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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time For Some Laurel and Hardy

Writing about Laurel and Hardy comes easy. Finding previously unpublished photos is the challenge. I’ve not seen these before, but that’s not to say they haven't shown up elsewhere, for there are innumerable fan periodicals and digests devoted to this greatest of comedy teams. The first zine I recall was Pratfall, which started in the late sixties. Many others have flourished since. Laurel and Hardy stood (and sat) for tens of thousands of stills. Publishers loved fresh art of the funnymen. Two more recognizable figures were not to be found in the early thirties (and note how prominently their short subjects were featured in theatre ads of the time, as in this combination of The Chimp with James Cagney’s Winner Take All). How many images of L&H are as yet undiscovered? The one shown here of Hal Roach players taking off on stage melodramas was new to me. From left to right, there’s Stan as maiden in distress, Babe as plantation patriarch, Charley Chase in possession of the mortgage, and blackfaced Edgar Kennedy as loyal family retainer. Laurel and Hardy linked up with comedy giants off their home base from time to time. This pose with Harold Lloyd was taken when the three were at RKO in 1939, Lloyd at producing chores and L&H busily engaged on The Flying Deuces. Paths were crossed with Buster Keaton on Culver City lots during the early thirties. Here they’re making music for MGM publicity cameras. Allen "Farina" Hoskins was one of several Our Gang kids visiting the Laurel and Hardy stage for photo ops. Holiday sittings were also de reguier in the thirties; thus here are Stan and Babe as pilgrims. Sears catalogues gave many 8mm collectors their start during the sixties. My initial Laurel and Hardy purchase, Big Business, came from the venerable mail order house in 1968. Within a few years, Sears would devote a special supplement to movies they were selling (as shown below), but most home enthusiasts went over to Blackhawk Bulletins and ordered directly once that Davenport address was noted on the bottom side of film boxes. Monthly sales provided further incentive. That print you'd wanted of Double Whoopee might drop from $12.98 to $10.95, enough to tip over buyers for whom saving $2.03 amounted to the bargain of their young lives (I’ve not been so thrilled with reduced retail since). I doubt monies going to Blackhawk came any harder earned, for who knows how much grass was cut, papers delivered, and dogs shampooed toward financing purchases of Leave Em’ Laughing and You’re Darn Tootin’?

Blackhawk used to sell groups of stills from the comedy team’s films. You could pay $2.98 for a nice packet of Hog Wild shots. Several of those happened to be from foreign versions of the short. They produced two in addition to the domestic one we know. The sight of unknown actresses playing Mrs. Hardy was an intriguing bafflement. First I heard of alternate language Laurel and Hardys was when someone wrote that Boris Karloff played a convict in the French Pardon Us. Years later, foreign negatives turned up in a vault search and suddenly we were watching Laughing Gravy, Berth Marks, Chickens Come Home and several others in Spanish and French. German has remained elusive, other than snatches of Pardon Us and a recently discovered Laurel and Hardy Murder Case. Drawers are unfortunately empty on Hog Wild, for neither foreign edition is available or known to exist. The pose shown here was typical of groupings Hal Roach arranged to publicize multiple language options for his comedy shorts. As with Greenbriar’s previously posted shot from Blotto, it was enough to surround the comedians with various players enacting the role of screen wife. Here it’s Oliver Hardy flanked by a multi-national menu of shrewish spouses, each of whom will clonk him with the same fry pan, but in differing tongues. From left to right, there is Linda Loredo (Spanish) Yola D’Avril (French), and of course, beloved Fay Holderness, by far severest of the three. Dialogue was spoken phonetically, but that isn’t news to Laurel and Hardy followers. What fascinates me are expanded versions Hal Roach distributed in countries where his headliner team amounted to so much gold bullion at ticket windows. Was Hog Wild longer in France and South America? Night Owls and Chickens Come Home certainly were. Some foreign versions became virtual features. Laurel and Hardy were if anything more revered off our own shores. There’s a reason for all that DVD circulation in Europe and the UK. The comedians amassed untold good will for making the effort to speak other languages and audiences wouldn't forget them for it. They continued playing continental theatres long after disappearing from our own. I had a high school Spanish teacher exiled from Cuba after the Castro takeover who had seen Laurel and Hardy with audiences right up to the time he left. These late 50’s screenings would presumably include alternate versions now among the missing. Could the Spanish Hog Wild and others be resting among Cuban holdings yet? Never mind smuggling cigars out of there. I’m all set to hollow out my steamer trunk for the concealment of lost Laurel and Hardys.

