Arthur Stanley Jefferson, the second of five children, was born on June 16, 1890 in Ulverston, Lancashire, England. Comedy became a strong part of his life at a very young age as he enjoyed watching the comedians who performed at his father’s theater. He made his stage debut at the young age of 16 as “Stan Jefferson - He of the funny ways”. By 1910, Stan arrived in the United States for the first time as a member of Fred Karno’s London Comedians. During his time with this troup, he understudied an up and coming comedian by the name Charlie Chaplin.
After touring in American vaudeville for several years, Stan made his first contact at the Hal Roach Studios in thanks to director Alf Goulding who had seen Stan’s vaudeville act. Along with making five short comedies for Hal Roach, Stan also made three films with Larry Semon and then was back on the road again in vaudeville.
Oliver was born Norvell Hardy on January 18, 1892 in Harlem, Georgia. Sadly, he never had the chance to know his father, Oliver Hardy, who died when Norvell was only 10 months old. By the time he was 13 years old, Norvell paid honor to his father by changing his name to Oliver Norvell Hardy. In 1913, while working as a projectionist at a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia, he decided to pursue acting and took off for Jacksonville, Florida which was the growing filmmaking capital at that time. Working for the Lubin Film Company and Vim Comedies, Oliver appeared in over 100 films. As “Babe” Hardy, he worked with comedians such as Bobby Ray, Billy Ruge, Billy West and Larry Semon, usually playing the part of the “heavy”.
In 1921, Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson produced a short comedy titled “The Lucky Dog”. This marked the first on-screen appearance of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a film together. They would not appear together again in a film until 1927. After the 1921 appearance with Stan Laurel in The Lucky Dog, Babe Hardy found his way to the Hal Roach Studios in 1925 and was signed to a contract the following year.
Stan Laurel was put under contract to the Hal Roach Studios in March of 1923 for a series of one-reel comedies. By 1925, he was working there as a writer-director. However in 1926, all of that changed when Babe Hardy was cast to play a butler in the two-reel comedy Get ‘Em Young. Unfortunately during this time, Babe burned his arm while cooking dinner at home. Now unable to work, Stan was brought back in front of the camera and cast in the part in which Babe was to appear.
In 1926, both men appeared in the two-reel short comedy 45 Minutes From Hollywood, but had no on-screen interaction. At last in 1927, they both starred as hobos in the silent short, Duck Soup. Though not officially as the comedy team of Laurel & Hardy, this was their beginning.
Later that same year, they were cast as detectives in Do Detectives Think? where they donned their derbies and suits for the first time. By the time The Second 100 Years was released in October of 1927, the team of Laurel & Hardy were on their way to making film history. During their transition from silent to sound films in 1929, Laurel & Hardy cemented their popularity for the future which included an Academy Award Certificate for their hilarious short comedy, The Music Box as Best Short Subject for the 1931-32 season.
After leaving the Hal Roach Studios in 1940, Laurel & Hardy went on to make seven more films; five at 20th Century Fox and two at MGM. Their final feature, Atoll K (filmed in France) was a very unpleasant experience for the team and a sad ending to their film career.
Laurel & Hardy also had made successful tours overseas in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s performing for audiences and drawing huge crowds wherever they appeared. Their final appearance before an American audience took place on December 1, 1954 when both of their lives were celebrated on the Ralph Edwards television program, This Is Your Life. It was the only time this show profiled two lives on the same program.
Stan Laurel was honored for his contributions to motion pictures with an honorary Academy Award in 1961 and the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1963.
Oliver Hardy died on August 7, 1957 and is buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California. Stan Laurel followed on February 23, 1965 with his final resting place in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, California.
Fortunately for all of us, Laurel & Hardy films have provided much joy and laughter to people all over the world in the years since their passing and will continue to do the same for generations to come.