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Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy Hardcover – December 1, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Louvish has written a biography of Laurel and Hardy that brims with affection and still preserves an honest, unbiased view of their creativity and personal traumas. He presents a fully rounded, well-paced portrait of their contrasting backgrounds (Laurel was born in England; Hardy in Georgia), early separate careers and eventual union in a Hal Roach production, 45 Minutes from Hollywood, in 1926. Roach claimed to have discovered them before reluctantly conceding partial credit to Leo McCarey, who directed many of the duo's best movies. After appearances in five undistinguished pictures, their careers soared with such classics as Duck Soup (not to be confused with the Marx Brothers version) and The Second Hundred Years. The two saw themselves as working actors who happened to hit on an incredible streak of good luck. However, their off-camera lives were anything but lucky, and Louvish, in his chapter "Multiple Whoopee or Wives and Woes," poignantly chronicles each man's domestic catastrophes, with particularly painful emphasis on Hardy's marriage to his alcoholic second wife, Myrtle Lee. Laurel, after four disastrous unions, finally found happiness with Russian opera singer Ida Kitaeva Raphael. Thanks to Louvish's erudite yet accessible style, in-depth studies of Laurel and Hardy films are even more absorbing to read than their marital conflicts. A touching example of Louvish's deep feeling for his subjects occurs when he describes Hardy's huge 150-pound weight loss, in which he concludes, "it probably never occurred to Oliver Hardy that his fans actually considered him beautiful." It's clear the author does, and this tender admiration invites the reader to share his view.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Generally considered the finest film comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy made their mark in both the silent and the sound eras. While drawing on the efforts of past biographers, Louvish (London International Film Sch.; Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers) delves deeper into the personal and professional lives of this beloved team. He explores the impact of the British music hall tradition on Stanley Jefferson (Laurel), whose father wrote plays and skits and ran theaters, and the early cinema's influence on Oliver Norvell Hardy, who at 18 was taking tickets and projecting films in Milledgeville, GA's Electric Theater. Though both came to work at Hal Roach Studios, it wasn't until 1927 that Laurel and Hardy engaged in their first team effort: Duck Soup (not to be confused with the Marx Brothers' vehicle). After such high points as Sons of the Desert (1934), an artistic decline began owing to the team's age, bad scripts, exiting Hal Roach, and new satirical comedy styles from Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. Louvish has digested films, reviews, and interviews with those who knew the pair to reach entirely reasonable conclusions and create fully realized human beings. This definitive treatment is recommended for public and academic libraries, as well as special film collections.
Kim Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (December 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312266510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312266516
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Bailey on April 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Simon Louvish's epic-length biography Stan and Ollie plays like one of those Laurel & Hardy comedies that were padded to feature-length by the inclusion of romantic leads nobody cares about. Like those movies, one has to wade through a lot of guff to get to the really good stuff.
Louvish has done his research (as he all too eager to convince the reader), and it pays off most admirably when debunking previous tales of the Laurel & Hardy history. The most compelling example is the chapter detailing Oliver Hardy's first marriage. Hardy and film historians have long maintained that he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to pursue a film career, and there was where he met and married first wife Madelyn. Louvish detailingly reveals that Madelyn was in fact Jewish, that Hardy met her in Georgia at the time of an infamous Jewish lynching, and that Hardy and his wife exited Georgia as a result, never to return.
Such dramatic payoffs are alone worth the price of the book. Louvish also often gleans much enlightened insight into Laurel & Hardy's film work (as well he should--Louvish in a part-time film teacher). To cite just one example, his analysis of the finale of L&H's penultimate Hal Roach film A Chump at Oxford is as insightful and moving as the finale itself.
Along the way, though, the reader must endure the obstacle courses that plagued Louvish's previous bios of W.C. Fields and The Marx Brothers (both of which tomes are shamelessly plugged throughout this book). For one thing, Louvish lards his writing with enough precious verbosity to make L&H biographer John McCabe look like an illiterate slacker by comparison. (Prime example: "Babe's inner life has always been a...mystery wrapped in an enigma, hidden behind those folds of flesh.
