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 dearest friend. However, he continued to socialise with his fans. many of whom were surprised, and delighted, to find that his phone number was listed in the telephone directory. He took many calls from fans much to his, and their delight. How wonderful must it have been to phone Stan Laurel for a casual chat! Laurel was described by his fans as a charming man, with a sense of humour that will never be forgotten.
In the Academy Award ceremony for 1960, he received a special Oscar "for his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy.
Speaking personally, Laurel and Hardy were, quite simply, the funniest duo ever to have lived. The joy they have brought into my life is immeasurable. They had the capacity to make me cry with laughter..the sort of laughter that no modern day double act can ever provoke. Since I was very small, I have always been reduced to a laughing, hysterical wreck at the sight of Stan, as he scratched his head, with a bewildered look, or by Ollie's pomposity. Some of my earliest television memories are of Laurel and Hardy, and those memories have remained with me throughout my life.
To me, Stan and Ollie are the very essence of comedy. So much so that I have their portraits tattooed on my shoulders. They are portraits I wear with pride, and with immense gratitude. Often lonely as a child, I had two friends I could always count on. Two, very dear, friends, who could lift my spirits, make me howl with laughter until the tears rolled down my cheeks. I had Laurel and Hardy. Until the day I die, I will always have them as my constant companions, my comedic heroes, and although I never had the great honour of meeting them; my friends.No-one ever had quite the edge that The Boys had, somehow I doubt they ever will. And so, today, on the 50th Anniversary of Stan Laurel's passing, all I can do is mark his passing in writing, express my deep and very heartfelt thanks for all the joy and laughter he brought, and continues to bring, into my life. 'The Boys' may be long departed from this earthly realm. From my heart, and the hearts of millions worldwide, they have never truly left us. They are always there. Our friends. Our heroes. Our boys...
Dedicated with love and gratitude to Arthur Stanley Jefferson
16th June 1890 - 23rd February 1965