Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel

Laurel circa 1920
Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson
(1890-06-16)16 June 1890
Ulverston, Lancashire, England
Died 23 February 1965(1965-02-23) (aged 74)
Santa Monica, California, United States
Cause of death Heart attack
Other names Stan Jefferson, Stanley Laurel
Occupation Actor, writer, comedian, entertainer, film director
Years active 1910–1955
Spouse(s) Lois Neilson
Virginia Ruth Rogers
(m.1935–1937; 1941–1946; divorced twice)
Vera Ivanova Shuvalova
(m.1938–1940; divorced)
Ida Kitaeva Raphael
(m.1946–1965; his death)
Partner(s) Mae Charlotte Dahlberg
Children 2

Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson; 16 June 1890 – 23 February 1965) was an English comic actor, writer, and film director, most famous for his role in the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.[1] He appeared with his comedy partner Oliver Hardy in 107 short films, feature films, and cameo roles.[2]

Laurel began his career in music hall, where he appropriated a number of his standard comic devices: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and the nonsensical understatement. His performances polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches. Laurel was a member of "Fred Karno's Army," where he was Charlie Chaplin's understudy.[2][3] With Chaplin, the two arrived in the US on the same ship from Britain with the Karno troupe.[4] Laurel began his career in films in 1917 and made his last appearance in 1951. From 1928 onwards, he appeared exclusively with Oliver Hardy. Laurel officially retired from the screen following his comedy partner's death in 1957.

In 1961, Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. Laurel and Hardy ranked top among best double acts and seventh overall in a 2005 UK poll to find the Comedians' Comedian.[5] In 2009, a bronze statue of the duo was unveiled in Laurel's hometown of Ulverston, Cumbria.[6]

Early life

Plaque at Laurel's birthplace in Ulverston

Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in his grandparents' house on 16 June 1890 at 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston, Lancashire (now Cumbria), England.[7] He had two brothers and a sister.

His parents Margaret (Metcalfe) and Arthur Jefferson were both active in the theatre and always very busy. In his early years, the boy spent much time living with his grandmother Sarah Metcalfe.[3] He attended school at King James I Grammar School, Bishop Auckland, County Durham[8] and the King's School, Tynemouth. He moved with his parents to Glasgow, Scotland, where he completed his education at Rutherglen Academy. His father managed Glasgow's Metropole Theatre, where Laurel began work. His boyhood hero was Dan Leno, one of the greatest English music hall comedians.[3] With a natural affinity for the theatre, Laurel gave his first professional performance on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow at the age of 16, where he polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches.[9] It was the music hall from where he drew his standard comic devices, including his bowler hat and nonsensical understatement.[3]

Laurel and Hardy appeared for the first time together in The Lucky Dog (1921).
Statue of Laurel on the site once occupied by the theatre owned by his parents, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, North East England

He joined Fred Karno's troupe of actors in 1910 with the stage name of "Stan Jefferson"; the troupe also included a young Charlie Chaplin. The music hall nurtured him, and he acted as Chaplin's understudy for some time.[2][3] Chaplin and Laurel arrived in the United States on the same ship from Britain with the Karno troupe[4] and toured the country. From 1916 to 1918, he teamed up with Alice Cooke and Baldwin Cooke, who became lifelong friends. Amongst other performers, Laurel worked briefly alongside Oliver Hardy in a silent film short The Lucky Dog (1921). This was before the two were a team.[7]

Short clip of Mud and Sand parody

It was around this time that Laurel met Mae Dahlberg. Around the same time, he adopted the stage surname of Laurel at Dahlberg's suggestion that his stage name Stan Jefferson was unlucky, having thirteen letters. [N 1] The pair were performing together when Laurel was offered $75 per week to star in two-reel comedies. After making his first film Nuts in May, Universal offered him a contract. The contract was soon cancelled during a reorganisation at the studio. Among the films in which Dahlberg and Laurel appeared together was the 1922 parody Mud and Sand, of which a short clip can be seen at the left.

