Remebering a comic icon

Today is the 50th death anniversary of Oliver Hardy, of Laurel and Hardy fame. Hoshang K Katrak profiles the actor.
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Updated on Aug 07, 2007 03:40 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Hoshang K Katrak, Mumbai

Anniversaries sometimes provide a reason for the rediscovery of childhood heroes. My childhood exposure to the western celluloid was restricted to, in no particular order, Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin and Tarzan films, to which dad would take me for Sunday morning shows at the Metro and (the now defunct) Majestic cinemas.

Heroes forever Of these, my ‘heroes' - and I choose the word carefully and unabashedly - have always been Laurel and Hardy. They were a distinct breed.

The packed cinema houses would erupt in side-splitting laughter just by the blokes showing up on screen. They defined, or rather redefined, the art of comedy.

Born Norvell Hardy, in 1892, his showbiz career commenced, when in 1910, his mother set him up as manager of the Electric Theatre, the first motion picture cinema in Milledgeville.

When he learned of acting opportunities in Florida, he moved there in 1913 to join the Lubin Film Co - his first release being Outwitting Dad (1914).

Later, in 1917, he moved to California to work. In 1925, he started working for the legendary Hal Roach who recognised the potential of his chemistry with Stan Laurel. In 1921, they had been accidentally paired in The Lucky Dog only to go their separate ways.

Fate brought Hardy with Laurel again in 1926. Though the pair showed brief glimpses of a fairly successful pairing in their third film Duck Soup (1927).

It was their eleventh film, The Second Hundred Years (October, 1927), where they were billed as a ‘comedy duo' and which is considered their first true Laurel and Hardy film.

Not without Hardy Without Stan, Hardy appeared in about 270 films, mostly shorts.

While Stan didn't act without Hardy after their official teaming, Hardy did three films without his partner.

In Laurel and Hardy, we are really looking at ourselves. There is a child in all of us - the first well-developed comedy team to appear on screen built upon this maxim and propounded it with telling effect in the 106 films they did together.

Laurel and Hardy
were the first comedy team to successfully make the transition from the silents to the sound films - their visual gags blending effectively with their verbal humour.

Stan and Ollie's on-screen friendship and success endures in the face of the exploitative world and its constant pressures. In their partnership, Stan is always subservient, bullied and taken for granted.

Ollie is condescending, the one with ‘loads of experience'.

Fun all the way Though films like Sons of the Desert and Way Out West are considered some of the best comedies ever, their last few films -they were plagued by ill-health and deprived of artistic freedom by their new bosses, Twentieth Century-Fox were anything, but enjoyable.

Their last film Atoll K (1951) was, due to a host of reasons, a disaster. Though Hardy never won an Oscar (Stan, in 1961, was presented with an Honorary Oscar), it was their Oscar-winning short The Music Box (1932) which inspired the Academy to initiate a new category Best Live Action Comedy Short Subject.

A massive cerebral stroke in September 1956, rendered Hardy paralytic. He succumbed to his illness in August 1957. Stan Laurel survived him till February 23, 1965.

That fluttering of the fingers and the twiddling of his tie with an apologetic look, that long and hurt stare at the camera, especially when his grandiose plans are shattered, and he has been let down, by his dimwit partner Stan, will forever linger in the viewer's memory.

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