For many Oliver Hardy’s first film appearance a century ago in the one-reel silent comedy Outwitting Dad marked the start of an astonishing film career that would lead to the incredibly popular, internationally renowned comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy, who, even today, continue to bring joy and laughter to millions.
We all have our favourite Laurel and Hardy memories, whether it was busking outside a home for the deaf in Below Zero (1930), pushing a piano up a steep set of steps in The Music Box (1932), or career landmarks such as the biggest custard-pie fight ever filmed in The Battle of the Century (1927) and their successful transition to talking pictures in Unaccustomed As We Are (1929). Astonishingly, after so many years, thinking back to them always brings a broad smile to the face, you just can’t help it with Laurel and Hardy.
Outwitting Dad, written by Frank Griffin, was produced and directed by Arthur Hotaling. The story centres around Bob and Lena who want to get married, but must first overcome the strong objections of Lena’s father. Hardy played Bob and was credited as O.N. Hardy. The film was released on 21 April 1914 as a split-reel along with the comedy The Rube’s Duck. The film was made by the Lubin Manufacturing Company, with whom Hardy appeared in over 50 films by 1915, often being billed as “Babe Hardy” and playing the villain. Disastrously, a fire at Lubin’s studios in June 1914 destroyed the negatives of many unreleased films, including some that featured Oliver Hardy.
Lubin produced over 1,000 silent films in Florida between 1902 and 1916. The company famously had a long-running legal battle with Thomas Edison for copyright infringement. They eventually gave-up their fight and reluctantly joined Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company, a notorious production and distribution monopoly. Lubin, understandably, struggled to make distribution sales abroad following the outbreak of the First World War and was finally pushed into bankruptcy on 1 September 1916 following a Supreme Court ruling outlawing the monopoly of the Motion Picture Patents Company.
Hardy stood 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 300 pounds, his size very much part of his comedy trademark. “Babe”, Hardy’s nickname, is thought to have come from an Italian barber, who, when massaging talcum powder into his cheeks would say, “nice-a-bab-y.” The name stuck. Following Hardy’s death in August 1957, Laurel, who was too ill to attend his funeral, said, “Babe would understand”.
Hardy moved to Hollywood in 1917 and worked for several studios. It was in 1921 that he first appeared with a young British comedian, Stan Laurel, in The Lucky Dog, produced by GM “Broncho Billy” Anderson. Hardy went on to appear in many other films, including as the Tin Man in Larry Semon’s 1925 silent production of The Wizard of Oz.
In 1926 Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were appearing informally together in productions at the Hal Roach Studios, the first of which was the two-reel silent comedy, 45 Minutes From Hollywood. It was Roach’s supervising director, Leo McCarey, who first recognised the wonderful way audiences reacted to them. He then began intentionally teaming them together and the formal pairing of Laurel and Hardy was finally established in October 1927 with the release of The Second Hundred Years. And so started a wonderful on-screen relationship that continued until the early 1950s, with the Italian/French co-production Atoll-K (1951).
Together they appeared in over 100 films, which included 32 silent shorts, 40 sound shorts and 23 feature-length films. They also made twelve guest or cameo appearances, including the 1936 promotional film Galaxy of Stars. The pair remained close friends until Hardy’s death in 1957, after which Laurel refused to make any further stage or film appearances without his friend.
Later in life Laurel would be visited by contemporary comedians, eager to pay homage to one of the first true masters of cinema comedy. Such visitors included Peter Sellers and Jerry Lewis. Laurel passed away in 1965 having seen Laurel and Hardy rediscovered by a new generation of viewers through the ever-growing popularity of television and film festivals.