Stan Laurel

As one half of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, Stan Laurel starred in over a hundred comedy shorts and feature films. But he also had a successful acting and writing career before his partnership with Oliver Hardy.

Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born into a theatrical family in Ulverston, Lancashire, on 16 June 1890. His theatre manager father, Arthur, and actress mother, Margaret, had four other children, three boys and a girl.

After an education at schools in Bishop Auckland, Gainford and Glasgow, Laurel made his first appearance on stage in 1906 at the Scotia Music Hall in Glasgow. The following year he joined the Fred Karno company and by 1910 he was working as the understudy for Charlie Chaplin.

The Karno company toured the USA from 1912 and, when the troupe disbanded in the following year, Laurel worked on the American stage in vaudeville. It was at this time that he took the stage name of Stan Laurel. In 1915 he started working in silent films, and from the early 1920s he starred in a series of short comedies. He first appeared with his future comedy partner, Oliver Hardy, in the 1921 two-reel short The Lucky Dog.

Although Laurel enjoyed some success with these films he drifted towards writing and directing, and it was in this behind-the-camera capacity that he joined Hal Roach Studios in 1925. But when Oliver Hardy was injured in a kitchen accident in 1927, Laurel was persuaded to act again as his replacement in a comedy with Mabel Normand.

Further acting roles followed and Laurel began to be paired with Hardy, starting with Slipping Wives, when their on-screen chemistry became apparent. By the end of 1927 Laurel and Hardy’s partnership became permanent and would produce over a hundred comedy shorts and feature films.

The duo began with a series of silent films including Two Tars (1928) and Big Business (1929). But, unlike some other silent comics, they were successful in their transition to ‘talkies’. Other classic films followed including Hog Wild (1930) and the Academy award-winning The Music Box (1932).

From 1931 Laurel and Hardy starred in their own feature films beginning with Pardon Us. Other features included Sons of the Desert (1933), Babes in Toyland (1934), Way Out West (1937) and A Chump at Oxford (1940).

Although the pair were a team on screen, it was Laurel who wrote and directed most of their comedies during their early, and most successful, period. When Laurel and Hardy left Hal Roach Studios at the end of their contract in 1940, this artistic control was missing in their work for Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the quality of their work declined.

During the Second World War Laurel and Hardy travelled to entertain the troops and in 1947 they toured Britain with a variety show. The European-made Atoll K (1952) was their last film together but was not a success. They started a European tour in 1953 before ill-health led to its cancellation.

With Oliver Hardy’s death in 1957, Laurel ceased acting but continued to write. In 1960 he was given an Academy award for being a comedy pioneer. Stan Laurel died in Santa Monica, California, on 23 February 1965, after suffering a heart attack, and was buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles. During his career he had starred in many of the finest comedy films in cinema history.

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