EARLY TO BED TENT HISTORY
by John Duff
In the fall of 2002, while talking with a good friend, Roger Tweten about my recent purchase of several 16mm solo films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Roger heard me say jokingly, “Here I have all of these films and nowhere to show them”. Roger responded, “Why don’t you start a tent?” Having resigned as Grand Sheik of the Way Out West Tent a year and a half earlier, forming another tent in the same area where one already existed was not an option. Roger then offered, “How about South Pasadena? There isn’t any kind of a group like this in that area”. With that proposal, we began our search of different possible meeting locations in the South Pasadena area. Upon arriving at the Oneonta Congregational Church, we were happy to learn that the minister of that church, Dave Spahn, was a big Laurel & Hardy fan. In fact, he had been a member of three different Sons Of The Desert tents from coast to coast.
Roger Tweten and Dave Spahn
After speaking on the telephone with Dave, we made plans to meet, along with my 16mm projector and a few Laurel & Hardy films, at Gray Hall on the grounds of the Oneonta Congregational Church. He liked the idea of having a tent at his church and asked what dates would be good to have the meetings. We picked out six dates for 2003 and they were put on the church calendar.
In early November 2002, we held a preview meeting to see if there would be an interest in a regular gathering of this type. That evening, with a handful of our friends in attendance, seven new Laurel & Hardy prospective members showed up. It was a small start, but it was a start. Over the next few months (long before Facebook), we advertised in several local newspapers in the San Gabriel area and Roger was walking up and down the streets of South Pasadena passing out flyers to anyone who would take them. When our first meeting date arrived on February 8, 2003, we had 30 people in attendance. The very first film we presented was our tent’s namesake, Early To Bed. We also screened Helpmates, Blotto and Sons Of The Desert.
Our First Early To Bed Tent Meeting - February 8, 2003
During the first year, our attendance grew at a moderate pace, as we were averaging about 60 people per meeting by December 2003. The musical magic of Dean Mora at the piano finished the year on a high note with our first “Silent Night” of classic comedy films with “LIVE” musical accompaniment. Plus, we had our very own tent logo designed by long time "Son" and former Saps At Sea Tent Grand Sheik, Rick Greene.
Rick Greene introducing our Early To Bed Tent Tent Logo
Throughout 2004, our attendance continued to grow and by January 2005 we had 90 people in attendance at our first meeting of the new year. Joining us for that gathering was Phil Drake, who was a writer for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Having the chance to meet with Phil was both memorable and enjoyable. He spoke with many of our members during that evening. Figuring maybe a paragraph or two at the very most, a small write-up in the newspaper about our tent was what we expected. When the article appeared in the newspaper filling a full page and a half with photos included, that was the most pleasant, unexpected surprise boost our tent could have received. At our very next ETB Tent meeting, our attendance jumped from 90 guests to over 200. We were pulling chairs out from underneath the stage and all over to accommodate the crowd. From that day forward, we continuously averaged between 100 to 150 people in attendance per meeting. Needless to say, without Roger Tweten, Dave Spahn and Phil Drake, our tent never would have had this wonderful beginning.
Our goal for each meeting was to make sure everyone had a good time as we included the traditional singing of the “Sons Of The Desert” song, toasts to the honored supporting players from the Hal Roach Studios, refreshments, a raffle and films. Our emcee, Bob Duncan not only provided us with the historical background of each film being shown, but he shared interesting “show and tell” items from his personal collection of treasures. In addition to Roger and Dave, we were very fortunate to have the help of friends like Janet Kleinman, Stan Taffel, Steve Nelson, Mark & Karen Lochte, Christy Emanuel and volunteer students from Temple City High School before and after the meetings. Of course, the love, support and understanding of my wife, Janet, has been the best gift for me.
Over the years, the Early To Bed Tent showed numerous Laurel & Hardy films in the 16mm format along with several classic comedies from the Hal Roach Studios featuring Charley Chase, Our Gang, Thelma Todd & ZaSu Pitts and more. We also featured some of Robert Youngson’s wonderful film tributes to the talented pioneers of silent comedies, many of whom worked at “The Lot Of Fun”. Our biggest event of each year was a special “Silent Night” program with Dean Mora and Cliff Retallick creating musical memories at the piano combining their talents with Joe Rinaudo, along with Gary Gibson, presenting rare silent films on Joe’s vintage hand-cranked 35mm film projector. For those of you who shared this experience, you can attest to how much fun these evenings were. Dean and Joe also helped out our tent by teaming up with the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society to present silent comedy film programs at the South Pasadena High School auditorium.
Gary Gibson, Joe Rinaudo and Dean Mora
Joe Rinaudo, Gary Gibson and Cliff Retallick - December 2014
In April of 2007, Bob Duncan, Eileen Smulson and John Duff were invited to appear on the Mark Isler program at KABC Talk Radio to share our love of Laurel & Hardy along with the experiences and upcoming news about the Early To Bed Tent.
