It was not until Hal Roach teamed Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy, that both men became famous stars of comedy films. Stan Laurel (1890–1965) had come to the USA in 1910 and again in 1913 as a member of the touring British mime troupe, the prestigious “Fred Karno’s Speechless Comedians.” Heading the 1913 company was Charlie Chaplin, who was hired in 1914 by Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio, and rocketed to a lifetime of stardom, riches and honors. Others in the company also signed with American film companies, but none, including Stan Laurel, reached the heights that Chaplin did.
Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy (1892–1957) began as a boy singer in small-time entertainments, operating a movie house (manager, ticket seller, projectionist and janitor), and acting films for small studios in Georgia and Florida (Lubin, Vim, King Bee and Vitagraph), often playing villains. In 1917, Babe decamped the South for Hollywood, where he appeared in films, most notably supporting Larry Semon, as well as Billy West, Clyde Cooke, Bobby Ray, Charley Chase, Jimmy Finlayson and the Our Gang kids, the latter three at Hal Roach’s studio.
Until 1926, Stan was successful as a second-tier comedian and comedy writer, and Ollie was stuck as a utility player. It was Roach’s supervising director, the brilliant Leo McCarey, who spotted the easy on-screen by-play between Laurel and Hardy. (At the time Hal Roach more often used Stan as a comedy director and writer than a comedian.)
Once teamed in the earliest of their 109 film comedies (including both shorts and full-length movies, Laurel & Hardy became the top stars at Hal Roach Studios—as well as movie houses around the globe. When grouchy Jimmy Finlayson played their explosive nemesis, Laurel & Hardy effectively became a trio.
Hal Roach had lost his first big comedy film star, Harold Lloyd, when Lloyd realized his following was big enough for him to go solo and become the master of his own career. Both Laurel and Hardy had been hired separately on different dates, so their contracts were never renewable together, thus depriving them of the clout to negotiate as a team for more money.
By the late 1930s, the team had won the independence to make movies for other studios. While both 20th Century-Fox and MGM paid the duo more money, their films made for those studios from 1940 onward lacked the quality and wit of the Roach films. Also, both Laurel and Hardy had health problems that were prematurely aging them.
Critics and historians have usually proclaimed Stan as the more creative of the two partners. It was Stan who helped write their movies, co-directed and even edited them. To those happy chores, Stan, too, added women. On screen ‘Babe’ Hardy was every bit Stan’s equal as a comedian, but his ambition stopped at acting, singing, golf, cooking and women. them. That both men liked and loved women is hardly newsworthy, an as second- or third-level celebrities their romantic misadventures did not feed the gossip industry. Babe Hardy was married three times, and Stan was wed six times to five wives (one of them twice).
In Flying Deuces, Oliver Hardy assumed the team’s dominant role, but proved truly as inept as Stan, his slow-witted partner. Ollie, rejected in love, decides to join the Foreign Legion in Morocco to forget his heartache, and drags a passive Stan along. There they encounter accomplished farceur Reginald Gardiner (wasted in a cardboard role) and Guy Middleton (who also played the dastardly Emperor Ming in the Flash Gordon series), and cranky James Finlayson, their frequent foil, appropriately cast as the garrison’s jailor.
A fine copy of Flying Deuces can be watched free online at
Movies in the Mountains (in Exile) is presented for The Independent by Frank Cullen, published historian and novelist, co-founder of the American Vaudeville Museum, and 2011 recipient of the NY Theatre Museum Award for Excellence in the Preservation Theatre History. Send inquiries and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org