I was born in Ulverston, in the area of Lake Windermere — Barrow-in-Furness.
Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England, on June 16, 1890. Stan’s father, Arthur Jefferson managed a group of theaters in the northern part of England, where he also acted and directed. Showing an early inclination to follow in his father’s footsteps, Stan built a theater in the attic of his home when he was twelve years old, putting on plays of his own.
At the age of nineteen, Stan joined Fred Karno’s comedy company. Charlie Chaplin was its star, and Stan was his understudy. He traveled with Karno to the United States in 1910 and again in 1912. The troupe eventually split up when Charlie left to star in motion pictures. Stan went on to play American vaudeville houses and then entered the world of motion pictures himself.
Stan made his first two-reeler, “Nuts in May” in 1917. Around that time, Mae Dahlberg, his vaudeville partner and common-law wife, suggested he change last name to ‘Laurel.’ In 1926, Stan signed his first contract with Hal Roach Studios. Initially interested only in writing and directing, a freak on-set accident forced Stan in front of the camera in “The Lucky Dog,” where he was paired with a rotund Roach contract player named Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy, and the rest is history.
Glad you liked “The Finishing Touch.” We were kind of disappointed with it here—felt that it wasn’t up to our standard. Maybe it’s good that we feel that way sometimes—makes us try to do better.
At first there was no real effort to form a team. They appeared in a number of films together, but their first as a comedy team was 1927’s “Putting Pants on Philip.” That collaboration made a partnership inevitable. Skilled as a writer as well as a director, Stan quickly became the driving force behind the Laurel and Hardy phenomenon. He worked late nights, writing and editing their films.
Laurel and Hardy‘s shorts, produced by Hal Roach and released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, were among the most successful in the business. With their trademark bowler hats, suits and ties, Stan and Ollie brought laughs to an audience looking for a diversion in the midst of the Great Depression. While most silent-film actors saw their careers decline with the advent of sound, Laurel and Hardy made a successful transition with 1929’s “Unaccustomed As We Are.”
What do you think of the Talkies? It is a wonderful thing, but I like the silent ones better.
When audiences first heard Stan’s English accent and Babe’s Southern American accent, they accepted the duo without reservation. Their voices fit their now familiar characters. In a stroke of genius, the team skillfully included a mix of visual and verbal humor—adding dialogue that enhanced rather than replaced their popular sight gags. Finding themselves even more popular in ‘talkies,’ Laurel and Hardy rose to the occasion and starred in the classic short “The Music Box” (a reworking of their silent film “Hats Off”), which won the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Comedy in 1932.
But with great success came great sadness in his personal life. Stan parted with Mae in 1925 when she returned to Australia. In 1926, Stan married Lois Neilson. They had two children—a daughter, Lois, and a son, who died tragically 10 days after birth. They divorced in 1934 and Stan married Virginia Ruth Rogers. Three years (and another divorce) later, Stan married Vera Ivanova Shuvalova, only to divorce her and remarry Virginia Ruth Rogers in 1941.
I had a slight stroke and was in hospital several weeks for treatment. However, pleased to tell you I made a wonderful recovery and am nearly back to normal again.
Stan finally found true love when he divorced Virginia and married Ida Kitaeva in 1946. Ida brought Stan stability and remained by his side for the rest of his life. After making several ‘B” movies after their contract with Hal Roach expired, Stan and Babe retired from films in 1950 and went on to tour England, where they were greeted at each stop with tumultuous applause. In May of 1954, Oliver Hardy suffered a slight heart attack, which canceled their final tour.
Upon returning to the United States they embarked on a project to produce a series of films for television. On April 25, 1955, Stan had a stroke. He recovered slowly, but then Ollie had a severe stroke, from which he did not recover.
Ollie was paralyzed, and confined to his bed for several months before his death on August 7, 1957. Stan, under his doctor’s orders due to his own poor health, was unable to attend the funeral of his long-time partner and friend. After Oliver’s death, Stan realized he would never work again—although he kept busy writing gags and sketches for fellow comedians. He was recognized with a special Oscar for his pioneering work in the field of comedy in 1961.
I’m very thrilled to receive such a wonderful tribute. I only wish poor old Babe had been here to share this great honor, which he helped make possible.
In his later years he was arguably the most approachable of all movie stars, keeping his phone number in the phone book, welcoming all sorts of visitors—treating celebrities and non-celebrities like V.I.P.s—and responding to his fan mail personally. He hosted many visitors at his modest seaside apartment, including Dick Cavett, Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke.
Stan Laurel passed away on February 23, 1965, a few days after suffering a heart attack. Dick Van Dyke delivered the eulogy at his funeral saying, “The halls of Heaven must be ringing with Divine laughter.”