English comic actor, writer and film director Stan Laurel sadly died 23 February 1964 at the age of 75. He was born 16 June 1890 and is most famous for his role in the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. With his comedy partner Oliver Hardy he appeared in 107 short films, feature films and cameo roles. Laurel began his career in the British music hall, from where he took a number of his standard comic devices: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and the nonsensical understatement. His performances polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches. Laurel was a member of “Fred Karno’s Army,” where he was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy.The two arrived in the US on the same ship from Britain with the Karno troupe. Laurel went into films in the US, with his acting career stretching between 1917 and 1951, and from “silents” to “talkies.” It included a starring role in the film The Music Box (1932).
Laurel signed with the Hal Roach studio, where he began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director, but fate stepped in. In 1927, Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap, and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup (1927) and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios’ supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year.
Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in a lavish all-colour (in Technicolor) musical feature, The Rogue Song. In 1931, their first starring feature, Pardon Us was released. They continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box, which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.
In 1941, Laurel and Hardy signed a contract at 20th Century Fox to make ten films over five months. During the war years, their work became more standardised and less successful, though The Bullfighters, and Jitterbugs did receive some praise. Laurel discovered he had diabetes, so he encouraged Hardy to make two films without him. In 1946, he divorced Virginia Ruth Rogers and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael. In 1947, Laurel returned to England when he and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom, and the duo were mobbed wherever they went. Laurel’s homecoming to Ulverston took place in May, and the duo were greeted by thousands of fans outside the Coronation Hall.
The tour included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London and they spent the next seven years touring the UK and Europe. In 1950, Laurel and Hardy were invited to France to make a feature film. The film, a Franco-Italian co-production titled Atoll K, was a disaster. (The film was titled Utopia in the US and Robinson Crusoeland in the UK.) Both stars were noticeably ill during the filming. Upon returning to the US they spent most of their time recovering. In 1952, Laurel and Hardy toured Europe successfully, and they returned in 1953 for another tour of the continent. During this tour, Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks. In May 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour. In 1955, they were planning to do a television series, Laurel and Hardy’s Fabulous Fables, based on children’s stories. The plans were delayed after Laurel suffered a stroke on 25 April, from which he recovered. But as he was planning to get back to work, his partner Hardy had a massive stroke on 14 September 1956, which resulted in his being unable to return to acting.
In 1961, Stan Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He had achieved his lifelong dream as a comedian and had been involved in nearly 190 films. He lived his final years in a small flat in the Oceana Apartments in Santa Monica, California. Jerry Lewis was among the numerous comedians to visit Laurel, who offered suggestions for Lewis’s production of The Bellboy (1960). Lewis paid tribute to Laurel by naming his main character Stanley in the film, and having Bill Richmond play a version of Laurel as well.Dick Van Dyke told a similar story. When he was just starting his career, he looked up Laurel’s phone number, called him, and then visited him at his home. Van Dyke played Laurel on “The Sam Pomerantz Scandals” episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly quitting around 1960. In January 1965, he underwent a series of x-rays for an infection on the roof of his mouth.He died on 23 February 1965, aged 74, four days after suffering a heart attack on 19 February Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment. Somewhat taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. “I’m not,” said Laurel, “I’d rather be doing that than this!” A few minutes later the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair. Silent screen comedian Buster Keaton also died of lung cancer one year later in February 1966. Dick Van Dyke, friend, protege and occasional impressionist of Laurel during his later years, gave the eulogy, reading A Prayer for Clowns. Laurel was cremated, and his ashes were interred in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery.