About a year ago I wrote a column about comedians Laurel and Hardy and about their return to post-war England and Ireland in the early 1950s, in the twilight of their careers, longing to reignite their successful film careers.
The British people were still recuperating from the devastating results of the German’s relentless bombing raids against London and other British cities during World War II.
In 1952, the United States Navy released a documentary about Germany’s attempt to break England’s morale during the war, but instead showed how the bombings had galvanized the will of the British people.
The dramatic footage told how at the end of the war, “the wounded and maimed, the shattered and crippled, the planes and pilots, the ships and their sailors, and the landing troops returned home from the battle.”
This was the background in 1953, when the Boys arrived in England. Stan and Ollie were the biggest stars to return to Britain after the Second World War, and the two gentle men had arrived to cheer up the country and to spread the goodwill of comedy, embarking on a national tour.
On that trip, Laurel and Hardy arrived by ship, initially in County Cork, Cobh, Ireland. When the good people of Cobh had heard the famous comedians were coming, the town began to pulsate with anticipation of their arrival.
According to Laurel, “The love and affection we found that day at Cobh was simply unbelievable. There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles, and mobs of people screaming on the docks. And then something happened that I would never forget. All the church bells in Cobh began ringing out our theme song, ‘Dance of the Cuckoos.’ ‘Babe’ looked at me and we both cried.”
Well, 65 years later, Laurel and Hardy are back in the headlines. I read recently read that a new movie titled “Stan and Ollie” is scheduled for release in Britain on Oct. 21, and the United States soon afterward.
The advance trailer, which I saw on YouTube, promises a caring story that tells the true account of Laurel and Hardy’s love of performing, and their love for each other.
We hold our breath that the new movie doesn’t fall prey to typical “Hollywood hype” that receives an endless amount of publicity and then disappoints, as so many contemporary films do.
Our hope is the fundamental warmth of their characters comes through, and the film captures the true essence of their friendship built upon gentleness and loyalty to each other, along with their comedic brilliance, without the gratuitous profanity, sarcasm, suggestive material, and character besmirchment that’s all too common today.
I wondered, will a movie about Stan and Ollie generate much interest in our current society? Amazingly, I read that more than 900,000 people had watched the trailer, and many of them took time to make comments – all favorable.
“I can’t wait for ‘Stan and Ollie’. These guys made me laugh when I first watched them as a kid, and they still crack me up now,” one person wrote.
“My dad and I would watch these two funnymen and laugh. My dad is gone now, but I can still hear his laugh when I watch Laurel and Hardy. They were the best,” another said.
“The past grows old, but never dies,” wrote another.
Laurel and Hardy represented a simpler time, and many cherish an opportunity for another glimpse of a time long gone by.
The director of the movie, Jon Baird, recently said, “‘Stan and Ollie’, at its heart, is a love story between old friends, who just happen to be two of the most iconic comedic characters in Hollywood history.”
An emcee once introduced Oliver Hardy with these words: “For years, we sat in the movie theaters and squealed with laughter as this well-intentioned man suffered horribly at the hands of wives, sweethearts, policemen, criminals, landlords, and jealous suitors; but all of these people combined didn’t wound him nearly as deeply as did his constant companion.
“Stan Laurel vexed Oliver Hardy, frustrated him, and inflicted physical havoc upon him at every turn in the road. And yet, you always knew that when the last reel had flickered out, Stan and Ollie would still be together.”
Only death in real life could separate them. When Oliver Hardy died, Stan Laurel vowed to never act again.
He never did.
In the closing scene of the trailer, Mr. Hardy said, “I will miss us when we are gone.”
Mr. Laurel points at Oliver and says, “And so will you.”
Ahh, and so do we.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.