Thelma Todd is shown here preparing for an uncertain dive into the oversized bathtub constructed for Brats. That’s another one where foreign versions are lost (French, German, and possibly Spanish). Were any of the jumbo props around when Hal Roach Studios had their closing up auction in 1963? Brats was the first photo set I bought from Blackhawk. They lasted a few weeks until my mother accidentally threw them away (I’m only recently out of analysis over that). We had Laurel and Hardy on four channels back in the sixties, each accessible to varying degrees. The magic of a rotating antenna cleared snow and righted sound but to limited effect. I spent most weekends excavating for stations out of High Point and Charlotte North Carolina, Greenville in South Carolina, and Channel 5 from Bristol, Tennessee. The only satellites in those days were ones the Russians were sending up, and cable was something tractors pulled. I walked through a blizzard to a cousin’s house one morning to see if I could catch Channel 4’s Laurel and Hardy show a little clearer than we were getting it. That’s when I saw Brats the first time … saw being an elastic term to describe pained endurance of a barely visible transmission. No wonder I was obliged to wear spectacles until age eighteen. The hurdles one leaped to see televised favorites were the viewing equivalent of World Olympics. Kid programming formats showed little mercy to pacing and construction of Laurel and Hardy shorts. They would cut away and leave the projector running, rejoining in progress as if the team were so much filler between clown acts, Cub Scout recognition, and appeals on behalf of animal shelters. I snapped one afternoon and took pen to paper for purpose of straightening out Channel 4’s programming division after they cut Chickens Come Home by half on the daily Monty’s Rascals show. You butchers are hacking, defacing, and mutilating these Laurel and Hardy classics! sums up diplomacy I applied to hand-written correspondence on Blue Horse tablet. They erred in assuming the letter had come from an adult, but would do so more grievously by inviting this fifteen-year-old to guest on Today In The Piedmont, Channel 4’s noontime cooking and chat program. Thus November 29, 1969 would mark my first (and so far most recent --- which is to say only) television appearance…

We drove (or rather, I was driven) three hours to reach Greenville. Few back home would see the broadcast as practically no one could pick up Channel 4. The station manager’s jaw dropped like a Tex Avery wolf when he greeted us at the door. I thought you’d be older, said he, but what to do now, with airtime less than two hours away? They escorted me to the film room (my request) so I could see where the Laurel and Hardys were kept. My imagination had constructed a pristine library with neatly arranged rows of all the cartoons and comedies Channel 4 possessed --- Popeye, Looney Tunes, The Mischief Makers. Little prepared was I for what greeted me. An oversized closet it was, with 16mm prints stacked into corners and station employees shuffling about like inmates on Devil’s Island. I ingratiated myself thus, Hey! Why do you guys keep showing "The Hoosegow" week after week and never once "Blotto" or "Helpmates"? My guest status checkmated their natural impulse to cut a hickory stalk and apply it to my precocious backside. Well, suppose you just root around and find the ones you want to see, they volunteered, and we’ll start showing them on Monty’s Rascals. My next half-hour was spent rearranging Channel 4's shelves. Favorites were moved up the queue. Alpine Antics and Gyp the Gypsy were consigned to a dark corner among Astro Boy cartoons they were no longer using. Never was an adolescent Laurel and Hardy fan so empowered. As further demonstration of heroic patience, the film room employees threaded up Blotto and let me sit next to a chattering Bell and Howell to watch it. We’ll never be able be able to show this, said one of them when a scantily clad dancer made her entrance at the Rainbow Club. Going on Today In The Piedmont became an afterthought in the wake of such fun I was having here. My segment lasted seven or so minutes. The lady host politely regarded her couch sitting interview subject whose feet barely touched the floor. Today In The Piedmont’s producer doubled as helmsman on Monty’s Rascals. So you’re the one who wrote those nasty letters, he said with a glower just as we were going live before thousands, nay millions, of viewers who no doubt mistook me for Harry Earles or perhaps Billy Curtis (my growth spurt being years in the offing). I have little memory of what was said, though forearmed with those 8X10 photos purchased from Blackhawk, there were at least visual aids we could hold up to the camera as it lumbered close in upon us. And yes, the program was in living color. For purposes of context, do note the line-up on the ad Channel 4 ran in that day’s newspaper. Blaze Starr coming up on Mike Douglas, then My World and Welcome To It for the evening’s start, and Bracken’s World to wrap up NBC’s primetime feast. I was, if nothing else, keeping distinguished entertainment company that day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great anecdote! I used to struggle with, as my mother would say, "..watching a snowstorm.." on pre-cable suburban TV back in must have been a major milestone in your life to actually go to a TV station and see the prints of Laurel & Hardy!

