Laurel and Hardy

ANOTHER FINE MISS Inside the disastrous love lives of movie legends Laurel and Hardy who had nine ‘wives’ between them and a string of affairs

ONE was thin, one was fat, one was British and one American, but when it came to love, Laurel and Hardy were identical – they were both complete disasters.

The film comedy legends, who found fame with joyously daft slapstick in the 1920s, had seven wives between then.

 Ollie with Stan in 1932

Then there were the long-term girlfriends and affairs, plus an extraordinary trail of broken hearts and broken bank balances.

It would surely have left Stan Laurel scratching his head in bafflement and Oliver Hardy denouncing the tangles, as the title of their film “another fine mess”.

A new film starring Steve Coogan as Stan and John C Reilly as his rotund sidekick will tell the story of the pair in their later years, battered by their exhausting private lives.

Due out next year, Stan And Ollie will follow the bowler-hatted duo on their swansong UK tour in 1953, when they were trying to boost their flagging careers and finances.

By then Stan was on his fourth wife and fifth marriage — he wed one woman twice — and Ollie, called “Babe” by friends, on his third.

After both men had died, their lawyer Ben Shipman said: “Such sweet men. But oh, the problems they could get into!

 Coogan and Reilly in the new film
Coogan and Reilly in the new film

Particularly Stan but Babe too. And most of it was women trouble.”

Stan’s first love, Aussie actress Mae Dahlberg, was definitely trouble.

The pair met around 1921, 11 years after the Lake District-born Stan had joined a touring comic troupe where he understudied another young comedian called Charlie Chaplin.

When the group toured the US, the youngster, then Stan Jefferson, decided to stay to try to make it in the new silent movie industry.

He and Mae began living together after meeting on a set and it was Mae who suggested he change his surname to Laurel.

His old moniker, she felt, was bad luck because it had 13 letters in it.

 Stan with Ruth, who he wed and split from twice
Stan with Ruth, who he wed and split from twice

She then adopted the surname herself even though the couple never married — probably because, despite claiming she was a widow, Mae had a husband back in Melbourne.

The actress also had a reputation for being “temperamental and abrasive”. Producers were so wary of her that when they offered Stan a contract for 12 comedy films, it was on the condition Mae did not appear.

By 1925, when Mae was thought to be hindering his inevitable rise to fame, film producer Joe Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket Down Under. She accepted.

A year later Stan married a Californian actress, Lois Nielson. In that same year his career really took off, after he appeared in a movie with Ollie under producer Hal Roach.

Called 45 Minutes From Hollywood, it was comedy gold.

 Ollie with Myrtle
Ollie with Myrtle

In 1927 they were put together for their first “official” film as a duo, Putting Pants On Philip.

It was the beginning of the greatest double act the entertainment world had ever seen, and one which only got better when talkies began.

Steve Coogan calls them geniuses and their jokes still make us laugh (Ollie: “Call me a cab.” Stan: “You’re a cab.”).

They went on to make dozens of movies and to make millions of fans laugh.

Stan’s home life, meanwhile, was only causing tears.

Author John Connolly, whose novel He, based on Stan Laurel’s life, is published by Hodder & Stoughton this month, said: “Even as he and Lois were expecting their first child together, Laurel had already begun an affair with French actress Alyce Ardell.” That child was a girl, also called Lois, who died only last month aged 89. The pair also had a son, named Stanley, who died at just nine days old.

 Ollie at his wedding to Virginia Lucille Jones
Ollie at his wedding to Virginia Lucille JonesCredit: Alamy

Stan and Lois divorced in 1933 and Lois sued him for the modern equivalent of nearly £15,000 a month, for the lavish upkeep of their daughter. The bills included money for a chauffeur, governess and cook, and trips to the beauty salon.

According to Connolly, Stan always regretted divorcing Lois, and even tried to win her back while married to wife number two and four, Virginia Ruth Rogers, known as Ruth.

These two ill-fated unions with Ruth, from 1935 to 1937 and then 1941 to 1946, book-ended an even more catastrophic third match with singer Vera Ivanova Shuvalova.

He had met the fiery Russian just five weeks before they wed, when the ink was barely dry on his divorce from Ruth.
They eloped to marry in Yuma, Arizona, pursued by Ruth — who arrived the day of the ceremony demanding the authorities stop the wedding because she was the real Mrs Laurel.

The ceremony went ahead after Stan showed officials his divorce papers, and just to be sure, Vera insisted they had a second wedding a month later.

Their tempestuous union lasted little over a year and was filled with drunken fights as well as arrests for her driving without a licence and him for drink driving.

In her divorce proceedings her lawyers claimed she had discovered Stan digging a hole in their backyard and when asked what it was for, he replied: “To bury you in, Shuvalova.”

He hit back with the accusation Vera, who was 18 years his junior, had assaulted him with a telephone, threatened him with a skillet full of potatoes and thrown sand in his eyes.

He told the court: “She has a terrific temper.”

Meanwhile, Ruth would sometimes send for fire engines to tackle fictional blazes at the couple’s home. He eventually sued her for stalking.

No wonder eyebrows were raised when Laurel went back to Ruth after his marriage to Vera collapsed. They wed again in 1941.

 Ollie and Stan with Stan's wife Virginia
Ollie and Stan with Stan’s wife VirginiaCredit: Hulton Archive – Getty

But they divorced once more in 1946, the same year Stan married Ida Kitaeva Raphael, the widow of a musician.

This was finally a love that lasted, all the way until Stan’s death of a heart attack, aged 74, in 1965.

Ollie had also only found lasting love later in life.

The son of an American Civil War veteran, he grew up in Georgia but moved to Florida in 1913, aged 21, to become a vaudeville star.

There he met singer Madelyn Saloshin, and they wed the same year before moving to Hollywood.

But after seven years he left her for actress Myrtle Reeves, an alcoholic with mental health problems who was in and out of sanatoriums.

Author John Connolly said: “At one point she locked herself in a hotel room and threatened to jump from a window. All in full view of police, firemen and a gaggle of newspaper reporters.”

Both Madelyn and Myrtle pursued Ollie for money, with the latter even dispatching legal papers years later as he lay on his deathbed.

 The pair enjoyed a long film career
The pair enjoyed a long film careerCredit: AP:Associated Press

Ollie’s marriage to Myrtle had crumbled when he fell for divorced mum-of-one Viola Morse.

Their long-term romance was reportedly based on their mutual love of gambling and ended in near- disaster when Viola took sedatives then crashed her car — although she miraculously survived.

Finally, in 1939 Ollie met the woman he would spend the rest of his life with, Virginia Lucille Jones.

They met in suitably slapstick circumstances when Lucille, as she was known, was working as a script girl on his film The Flying Deuces and hit her head on a lighting rig.

As she was being taken away on a stretcher, Ollie was stopped in his tracks by her beauty.

They married in 1940 and Lucille was the one to care for him in 1956, when a major stroke robbed him of the power of speech and forced him to stay bedbound.

He suffered two more strokes the following year and died, aged 65, in 1957. Devastated Stan refused to work ever again.

He admitted in a letter soon afterwards: “I miss him more than anyone will ever know and feel quite lost.”

As author Neil Brand, who wrote the acclaimed radio play Stan, puts it: “Without a doubt, Ollie’s most successful marriage was to Stan.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button