(Seated) John Duff and Bob Duncan (Standing) Eileen Smulson,
Mark Isler and Janet Duff at KABC Talk Radio
Additional events the Early To Bed Tent hosted were dinners honoring the birthdays of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; in 2009 at our most memorable meeting, we were very honored to have Stan Laurel's daughter, Lois Laurel Hawes (along with her granddaughter Cassidy Cook, plus her great-grandchildren Tommy and Lucy Ferrigno) as our special guest(s) for the evening; an old-time radio show recreation of Laurel & Hardy’s “The Wedding Night”, “Laurel & Hardy Visit London” and “The Driver’s License Sketch” with Chuck McCann, Jim MacGeorge along with “Don’t Touch That Dial” radio show co-hosts (and Early To Bed Tent Tent members) Bobb Lynes and Barbara Watkins; “Kid’s Nights” with Brian Patrick Mulligan as Ollie and John Mackey as Stan plus a slide show history of the Hal Roach Studios presented by Marc Wanamaker. Authors also played a role in our tent’s history. Laura June Kenny (Fleeing The Fates Of The Little Rascals); Bill Cassara (Edgar Kennedy - Master Of The Slow Burn and Vernon Dent - Stooge Heavy); Chuck Harter (Little Elf - A Celebration Of Harry Langdon), Manny Pacheco (Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History and Son Of Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History) and Craig Calman (100 Years Of Brodies With Hal Roach) all joined us at our meetings and shared their passion about the subjects of these interesting books.
Lois Laurel Hawes - March 2009
Chuck McCann and Jim MacGeorge - January 2007 Radio Recreations
Laurel & Hardy Old Time Radio Recreations - 2007
(left to right) Jim MacGeorge, Barbara Watkins. Chuck McCann and Bobb Lynes
Stan and Ollie with the kids on "Kids Night"
Laura June and Clifford Kenny - Fleeing The Fates Of the Little Rascals
Bill Cassara with Edgar Kennedy - Master Of The Slow Burn
Chuck Harter and "Little Elf" - A Celebration Of Harry Langdon
Manny and Laurie Pacheco - Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History
Craig Calman - 100 Years Of Brodies With Hal Roach
A large number of our members and guests graciously donated to our annual holiday canned goods drive for the Foothill Unity Center and La Casa de San Gabriel. Their generosity continued as some of our raffle funds were given to support the Laurel & Hardy Statue Fund in Stan Laurel’s hometown in Ulverston, the Sam Bomar Memorial Scholarship Fund (Sam was a fellow “Son” whose life was cut short at the age of 18), the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Operation Blankets Of Love (founded by Early To Bed Tent Tent member Eileen Smulson) and for six consecutive years to the Laurel & Hardy Preservation Fund at UCLA. Last but not least, several of our members and guests contributed some very nice prizes that have been added to our raffles.
Numerous members showed their enthusiasm for “The Boys” when they attended Sons Of The Desert International Conventions in Columbus, Ohio; Harlem, Georgia; Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Sacramento, California; Manchester, New Hampshire; Hollywood, California and Cumbria/Ulverston, England. Additionally, many from the Early To Bed Tent Tent supported the Silver Lake Improvement Association’s annual “Music Box Steps Day” held at the historic location where Stan and Ollie made their Academy Award winning film.
Sons Of The Desert Convention - New Hampshire 2012
Early To Bed Tent Convention Group Photo
Music Box Steps Day 2014 with Laurel & Hardy
(Center) Julie Chandler (T. Marvin Hatley's granddaughter),
Stan Taffel (Right) and John Duff (Left)
As 2009 was drawing to a close, we found out that the rent at our original meeting location in South Pasadena was going to be doubled. Once again thanks to Dave Spahn, we were able to relocate in January of 2010 to the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Temple City.
The Early To Bed Tent Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary - January 2013
After 14 years, the Early To Bed Tent's final meeting in southern California took place on Saturday evening, December 10, 2016. It was our last "Silent Night" with Dean Mora, Joe Rinaudo and Gary Gibson. A large raffle, some delicious cakes to celebrate the holiday season, a great film program and many good-byes brought this chapter of our tent to a heartwarming conclusion. We will always be grateful to everyone who contributed their time and effort to make our tent a successful and positive experience.
The Early To Bed Tent's Final California Meeting - December 10, 2016
On Saturday, June 16, 2018, the Early To Bed Tent co-hosted an afternoon of Laurel & Hardy comedies at the Windmill Library in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to Stan and Ollie providing the laughs in their classic comedies, everyone in the audience had a chance to try their skills at a couple of Stan Laurel's memorable and amusing games, "Kneesie, Earsie, Nosie" and "Finger Wiggle". Four children from our audience were brave enough to come up on stage and give their best effort. "The Boys" would have been very proud of them as they were all really good. Each one of the kids who volunteered received an 8 X 10 photograph of Laurel & Hardy. A special thank you goes out to all of the guests who were in attendance.