My 15 minutes of fame on TV was in 1981 as an advocate to saving historic theatres.


2:12 PM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Loved this article! Particularly the remembrances of watching L&H on TV so long ago. I didn't get to see Stan & Ollie's shorts until my early 20s--as a kid, it was The Three Stooges, Andy Clyde, Charley Chase, Buster Keaton and all the other Columbia stars on our black & white set.

9:35 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Unfortunately, there was no Spanish version of BRATS . When MGM originally released the film the accompanying feature was Buster Keaton's DE FRENTE MARCHEN and I wonder what has happen with that one!

It seems that RADIOMANIA , which is their only lost Spanish language remake, was presented as a two reeler.

Those Spanish Language versions are extremely important: they were the very first Spanish language sound films ever released in Argentina (Universal's previous release, BROADWAY , was an absolute disaster that it was not authentically filmed in the language, although it is the one that introduced dubbed versions).

Each one of the Spanish Laurel and Hardy films were extremely popular when Max Glücksmann originally exhibited in Argentina and surrounding countries. Theaters were packed every night until the next film was released. For instance, the popularity of VIDA NOCTURNA was so great that it was documented in a few contemporary articles.

When they were originally released, in early 1930, MGM rushed a bit the Spanish language films. On other theaters Max Glücksmann exhibited other titles like LOS PIBES DEL FORD (or PERFECT DAY ) in English with Spanish subtitles and AMOR DE ANGORA ( ANGORA LOVE ) in its silent version.

During 1931 Hal Roach toured South America just before they stopped producing the Spanish language versions. I'm quite sure that he got positive impressions from the people in Argentina about the popularity of those films. There was a duo of Argentine impersonators working basically on radio (yes!); they also appeared in 1934 in a film called IDOLOS DE LA RADIO that is available for free online on

Yet those foreign versions have never been forgotten. When they dubbed the films for TV distribution, the Spanish language films were shelved, but they tried to get "doubles" that would try to match their authentic voices, though not their accent. And those voices were reused when the Hanna-Barbera cartoons were dubbed as well.

In Spain they went to the other extreme. Reportedly, a dubbed version of PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (as EL ABUELO DE LA CRIATURA) was produced with Laurel and Hardy dubbing themselves and it include minor retakes in order to replace signs in Spanish. I was never able to verify it; in Argentina, it was released in English with Spanish subtitles.

After that, Spain exhibitors were forced to dub the film copying their broken accents, even if those voices did not match their authentic sound.

I wish that those films could be published here. The British DVDs are quite expensive to get.

And there were also the Spanish language films of Charley Chase and Our Gang.

Somebody should run on cable TV a presentation of those films. Beyond the Hal Roach players, Buster Keaton and Adolphe Menjou, no other major stars made Spanish film versions of their films. The Maurice Chevalier vehicles of the early thirties were usually reshot in French (and according to contemporary reviews they were not as good as the English language versions).

