Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laurel and Hardy

I knew I would have a lot to say about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy when I started this blog.  (And so did my family!)  I was involved in the Sons of the Desert from the mid 1970s until about 1990.  I met some great people who were, and are still involved in the club. 

The SoD is not a fan club, rather it is described as a group of film buffs who get together to study all aspects of the films of Laurel and Hardy.  Of course, all of it is done with a half-assed dignity about it, as prescribed by Stan Laurel himself.

Laurel and Hardy worked together in films from 1917 until 1951.  Their earliest films did not include them as a team, just as two players who happened to be in the same film.  They also, each, made many films without the other.  I am not going to give you a complete history here, but there are quite a few good books on the subject.  Try to pick up Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy: An Affectionate Biography by John McCabe.  The most important thing is to watch the films and enjoy them.

Of course, L&H were very funny and creative, but just how far can all that talent go without the bit actors and supporting cast to bring variety to the story line?  Two of the most important supporting cast members in many of the L&H films were Mae Busch and Charlie Hall.  So important, in fact, that the SoD makes a toast to their popularity at the annual banquet.

In the 1933 film, Sons of the Desert (which is the inspiration for the Sons of the Desert organization), Mae Busch has an important role as Ollie's wife.  Charlie Hall appears in the film, but he only has a part as a waiter.  If you simply look at the cast members in these older films, you get important insight into the way the early studios worked.  These players were on a contract with Hal Roach, so they did whatever was needed.  A big part one week, an extra the next, but you still got paid.

A look at the rest of the cast in that movie turns up a few surprises.  I mentioned Billy Gilbert in a previous post, but only his voice (no sneezes!) made it into this film.  T. Marvin Hatley wrote much of the music at the Hal Roach Studios, including the Ku-Ku Song (L&H theme) and a lot of background music commonly used in Our Gang, L&H and other films.  Hatley can be seen as a pianist.

A 23 year old Bob Cummings is an extra in only his second film appearance.  Just a face in the crowd.  Other extras include Lillian DeBorba, who is the mother of Dorothy, who played Little Echo in the Our Gang comedies.  Even Hal Roach himself was in the film.

It is difficult to tie this up to a neat end, but if I keep writing, I will use up all my creativity!  Stay tuned!

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