COMEDY LEGENDS Laurel and Hardy are about to split the sides of a new generation – almost 100 years after their first movie.
A series of events is planned to celebrate the comic duo includes a major new movie.
Stan and Ollie, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, depicts the duo’s attempts to give their careers a later-life boost with a gruelling UK theatre tour.
Scotland played a massive part in Stan’s rise to global superstardom as he made his stage debut in Glasgow. And that very theatre, the Brittania Panopticon, is staging a marathon screening of old Laurel and Hardy films this Saturday.
But the author of a new novel about Stan, who was born in Ulverston in Cumbria, says an earlier visit to the city by the pair in 1932 was a bittersweet affair.
He was moved to tears by the reception – but also had his expensive watch nicked!
“They had never seen crowds like they had when they arrived at Glasgow Central Station,” said John Connolly, whose book He: A Novel, has just been published by Hodder and Stoughton.
“You couldn’t see the station for fans and there was a riot outside the Central Hotel. Part of the wall collapsed, people were injured and women fainted.
“Mounted police were trying to keep the crowds back and Laurel and Hardy were really quite shaken by the time they got to the hotel. Stan’s 50 guinea wrist watch was stolen and they had their pockets picked.
“So they had slightly mixed fortunes. When they went to the La Scala cinema the next day, thousands of people converged on Sauchiehall Street and the police had to lock arms.
“But Stan had such a connection with Scotland because he was ‘born’ in the theatres there that he began weeping. The crowd started singing Will Ye No Come Back Again.”
Irish author John researched Stan’s life in particular and chose to write his new book as a novel rather than a biography so he could imagine the feelings of the comedian who rarely spoke of his emotions. It documents the colourful private life that was in sharp contrast to his hapless and innocent screen persona.
He was married five times, waking up hungover as a newly-wed on one occasion to find his previous wife hammering at the hotel room door.
“Stan came from a very conservative background in Scotland and when he got to Hollywood he took advantage, to a degree, of his fame,” said John.
“What then happened, though, was that he liked being married. He would rather be with an unsuitable person than be alone, which was a recipe for disaster.
“He wasn’t an alcoholic but he wasn’t a good drinker and it would impair his judgment. At least twice he ended up accidentally married.
“There was no malice. Ruth, whom he married twice, had to testify in court during the second divorce. She said that he wanted what he couldn’t have, when he had it, he didn’t want it but that he was still a ‘swell fellow’.
“Even she couldn’t bring herself to say anything bad about him.”
Meanwhile, another new book traces the equally complicated life of Stan’s dad. Danny Lawrence spent five years’ doing detective work for Arthur Jefferson: Man Of The Theatre And Father Of Stan Laurel (Brewin Books).
Even with all his digging he couldn’t conclusively establish Arthur’s father or mother. Arthur was an actor as well as a theatre impresario and his influence on the young Stan was immense.
He leased the Metropole Theatre in Glasgow in 1901 and remained in charge of it until 1922. Famously Stan made his debut on stage at the Panopticon, supposedly to the disapproval of his dad who happened to be in the audience scouting for cheap acts.
“Conventional wisdom has it that Stan’s father didn’t want him to go on the stage,” said Danny. “It’s said that he wanted Stan to become a theatrical manager but I think that’s extremely unlikely.”
The Panopticon, on Trongate, is the world’s oldest surviving music hall and is the venue for the movie marathon on Saturday hosted by the Glasgow-based Call Of The Cuckoos Tent Of The Sons Of The Desert appreciation society.
“We’ll be screening five feature films and plenty shorts between 11am and 9pm and we’re expecting the maximum possible attendance allowed for safety reasons, about 120,” said organiser Willie McIntyre.
“We’re finding that new generations are discovering Laurel and Hardy all the time. Seeing these films where Stan first appeared is special.”
Stan died in California in 1965, eight years after the death of his screen partner and close friend.
“My book is partly about male friendship, because the pair of them were just so close,” said John Connolly. “When Ollie died, it was like Stan had lost his wife. He was effectively a widower and he never worked again.”