There are essentially three short biographies here; one of Stan Laurel, one of Oliver Hardy, and one of Laurel and Hardy. Perhaps they really belong in three separate writeups. But to many people, Laurel and Hardy were a single entity, a unit with two heads which were almost always far more confused than one head could ever be. The mini biographies here are intended only as a sketch. To understand their appeal, it is necessary to watch them in action, and it need hardly be said that their brand of humor, which was basically slapstick and situational, will not be to everyone’s taste. It is of course also true that their output is dated. But for some, myself included, there is something timeless about them, and therefore about their work. And let's not forget; if you like this sort of thing, they are achingly funny.
Stan Laurel was born on 16 June 1890 in Ulverston, England. His given name was Arthur Stanley Jefferson. He was the son of a British music-hall (vaudeville) performer, and his upbringing revolved around that life. In 1910 he made his first trip to America as a member of the Fred Karno musical-comedy troupe, another member of which was a man named Charles Chaplin. Laurel decided to stay on in the United States, and toured in various vaudeville shows, landing movie jobs occasionally.
Oliver Hardy was born Norvell Hardy on 18 January 1892 in Harlem, Georgia. Although seemingly destined for a career in the military, he went against expectation and instead opened a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia, and eventually found acting work in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Lubin film company. He subsequently moved to Hollywood. By the mid 1920s, he was working as an all-purpose comic at the Hal Roach studio.
Laurel and Hardy's partnership began at the Hal Roach studio in 1926. After collaborating on many silent films, they were fortunate in being able to make the transition to the new talking films smoothly, unlike many of their less fortunate contemporaries, whose careers faltered and faded with the advent of 'talkies'. Although their output was originally only 2 or 3 reel 'shorts', their quickly-acquired worldwide popularity allowed them to begin making feature films. They won an Oscar for the short film "The Music Box" in 1933.
Oliver Hardie died on 7 August 1957. Stan Laurel died on 23 February 1965.
Kurt Vonnegut’s comments in the prologue to his novel "Slapstick" sum up Laurel and Hardy’s appeal perfectly.
"The fundamental joke with Laurel and Hardy, it seems to me, was that they did their best with every test. They never failed to bargain in good faith with their destinies, and were screamingly adorable and funny on that account"
Laurel and Hardy; two guys who tried their best time and time again, and who always failed beautifully.
- "Slapstick" by Kurt Vonnegut