And there also films that the studios made only in foreign versions. I would love to see WU LI CHAN, a sound remake of MR. WU, that MGM produced in Spanish starring Ernesto Vilches, who originated the character, a major star of Spain's and Argentina's stage and films.

And how about José Mojica's series for Fox (with sound remakes, in Spanish only, of DICK TURPIN and FAZIL).

There was also George Lewis starring in LA GRAN JORNADA, the Spanish language version of THE BIG TRAIL (only released in Spain... as a silent!), which was a critical and a box office success!

At least, the Carlos Gardel films for Paramount are available, usually in lousy versions, although they have been preserved intact with the original studio logos in the prints.

2:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our pediatrican is from Cuba. She knew Stan & Ollie as El Gordo y El Flaco long before she ever "heard of" Laurel & Hardy.

I had to tune into channel 27 in Worcester to watch L & H after the Bozo show. It still bugs me how they ran so many of those "phony" shorts made up of scenes from their features -- or even 10 minute versions of their two-reelers! Thank God AMC ran most of their shorts in one long marathon in the '90s. I taped them then, and, years later, made my daughter a fan.

6:58 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Evan, I'm with you on those snowstream expeditions so many of us took in those days. Wonder how long we'd tolerate something like that now --- and to think we complain about minor blemishes on otherwise pristine DVD's. Are we spoiled or what?

Ivan, we had plentiful Laurel and Hardy here in NC, but virtually no Columbia shorts other than the Stooges. To this day, I've only seen a handful of them.

Radiotelefonia, you are an incredible font of information on Spanish speaking film, and I really appreciative your input with these comments and others you've contributed. Do you suppose RADIOMANIA might still exist in Cuban archives? Maybe Castro watched it during his recent convalescence ...

East Side, I'm like you in that I got sick and tired of those feature cut-downs being repeated over and over --- they ran at least four shorts culled from "The Devil's Brother" and most were very crudely edited.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to add, Buster looks pretty beat up in that photo.

3:50 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

One curiosity is that Laurel and Hardy were not promoted as "El gordo y el flaco" when their films where originally exhibited. People referred to them like that in Latin America and Spain.

Those horrific edits of their feature films also were available in Argentina... in dubbed versions from Mexico.

When Argentina's television system switched to color, 1980, all Laurel and Hardy films vanished from television... until 1986 when the colorized (and edited) versions of their sounds finally reappeared. The dubbing was probably the all time worse, since the voices didn't match their faces... and I hated those colors.

I don't think that RADIOMANIA will be find in Cuba. It should be found in Argentina. Several years ago, Roberto Di Chiara invited me to his archive to try to classify Laurel & Hardy and other shorts that he has been preserving (in 16mm) for more than 30 or 40 years and that he was never able to identify.

It was fascinating to find those edited versions for television: in one series (dealing with talkies) the credits were cut to be replaced by a still in which you can read "Stan Laurel y Oliver Hardy presentan el show del gordo y el flaco". In another series (dealing with silents) the films featured no intertitles and it had a piano accompaniment. And there were also pristine and unused prints from Film Classic with titles in Spanish, but featuring the films intact in crystal clear versions in English with Spanish subtitles. And there were also films from other Roach comedians and plenty of Mack Sennet comedies from 1916 to the mid twenties that have never been exhibited again.

My only regret is that we never managed to see 35mm in which, according to him, there are original prints from MGM.

He is 75 years old and it is difficult for him to keep afloat one of the largest film archives in the world. For that reason, and in order to survive, he deals more with news than films which is his original interest.

In my previous message I mentioned a 1934 film called IDOLOS DE LA RADIO, which features Laurel & Hardy clones. Thanks to Roberto, the film is available online, althoguh in an ugly and incomplete print. But the scenes with the clones are complete:

8:57 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Stumbled across this Laurel & Hardy short on Youtube; produced in color for the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service in 1942 and narrated by Pete Smith, it's called "The Tree In A Test Tube":

11:09 PM  

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