Living your life through the eyes of another and wanting to be someone else is the focus of the life of Stan Laurel. Stan Laurel lived in the shadows of two men: Babe Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. His life was modeled and mirrored around both of these men but in different ways. Whether the depiction of Laurel’s life is fact or fiction the reader is able to get to know this man in many different lights. Beginning with the document that states that he changed his name to Stan Laurel and then entering the pages of this book getting to know him in his declining days or years living in his Oceana apartment he takes readers back and forth to many days, months, encounters and years with his love and partnership for Oliver Hardy. Laurel had man women and men in his life as well as his focus on art. Throughout the later or chapters that you might think focus in the present you can feel his pain, the ghost of Chaplin that hangs over his head and how he tried his best to emulate this man’s acting, comedic and vocal abilities in every acting job he received. Working on Fred Karno’s vaudeville circuit, married numerous times you can feel the struggling, his anguish and yet at all times his pride for his craft and himself shines through.
He is vocal in many ways and yet he just wanted as so many others to be Chaplin, but there was only one.
Throughout many of the short but succinct chapters the author shares Laurel’s life with his common-law-wife Mae who feels she stands in his shadow and wants starring roles, although up to them in many respects in the plays or movies that he has been hired to act in. Many times he requests of producers like Jimmy Parrot or Hal Roach that Mae has to receive a role in it as part of his contract not or may he did realize her limitations and chose to ignore them. In many of the venues where he acted he dealt with sharing dressing rooms, listening to the other actors, those that drank and even those whose behavior was inappropriate.
Laurel loved women and even Charley Chase’s wife BeBe realized that he loved many types of woman and wished that Charley would not cost specific types in his movies. Jealous ran paramount in this case, as BeBe did not like viewing movies with these types of females. Chaplin was a womanizer and he abused many while Hollywood protected him.
Getting to know Laurel we learn about his four wives and the one he remarried. We learn about the death of his son and we also learn that Mae would be a part of his life good or bad for a long time.
Oliver Hardy was married to Myrtle and drank. But, Laurel envisioned him in his own mind and his relationship as depicted in this novel never seems to have any blemishes Laurel’s eyes or viewpoints.
Hal Roach is one man that Laurel dealt with and both his and Hardy’s paperwork or contracts were written in such a way that neither could quit at the same exact time. Laurel just wanted fame and respect but would that ever come and at what price?
The author shares many different encounters that Laurel has with Chaplin, Joe Rock and even Hal Roach but in reality it seems that Laurel was always living in the shadow of others and trying to justify his actions and his feelings for Babe and others. Deleting Mae from his life, although it took quite a while to realize that her main purpose in life was Mae and no one else, he drifted to many different people for work and at times you can see and hear his frustration. Chaplin was untouchable and the author shares his fees and what he was paid. Roach does not even come close nor does anyone else. Chaplin married and had relations with more women than he had fingers and toes plus children that I wonder if he even dealt with at all.
Laurel and Hardy did not rise to stardom on an easy ticket or plane and at times you wonder what kind of a tightrope each of these men might have climbed in order to feel successful without falling down into the net. Harold Lloyd was part of his life but Hal Roach’s studios for the most part was paramount and his mainstay for work
Dealing with personalities was front and center and each of these great comedians never realized how unique their talents were and that they did not have to measure up to Chaplin but they did. Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and so many during this time period brought more than just laughter into the homes and hearts of people.
Betrayals are at the heart of this book, love, despair, feelings of dejection, humiliation and at times an add way of expressing how he felt about Babe Hardy and the sadness when he died. All of these men had affairs including Charlie Chase, Keaton and each person prominent in this novel and mentioned and yet wives ignored the truth but Laurel’s quests would hang over him but he never seemed happy or content with himself.
When Motion Picture news compared Laurel to Chaplin it gave him a huge ego boot. Wanting to work for Broncho Billy Anderson he could not and travel the vaudeville circle because he and Mae formed a partnership and as you learn more about their union or common law marriage you will realize that she was like an albatross around his neck refusing to allow him to soar without her hanging on to his coattails.
Her words ring out every time when she says:” What is there in it for me?
Chaplin seems to be everyone’s idol and model and Hal Roach is not paying him enough and he began quarreling more with Mae. Never realizing that he might have been better and not have lost so much of his money if he did not get married and divorced so often and of course remarried.
Stan Laurel’s voice comes through as we learn about him at his prime and we understand his life when in his declining years. His self-esteem it seemed was measured not on what he could accomplish or the fact that he was a great actor and could do movies, short skits, short movies and his Laurel and Hardy show, but he valued his self-worth based on the opinions of audiences and others in the field.
The author shares his affiliations with Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Hardy and learns that a partnership is where his success might be. Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were so funny that I wonder if they ever realized how many smiles they brought to the faces of so many who watched them. Babe drank, gambled, played golf and cheated on many of his wives with so many women and wound up paying tons of alimony and more. Stan finds his niche but yet never feels comfortable and he too relishes his hope to become great but the divorces, the contracts with loopholes and the film studios with their issues and the amounts he was paid at times, let readers know that things were not cut and dry and that paying him and others seemed on a scale of whatever Hal Roach would dole out.
Ben Shipman handled all of Laurel’s legal problems and financial issues never once faltering, and always there to take hold of each and every dire situation. Ruth, Vera, Mae and many others tormented this man’s ego and mind and only wanted, and I wonder if he realized it to be apt of his fame and definitely get part of his bank accounts. When he is offered a contract from the studio is takes Ben to deal with the issues of investments, salaries and the contract. But, as the author shares Laurel’s voice: What is he without BABE!
Stan had a son that his ghost passing away even before he could smile within 9 days of his birth haunts him.
The author allows us the first glimpse of non silent movies, the Talkies and the fact that now studios had to deal with voices and actors being able to deliver their lines not silently but for audiences to hear and understand.
The book is told in a time line fashion over the many years and the history of vaudeville, talking movies and working with Joseph Kennedy and RKO theaters. He and Laurel both had a relationship of some sort with Alyce Ardell.
Babe and Myrtle had an explosive relationship and at times he feared her when she was drunk, abusive, violent and as you read more you learn about her being placed in a sanitarium, asking for alimony and more and then taking her back too many times until it might be too late.
Hal Roach hired Fred Karno and the end result was promises made to create roles and movies and the end result was disastrous for Roach. Page 196 describes Hal to a T and you get to understand his personality and why he appears to be tight, but not mean and why he wishes that his two biggest stars were happier men.
At times as you get closer to the end and learn more about their court cases, divorces, remarriages and the birth of talkies and the contracts that had to be signed and why certain terminology was used, you realize that both Laurel and Hardy never seemed content for a long period of time. Human emotions, two great artists that brought joy into so many homes and made you laugh and cry, I wonder if they ever realized the impact they had on viewers?
At one point Roach terminates their contracts telling it to the press and then contradicts himself and says he terminated his own. Ben Shipman comes in and discusses how Babe wishes to be paid properly as the author flashes to Oceana Apartments and Laurel’s revelry: He had a son. He had Babe. ALL GONE!
Meeting Vera, getting arrested and the many women who had holds on both of these men you wonder whether they would have succeeded better if alone. Laurel married Lois, Ruth, relationship with Ardell and more and then his instructions to Shipman will surprise you. UNTIL AT LAST ALONE!
So many alive, so many gone and then Babe is gone and that took its final toll on him. Read chapter 203 and listen for the final applause.
A story so well defined and two artists that will always remain in the hearts and minds of so many. To remind myself of their humor and fantastic ways of delivering comedy I watched several movies on UTUBE and the world will always have Laurel and Hardy.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine