Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy

Simon Louvish

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

544 Pages


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Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have remained, from 1927 to the present day, the screen's most famous and popular comedy double act, celebrated by legions of fans. But despite many books about their films and individual lives, there has never been a definitive biography of the duo, from birth to death.

Louvish traces the early lives of Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy and the surrounding minstrel and variety theatre that influenced all of their later work. Louvish examines the rarely seen solo films of both our heroes prior to their serendipitous pairing in 1927 in the long-lost short Duck Soup. The inspired casting teamed them until their last days. Both often married, they found balancing their personal and professional lives a nearly impossible feat.

Between 1927 and 1938, they were able to successfully bridge the gap between silent and sound films, which tripped up most of their prominent colleagues. Their Hal Roach and MGM films were brilliant, but their move in 1941 to Twentieth Century Fox proved disastrous, with the nine films made there ranking as some of the most embarrassing moments of cinematic history.

In spite of this, Laurel and Hardy survived as exemplars of lasting genius, and their influence is seen to this day. The clowns were elusive behind their masks, but now Simon Louvish can finally reveal their full and complex humanity and their passionate devotion to their art. In Stan and Ollie, Louvish has seamlessly woven tireless and thorough research into an authoritative biography of these two important and influential Hollywood pioneers.


Praise for Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy

"A useful reference book and a solid overview of their careers. Louivish is at his best in discussing how Laurel and Hardy, unlike most of the great silent film comedians, had no trouble making the transition to sound."—The New York Times

"This double life of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy does what every terrific biography should—send the reader running to check out the original works . . . This is as close as it comes to a definitive biography and filmography of Laurel and Hardy, and as good as writing about Hollywood comedy gets. Louvish cuts through the theatrical scrim to get to the real lives that informed the comedy, and tears at the heart."—The Times (London)

"Simon Louvish writes fluently and fully about his subjects . . . There's an enormous amount to enjoy . . . Some of the best and most incisive analysis of their movie magic . . . The writer's joyful descriptions of their finest films are models of clarity, and his sorrow over their decline is movingly expressed. Historically accurate, biographically impeccable, Louvish does more to fill in their real-life stories with little-known facts than any previous book."—The Guardian

"Louivish had digested films, reviews, and interviews with those who knew the pair to reach entirely reasonable conclusions and create fully realized human beings. This definitive treatment is recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Louvish has written a biography of Laurel and Hardy that brims with affection and still preserves an honest, unbiased view of their creativity and personal traumas. He presents a fully rounded, well-paced portrait of their contrasting backgrounds (Laurel was born in England; Hardy in Georgia), early separate careers and eventual union in a Hal Roach production, 45 Minutes from Hollywood, in 1926. Thanks to Louvish's erudite yet accessible style, in-depth studies of Laurel and Hardy films are even more absorbing to read than their marital conflicts. A touching example of Louvish's deep feeling for his subjects occurs when he describes Hardy's huge 150-pound weight loss, in which he concludes, 'it probably never occurred to Oliver Hardy that his fans actually considered him beautiful.' It's clear the author does, and this tender admiration invites the reader to share his view."—Publishers Weekly

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Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy
PART ONETwice Upon a Time ...CHAPTER ONEOnce Upon a ClownThe clown was always disreputable, once his ties with religion were severed. Although the old song tells us 'the things that we're liable to hear in the Bible, they ain't necessarily so', merry-making, as far back as we care to go, was associated with drunkenness and wine. The biblical archetype, Jubal-Cain, was said to have been 'the father of all such as handle the harp and organ', which places him perhaps dubiously as the ancestor of Harpo and Chico Marx. Nevertheless, by the time we got to Bacchus,
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  • Simon Louvish

  • Simon Louvish is the acclaimed author of the biographies of the Marx Brothers, Monkey Business and W. C. Fields, The Man on the Flying Trapeze. He is also the author of nine novels. He teaches at the London International Film School.
  • Simon Louvish Photo: Simon Louvish