It’s an intriguing idea—a brand new series of Laurel and Hardy routines at the dawn of network television. Would it have worked in an era of neo-vaudeville by the likes of Berle, Cantor and Wynn, surrounded by commercial interruptions?
One thing is for certain. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy wouldn’t have been considered an anachronism in 1950, considering many people today became fans of the boys by watching their old films on television a long time ago. They were—and I don’t know how much argument I’ll get by stating this—the greatest movie comedy duo in history. They might have been able to overcome TV’s need to grind out endless new material, quickly, using less-than-advanced technology. They might not have been able to overcome age and health; I suspect that’s part of the reason they did so little television in the first place.
Still, they had plans to get into the new medium, as the following column from the NEA syndication service attests. It appeared in newspapers around November 27, 1951.
By ERSKINE JOHNSON
HOLLYWOOD (NEA)— Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the screen’s laugh champions of the ‘30’s who upset the champs-never-come-back legend in the ‘50’s when 300 of their old two-reel comedies popped up on television, are as the movie ad writers say, “together again.”
For the first time in five years they’ll be on your neighbourhood theater screens this winter in a feature comedy, “Atoll K.”
And they’re being deluged with TV offers.
They’re not making a dime out of their two-reelers, filmed between 1926 and 1941 and currently riding the crest of the video channels. Hal Roach made a $750,000 outright sale of the old celluloid when the boys weren’t looking.
But while it hurts in the wallet it’s inflated their morale.
“A whole new generation of kids have discovered us,” Hardy beamed.
“And not one kid has said, ‘Gee, you guys sure have aged,’” Laurel grinned.
When will they become TV regulars now that they’ve been de-mothballed and Stan has recovered from the serious illness which put him in a Paris hospital for three months this summer?
“When we can do it on film,” Hardy whimpered. Laurel echoed Hardy:
“We want to get off on the right foot and when it's live you never get off the left foot.”
There are no big casts and no big flossy production numbers in the blueprints for new Laurel and Hardy comedies whether they are for TV or movie theaters.
“It will be the same situation comedy,” Hardy made it clear, “with one set and no more than two or three other actors in the cast. We have to be together. Split us up and put us with other people and we’re gone. Everything that happens to us happens in a little corner.”
Laurel, as usual, will be supervising and helping write the scripts.
“It has to be visual stuff,” he said. “Too many radio writers are writing radio gags for television, which is a visual medium.
“We’ve been accused of being temperamental because we want to supervise our stuff,” Hardy let it fly. “Well, that’s not true. We just know what’s right for us. We refused to do a picture for a certain producer at Fox. He called us to his office and said:
“ ‘Sit down. boys, and tell me what you don’t like in the script.’
“We asked him, ‘Have you read it?’
“ ‘Well, no, I’ve been a busy man lately.’
“That’s when we quit. How can you do a movie when the producer hasn’t even read the script?”
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis may clown it up off stage, but you’ll never catch Laurel aim Hardy in a mad routine unless there’s a camera pointed at them.
“We worry about people thinking we’re fresh,” Hardy explained it. “Every time we go to a formal dinner party we see people looking at us as if to say, ‘I wonder when they’re going to start throwing the butter patties?’ But we never do and never have.”
“We started something once,” Laurel remembered with a grin.
Hardy remembered, too.
It was at an MGM formal dinner party at the Roosevelt Hotel after the Hollywood premiere of Lawrence Tibbett’s “The Rogue Song.”
“The Who’s Who of Hollywood were there,” Hardy said.
“A really snooty formal affair,” Laurel added.
“Suddenly a drunk walked up to me,” Hardy said, “and pulled off my bow tie with the crack, ‘I can do that comedy, too.’
“Well, after I’d had a couple of drinks I looked up this character and grabbed his tie. It was on an elastic. It snapped back and rocked the guy on his heels. He got mad and pulled off the collar of my shirt. Then Stan started grabbing and everybody got into the act.
“Buster Keaton was in tatters and even Louis B. Mayer pulled off a couple of ties.”
But offering pranks at the studio—uh-uh. Laurel and Hardy take their work too seriously.
“A guy once got pushed into a pool at the Hal Roach studio. He sued me and collected $500,” Laurel sour-faced it.
“You know something? I was on the set but I didn’t push the guy.”
“The funniest thing that ever happened at the Roach studio when we were working there,” Hardy remembered, “was when a laundry truck backed into the same pool. Roach was mad as h—. It killed some of his goldfish.”
The thought of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and even little Louis B. Mayer in an anarchic tie-pulling match is as funny as anything put on film. If you can picture it, it proves just how good Laurel and Hardy were.