What, did you think they just danced into Hollywood as a working team?
As awesome as that would have been, the way it actually happened was pretty cool, too.
Their individual stories show how wide open the new field of motion pictures was. You really could start out collecting tickets in a movie house or get off a tour boat in New York and end up in Hollywood, if you really, really wanted to be there.
Icing on the cake: There is a distant Civil War connection.
Per Wikipedia, his dad’s name was Oliver. The man was a Confederate veteran, having been wounded at the battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam in 1862. Oliver Hardy went on to be a businessman and full-time county tax collector, but he died about a year after Norville (yes, that was Ollie’s real name) was born in Georgia in 1892.
As Norville Hardy grew up, he had more interest in music and theater than in education. He joined theatrical groups and sang in local theaters, and sometime before 1910 started calling himself Oliver Norville Hardy professionally and in private life.
In 1910, a movie theater opened in town and Hardy became its factotum. The 18-year-old soon was obsessed with movies and felt he could do a lot better than the actors he was watching. A friend suggested he go to Jacksonville, Florida, where they were making some films. By 1913, Hardy was working in Jacksonville as a cabaret and vaudeville singer by night and at the Lubin Studios during the day.
His first role came in 1914. Because of his size (6 feet 1 inch and around 300 pounds) he usually played the villain or did comedy roles. The pace was hectic – in a year, he did 50 shorts for Lubin and then went to New York briefly and worked for three studios. Then he returned to Jacksonville, working at Vim until the studio closed after Hardy caught the owners dipping into the payroll.
Makes you glad there are child labor and other laws in place to protect kids on sets nowadays, doesn’t it?
Still, Hardy does some nice physical comedy, and already has many of the mannerisms that will endear him to us in his work with that British guy he met at some point after he moved to Los Angeles in 1917.
Wikipedia notes that Arthur Stanley Jefferson made his debut in this world two years before Norville Hardy. Another head start – he was born into a theater family in Lancashire, England. They all ended up in Glasgow, and at age 16, the young man made his first professional appearance there at the Pantopticon.
In 1910, with a strong music hall background, he joined an acting troupe as “Stan Jefferson.” One of the other members was Charlie Chaplin, and for some time Stan was Chaplin’s understudy. The troupe toured America, and around 1916-1918, Stan was working in Hollywood, having changed his professional name to Stan Laurel.
He was doing comedy shorts at this time, and in one, The Lucky Dog (either 1919 or 1921), he worked with another Hollywood newcomer, Oliver Hardy, though they didn’t pair up then. This is a clip from that movie:
Laurel was good – almost as good as Buster Keaton!
His solo career continued through 1925, including this parody of Rudolph Valentino’s Blood and Sand:
Laurel and Hardy
By 1926, both Hardy and Laurel were working for the Hal Roach Studios but in very different capacities. Laurel had been directing films for a while now and wanted to do writing, too. Hardy was still doing his thing, but on one film he was unexpectedly hospitalized after being burned, and they asked Stan Laurel to fill in.
The two men became friends and made a few movies together in 1927. Roach Studios supervising director Leo McCarey saw how well they worked together and what a great audience response they got. He teamed them up, and a “Laurel and Hardy” series came out later that year. The rest is history.
Thank you, Leo McCarey!