By 1924, Laurel had given up the stage for full-time film work, under contract with Joe Rock for 12 two-reel comedies. The contract had one unusual stipulation: that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films. Rock thought that her temperament was hindering Laurel's career. In 1925, she started interfering with Laurel's work, so Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted.[11] The 12 two-reel comedies were Mandarin Mix-Up (1924), Detained (1924), Monsieur Don't Care (1924), West of Hot Dog (1924), Somewhere in Wrong (1925), Twins (1925), Pie-Eyed (1925), The Snow Hawk (1925), Navy Blue Days (1925), The Sleuth (1925), Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925), Half a Man (1925).

Laurel and Hardy

Main article: Laurel and Hardy
Laurel with Hardy in The Lucky Dog (1921), long before they became a team.

Laurel next signed with the Hal Roach studio, where he began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director.

Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap in 1927, and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup (1927), and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios' supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year.

Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in the lavish all-colour (in Technicolor) musical feature The Rogue Song. Their first starring feature Pardon Us was released in 1931. They continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box, which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.

Trouble at Roach Studio

During the 1930s, Laurel was involved in a dispute with Hal Roach which resulted in the termination of his contract. Roach maintained separate contracts for Laurel and Hardy that expired at different times, so Hardy remained at the studio and was "teamed" with Harry Langdon for the 1939 film Zenobia. The studio discussed a series of films co-starring Hardy with Patsy Kelly to be called "The Hardy Family." But Laurel sued Roach over the contract dispute. Eventually, the case was dropped and Laurel returned to Roach. The first film that Laurel and Hardy made after Laurel returned was A Chump at Oxford. Subsequently, they made Saps at Sea, which was their last film for Roach.

20th Century Fox

Stan Laurel in still from The Tree in a Test Tube (1943), a color short made for the US Department of Agriculture

In 1941, Laurel and Hardy signed a contract at 20th Century Fox to make ten films over five years. During the war years, their work became more standardised and less successful, though The Bullfighters and Jitterbugs did receive some praise. Laurel discovered that he had diabetes, so he encouraged Hardy to make two films without him. In 1946, he divorced Virginia Ruth Rogers and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael.

In 1947, Laurel returned to England when he and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom, and the duo were mobbed wherever they went. Laurel's homecoming to Ulverston took place in May, and the duo were greeted by thousands of fans outside the Coronation Hall.[12] The Evening Mail noted: "Oliver Hardy remarked to our reporter that Stan had talked about Ulverston for the past 22 years and he thought he had to see it."[12] The tour included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London.[12] The success of the tour led them to spend the next seven years touring the UK and Europe.

In 1950, Laurel and Hardy were invited to France to make a feature film. The film was a disaster, a Franco-Italian co-production titled Atoll K. (The film was entitled Utopia in the US and Robinson Crusoeland in the UK.) Both stars were noticeably ill during the filming. Upon returning to the US, they spent most of their time recovering. In 1952, Laurel and Hardy toured Europe successfully, and they returned in 1953 for another tour of the continent. During this tour, Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks.[13]

In May 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour. In 1955, they were planning to do a television series called Laurel and Hardy's Fabulous Fables based on children's stories. The plans were delayed after Laurel suffered a stroke on 25 April, from which he recovered. But as he was planning to get back to work, his partner Hardy had a massive stroke on 14 September 1956, which resulted in his being unable to return to acting.

Hardy's death

Oliver Hardy died on 7 August 1957. Laurel was too ill to attend his funeral and said, "Babe would understand".[2] People who knew Laurel said that he was devastated by Hardy's death and never fully recovered from it. He refused to perform on stage or act in another film without his good friend,[2] although he continued to socialise with his fans.

After Laurel and Hardy

In 1961, Stan Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He had achieved his lifelong dream as a comedian and had been involved in nearly 190 films. He lived his final years in a small flat in the Oceana Apartments in Santa Monica, California.[14]

Laurel was always gracious to fans and spent much time answering fan mail. His phone number (OXford-0614)[15][16][17][18] was listed in the telephone directory,[19] and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to him directly.

Jerry Lewis was among the numerous comedians to visit Laurel, who offered suggestions for Lewis's production of The Bellboy (1960). Lewis paid tribute to Laurel by naming his main character Stanley in the film, and having Bill Richmond play a version of Laurel as well.[20] Dick Van Dyke told a similar story. When he was just starting his career, he looked up Laurel's phone number, called him, and then visited him at his home. Van Dyke played Laurel on "The Sam Pomerantz Scandals" episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Laurel was offered a cameo role in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), but he turned it down. He did not want to be on screen in his old age,[4] especially without Oliver Hardy.