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Format: Hardcover
Laurel and Hardy are not mean to each other, like Abbott was to the unfortunate Costello, and neither would conspire to seduce away a pretty girl from the other, like Hope and Crosby did. They didn't get mawkish or act as spokesmen for the downtrodden, as Chaplin did. On screen (and, let us be grateful, off screen, as well) they were friends. They may have dumped paint buckets over one another's heads or sat on one another's hats, and they caused an enormous amount of set destruction wherever they went, but there was kindness and caring between them. A fine, big dual biography now places the two within cinema and world and comedic history, _Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy_ (Thomas Dunn Books) by Simon Louvish. The author, who has done previous biographies of W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, has an intellectual appreciation for Laurel and Hardy films, but his book is relatively free of theorizing about what made the pair such classics. He has not forgotten the main virtue of the team: they are funny.
Laurel was born in Lancashire in 1890, of a theatrical family. His father was a minor stage star and author of some literally melodramatic plays (and though he turned out proud of Laurel's success and fame, never really took pride that it was done outside of the legitimate theater). He came to America with the same troupe that brought Chaplin. Hardy was a southerner from Georgia. He was fat all through his life, and like so many "different" kids, he learned to be entertaining as a way of diverting others from mocking him. He was a gifted singer, and would sing in the theater, his theater when he ran a small-town movie house. It was his entrance into show business.
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Format: Paperback
Louvish's biographies of the great screen comedians are hit and miss. Either they're very good (Chaplin), informative but slightly dry given the liveliness of the subject (Sennett), or so caught up in the author's stylistic flourishes that they add nothing new to the canon (Marx Brothers). Stan & Ollie is in my view the worst of the lot. While it's packed with good information, the writing keeps calling attention to itself with overstuffed sentences, stylistic flourishes, and needless asides. Louvish has a continuing theme early on, looking at the parallel careers of Stan and Ollie before they team up; to this he tacks on needless paragraphs on how "our boys" are circling towards one another in their respective careers in their destiny to become "Laurel & Hardy." Five chapters into the book, I nearly gave up. In biography, the writer's style should not be the main show, particularly when looking at the lives of entertainers. Let the subjects do the work, and let the authorly flourishes follow in a more subtle fashion. I ended up skimming the last few hundred pages, gleaning what I could from the information while avoiding Louvish's unnecessary verbosity. A disappointment to be sure, given the richness of the subject.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By the time I was old enough to appreciate adult comedies shown on TV, i.e. in the late 50's, Oliver "Babe" Hardy was already dead (1957) and Stan Laurel was on the final downslope of his life. Yet, it was Laurel & Hardy, along with Abbott & Costello, that tickled my embryonic sense of humor before "graduating" to Red Skelton, Bob Hope, and Jackie Gleason.

Here, in STAN AND OLLIE: THE ROOTS OF COMEDY, author Simon Louvish draws from even more compulsively detailed books on the duo to yield a satisfyingly comprehensive overview of The Boys' professional lives, both solo and paired. I never thought of Stan and Ollie as being anything other than a team. Yet, the first eighteen chapters of this 40-chapter volume reveal that each had a successful career before being eternally cemented together in the 1927 silent movie, "Duck Soup". Each began life separated by the Atlantic, Stan being born in the north of England in 1890, and Oliver in Georgia of the American South in 1892. Before their fateful pairing by Hal Roach in Hollywood in 1927, Laurel worked his way up through the ranks of U.K. and U.S. vaudeville and U.S. film, while Hardy appeared in 200+ silents on his own beginning with "Outwitting Dad" (1914), a release coming from the then-booming Florida film industry. For both, it was a long and tortuous road to Tinseltown and destiny.

I need to stress that STAN AND OLLIE focuses on their professional lives. If you're looking for a detailed inside peek at their personal existences, look elsewhere. OK, sure, the reader learns, as narrative asides, that Ollie bet on the horses and Stan had a weakness for Yorkshire pudding, chocolate candies, and ocean sport fishing. Both enjoyed golf.
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