Born This Day In 1892 --- Oliver Hardy
Words fail me when I try to describe my affection for this great comic actor and the partner with whom he made so many wonderful shorts and features, both silent and talking. The happy news that more of their comedies are forthcoming from Warner and Fox is tempered only by the fact that Hallmark Cards, owners of all the best Laurel and Hardy material, continues to ignore fan requests for a proper DVD release, and indeed, their piddling efforts so far have been sorely lacking in quality. But that is a story better left to more capable DVD reviewers than myself, for we’re here today to recognize Mr. Hardy’s 114th birthday (it seems only yesterday we celebrated the 100th!). We know that Stan Laurel was the more accessible of the two, as it was he who maintained the closer ties with fans of the team over the years. Hardy was more reticent, seeking his privacy off the set, and not given to the sort of detailed interviews Stan was always happy to accommodate. As I get older, I respect Hardy more for having guarded that privacy. He was rarely himself on camera. More often than not, he would retreat into the "Ollie" character whenever he sensed the photographer's presence. This is apparent in newsreel footage, even home movies and candid stuff. The only glimpses of the real Oliver Hardy I recall are the Ship’s Reporter TV interview from the early fifties, wherein he talks briefly of his early career, and the infamous This Is Your Life episode from 1954, in which a distinctly uncomfortable Laurel and Hardy are caught from ambush by a doggedly persistent Ralph Edwards during what they thought was an ordinary business meeting with their lawyer. This is one of the most amazing half-hours in television. Laurel is clearly annoyed; Hardy more resigned, and far too polite to reveal his mortification over the whole thing. I love his courtly greeting for those childhood friends flown in for the event. There’s every reason to believe he doesn’t recall a one of them, but he’s so gracious and charming with each --- here’s where we really get the essence of the Oliver Hardy I’d like to have known. In the wake of that coast-to-coast disaster, TV Guide interviewed the boys, and Laurel spoke freely of his disgust over the whole thing, while Hardy related a rather moving incident he’d experienced at the local market. Prior to the resurgence of Laurel and Hardy, he spoke of how shoppers would sometimes brush by him rudely, "Out of the way, fat!" they’d say. Now, with their comedies revived and revered on television, those same strangers were more likely to stop and greet him, "You’re Oliver Hardy, aren’t you?" It’s nice to think that he was accorded that kind of respect as the team gave their final performance, which indeed this turned out to be. A proposed TV series to be filmed in the wake of This Is Your Life was scuttled when Stan, then Oliver, fell ill. Oliver Hardy did not live to share in the triumph of Robert Youngson’s compilation, The Golden Age Of Comedy, for it was released only months after he died in 1957. Stan Laurel lived to enjoy the next Laurel and Hardy renaissance, however, and it lasted well beyond his own death in 1965. Those of us who mowed lawns for money to buy 8mm Laurel and Hardy shorts from Blackhawk Films will always have a certain sentimental attachment for this greatest of all comedy teams, and though we hopefully won’t have to cut grass to buy those DVD’s in the Spring, I’ve no doubt we’ll all be lined up for them just the same.