Personal life

Laurel and Dahlberg never married, but lived together as common-law husband and wife from 1919 to 1925.[21]

Laurel also had four wives and married one of them a second time after their divorce.[22]

Laurel married his first wife, Lois Neilson, on 13 August 1926. In December 1927, during the early years of Laurel and Hardy's partnership, Laurel and Neilson had a baby girl, also named Lois,[23] who later married actor Rand Brooks. In May 1930, their second child, Stanley Robert Laurel, died after nine days.[24]

In December 1934, Laurel divorced Lois[23] and in 1935 married Virginia Ruth Rogers. In 1938, he divorced Virginia and married Vera Ivanova Shuvalova. By 1941, he had divorced Vera and remarried Virginia. In 1946, he divorced Virginia and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael, with whom he remained until his death.


Stan Laurel's grave at Forest Lawn.

Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly quitting around 1960.[25] In January 1965, he underwent a series of x-rays for an infection on the roof of his mouth.[26] He died on 23 February 1965, aged 74, four days after suffering a heart attack on 19 February.[27] Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse that he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment. Somewhat taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. "I'm not," said Laurel, "I'd rather be doing that than this!" A few minutes later, the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair.[28]

At his funeral, silent screen comedian Buster Keaton was overheard talking about Laurel's talent: "Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I wasn't the funniest, this man was the funniest." Keaton himself died of lung cancer one year later in February 1966. Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy[29] as a friend, protégé, and occasional impressionist of Laurel during his later years. He read "The Clown's Prayer".[30]

Laurel had earlier quipped: "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again."[5]

Laurel was cremated and his ashes were interred in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery.


Statue of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy outside the Coronation Hall Theatre, Ulverston, Cumbria, England

Laurel and Hardy are featured on the cover of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).[31]

In 1989, a statue of Laurel was erected in Dockwray Square, North Shields, Tyne and Wear, England where he lived at No. 8 from 1897 to 1902. The steps down from the Square to the North Shields Fish Quay were said to have inspired the piano-moving scene in The Music Box. In a 2005 UK poll, Comedians' Comedian, Laurel and Hardy were ranked top among best double acts, and seventh overall.[5]

Neil Brand wrote a radio play entitled Stan, broadcast in 2004 on BBC Radio 4 and subsequently on BBC Radio 4 Extra,[32] starring Tom Courtenay as Stan Laurel, in which Stan visits Oliver Hardy after Hardy has suffered his stroke and tries to say the things to his dying friend and partner that have been left unsaid. In 2006, BBC Four showed a drama called Stan, based on Brand's radio play, in which Laurel meets Hardy on his deathbed and reminisces about their career.[33]

A plaque on the Bull Inn, Bottesford, Leicestershire, England, marks Laurel and Hardy appearing in Nottingham over Christmas 1952, and staying with Laurel's sister, Olga, who was the landlady of the pub.[34]

In 2008, a statue of Stan Laurel was unveiled in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on the site of the Eden Theatre.[35] In April 2009, a bronze statue of Laurel and Hardy was unveiled in Ulverston.[6][36]

There is a Laurel and Hardy Museum in Stan's hometown of Ulverston. There are two Laurel and Hardy museums in Hardy's hometown of Harlem, Georgia. One is operated by the town of Harlem, and the other is a private museum owned and operated by Gary Russeth, a Harlem resident.

In 2013, Gail Louw and Jeffrey Holland debuted a short one-man play "…And this is my friend Mr Laurel" at the Camden Fringe festival. The play, starring Holland as Laurel, was taken on tour of the UK in 2014 until June 2015.[37]

In an upcoming film, Stan & Ollie, Laurel will be played by English comedian Steve Coogan, and Hardy by American actor John C. Reilly.[38] Developed by BBC Films, the film is set in the twilight of their careers, and will focus on their farewell tour of Britain's variety halls in 1953.[38]




