Two Englishmen, one tall and the other skinny, were for decades the best-known comedy characters, forming the famous duo in film history. Their childhoods in the movies attracted millions of viewers around the world, but real life involved vices, tragedies and complicated situations.
Stan hailed from Ulverston, England, and by the time he was just 19 he was hired as Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. What few know is that he came from a wealthy family, as his father owned several theatres in England and Scotland.
His first job was arranged by his father, and by the time he appeared alongside Oliver Hardy, his experience was already extensive, numbering over 50 films. In 1926 when he joined his co-star, Stan was 26 and already had many life experiences.
He emigrated to the United States where he fell in love with Mae Dahlberg, another actress, who was also the one who wanted to star in the films he was in. Make-up booths were war territory for the two, so the producer paid them a handsome sum of money to return to Australia.
If you’re thinking this was the woman who got the funny Stan, you’re wrong because he ticked off four subsequent marriages. Oliver Hardy on the other hand came from a modest family, so he is sent to Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, USA.
The filmmaker wasn’t thrilled this career wasn’t for him, so at 18 he takes a job at a movie theater where he screens films, sells tickets and more. Later, he moved to the state of Florida where filmmaking was taking off and he began acting in movies.
Stan and Bran as you never knew them
His talent brought him to the famous duo in 1926 when he had already tallied nearly 100 films. Similar enough, because Hardy had also ticked off a marriage to pianist Madelyn Saloshin. The two divorced when Hardy fell in love with actress Myrtle Reeves and married her.
This mad love was to be both literal and figurative given that the actress was addicted to alcohol, often being committed to sanatoriums from which she managed to escape each time. In her latest escapade, she checked into a hotel from whose window she threatened to throw herself out.
In 1926, Stan was 36 and Oliver 34 when they met at Harold Eugene Roach’s production house. Together the two shoot 120 films, some of which were silent shorts. Laurel was the heavyweight of the crew, often staying late to edit and produce, while Hardy escaped each time to golf matches.
Oliver’s current wife’s drunkenness prompts him to begin a relationship with Viola Morse, an affair that lasts a decade. He later breaks up with both of them, prompting Viola to take a handful of pills and get behind the wheel. Even though she crashes her car into a tree, she miraculously survives.
Virginia Lucille becomes Oliver’s third wife who remains by his side until his death. Stan didn’t have it easy around women either, but he was incredibly successful with the fairer sex.
In 1926 he married Lois Neilson, and soon after began an affair with Alyce Ardell. When their first daughter is born, he gives up the fun, and later, after a baby boy appears and dies nine days after birth, causes him to drown his sorrows in alcohol and thus the break-up of the marriage.
Virginia Ruth Rogers became Stan’s fourth wife in 1935, and three years later he divorced her to marry Vera Ivanova Shuvalova who was an alcoholic dancer of Russian descent. In 1941 he divorced her to return to… Virginia Ruth, with whom he stayed for another five years. His last marriage was to Ida Kitaeva Raphael, with whom he stayed for two decades until her death.
Their success lasted until the 1950s, with people loving the two comedians. In 1953 while on tour in Ireland, the two are surprised to hear church bells ringing the same notes as their famous theme song, The Cuckoo Song.
A year later, Oliver would suffer a heart attack. Hardy ends up losing many pounds, and letters to Laurel revealed that he was suffering from cancer. In 1957 he suffered a cerebral thrombosis and died. Stan, on the other hand, was also ill and did not make it to the funeral. Heart problems took his life in 1965, and the video below is the last in which the two appear together.