  1. Laurel disputes this and claims that it just "sounded good."[10]


  1. "Obituary." Variety, 3 March 1965, p. 69.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Rawlngs, Nate. "Top 10 Across-the-Pond Duos", Time, 20 July 2010. Retrieved: 18 June 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 McCabe 2005, p. 143. Robson, 2005 Retrieved: 18 June 2012
  4. 1 2 3 Cavett, Dick (7 September 2012). "The Fine Mess-Maker at Home". New York Times.
  5. 1 2 3 "The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood", p. 95. McFarland, 2011.
  6. 1 2 "Statue honours Laurel and Hardy." BBC, 19 April 2009. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  7. 1 2 Midwinter, Eric. "Laurel, Stan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2006. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  8. "Plea to save Stan Laurel's school." The Laurel & Hardy Forum. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  9. Bowers 2007, pp. 143–147.
  10. McCabe 1961, p. 18.
  11. Bergan 1992, p. 33.
  12. 1 2 3 "Stan at Queen's first Royal Variety Show". North West Evening Mail.
  13. Bergen 1992, p. 118.
  14. "Latter." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Archive Project. Retrieved: 8 September 2012.
  16. "Old Telephone Exchange Names - Los Angeles County". Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  17. Telephone exchange names
  18. "Exchanging Times". Los Angeles Times. 1996-12-15. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  19. "Western Section of the Los Angeles Extended Area Telephone Directory with Classified Section for Beverly Hills." The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1951.
  20. Brody, Richard. "Front Row: Jerry Lewis, Writer", New Yorker, 5 May 2011. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
  21. Simon Louvish, Stan and Ollie, The Roots of Comedy, Faber & Faber 2001 ISBN 0-571-21590-4
  22. Harnisch, Larry. "Stan Laurel's stormy marriage full of off-screen drama." Los Angeles Times, 21 June 2009. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  23. 1 2 "Lois Neilson Laurel". Find A Grave, Inc. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  24. "Stan Laurel." Find A Grave. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  25. "Correspondence: April 4–29, 1964." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Project via Retrieved: 20 August 2011.
  26. "Correspondence: January 4–29, 1965." The Stan Laurel Correspondence Project via Retrieved: 10 August 2011.
  27. "Stan Laurel Dies. Teamed With Oliver Hardy in 200 Slapstick Films-Played 'Simple' Foil." The New York Times, 24 February 1965. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  28. Bergen 1992, pp. 119–120.
  30. Levy 2005, p. 5.
  32. "BBC Four Cinema - Silent Cinema Season." BBC. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  33. "The Battle for Bottesford – the border town of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire." Leicestershire Magazine, 31 July 2010. Retrieved: 6 October 2010.
  34. Roberts, Will. "Laurel proves Hardy after disaster delays: Statue of Laurel arrives in Bishop Auckland." thenorthernecho, 13 August 2008. Retrieved: 20 March 2010.
  35. "Hundreds attend Laurel and Hardy statue unveiling", The Telegraph. Retrieved: 25 July 2012.
  36. "'…And this is my friend Mr Laurel'", Retrieved: 2 March 2015
  37. 1 2 "Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will be Laurel and Hardy in Stan & Ollie". Empire magazine. 18 January 2016.


  • Bergen, Ronald. The Life and Times of Laurel and Hardy. New York: Smithmark, 1992. ISBN 0-8317-5459-1.
  • Bowers, Judith. Stan Laurel and Other Stars of the Panopticon: The Story of the Britannia Music Hall. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2007. ISBN 1-84158-617-X.
  • Louvish, Simon. Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy. London: Faber & Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-21590-4.
  • Marriot, A.J. Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours. Hitchen, Herts, UK: AJ Marriot, 1993. ISBN 0-9521308-0-7.
  • Levy, Joe, ed. Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. New York: Wenner Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1-932958-61-4.
  • McCabe, John. Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy. London: Robson Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-86105-781-4.
  • McCabe, John. Comedy World of Stan Laurel. London: Robson Books, 2005, First edition 1975. ISBN 978-1-86105-780-8.
  • McCabe, John. Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy: An Affectionate Biography. London: Robson Books, 2004, First edition 1961, ISBN 1-86105-606-0.
  • Stone, Rob. Laurel or Hardy: The Solo Films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Temecula, California: Split Reel Books, 1996
  • Okuda, Ted and James L. Neibaur. Stan Without Ollie: The Stan Laurel Solo Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2012
  • Guiles, Fred Lawrence. Stan: The Life of Stan Laurel. New York: Stein and Day., 1980
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