Our Relations - Pressbook Stories
"Working, if that's what you'd call it, at the little Roach studios, after navigating the politics at that draconian Mr. Mayer's movie factory ... well, it was like a paid vacation. I spent six months preparing pressbook stories for Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy. I loved it!
"From Hal Roach himself down through little Sammy Brooks who shined your shoes, I liked those people. I liked what they were doing, and they did too. You know, Walt Disney created Disneyland. Roach should have! A place like Disneyland should have arisen out of Hal Roach Studios. It was that much fun --a playground you didn't want to leave. I've never forgotten it."
From Dick Hurley's pressbook on OUR RELATIONS, we learn that Stan Laurel nearly named himself "Stan Still." According to the story, on stage and faced with the need to abbreviate "Stan Jefferson" for marquee and other billing purposes, Laurel long flirted with the notion of adopting the name, Stan Still. "I liked the idea of 'Stan Still,'" Laurel told Hurley, "but it would be funny now to be listed as 'Still and Hardy.'"
Laurel explained he was once known as "Ginger" while a boy in England because his hair was so red. The color toned down as he grew up. Also when young he wanted to become a dramatic actor in hopes of making his father proud, but abandoned this yen owing to a slight lisp in his voice. Laurel's other early passions included marbles, liver for breakfast, and the desire to own a stationary store.
The pressbook contains a story Stan Laurel told again years later to boyhood neighbors in New York's Queens Village, comedian Chuck McCann and caricaturist Al Kilgore, names well known to one particular organized group of Stan and Ollie stalwarts. In the fall of l9l0, the then Stan Jefferson and his friend Charles Chaplin arrived together in America as actors in Fred Karno's London company of comedy performers. For their New York City debut stage appearance, the 21 year-old Chaplin and 20 year-old Laurel stayed in an actors boarding house called The Red Apple, on Fourteenth Street, near what would later be a well-known, even notorious still photo shop, Movie Star News.
According to English custom, before retiring for the evening, the two young Britishers put their shoes outside the shabby hotel room door to be shined overnight. In the morning their footwear was gone -- stolen. Welcome lads, to New York, New York. The town so nice, they named it twice. Perhaps, as depicted l9 years later in BERTH MARKS (1929), their shoes appeared to be so worn out that the shoeshine boy just threw them away. More likely, The Red Apple had no shoeshine boy. The Big Apple, did, however, have its share of heartless thieves.
The two astonished boy actors borrowed carpet slippers for their first trip -- made on foot -- to a theater in New York. Where their first show was a flop anyway. Lois Laurel heard the same story, and remembered her dad said they "walked through the streets of Manhattan wearing velvet slippers with funny candles on the toes!"
In l959 Stan Laurel told Boyd Verb for FILMS IN REVIEW his opinion of Chaplin (then an object of much misguided American political hatred), "I don't think there's any greater in the business or ever will be. He's the greatest artist that was ever on the screen. In real life I only knew him when we were together in the old days of vaudeville. He was just a regular guy and I always found him quite pleasant."
Chuck McCann recalls another aspect of the story surrounding those early days in New York. It concerned "table humor," a phrase well known to comedians in 1910. After travelling two weeks crossing the ocean seasick on a storm-swept cattle boat, Laurel and Chaplin arrived in America with virtually no money. They couldn't afford to eat in a nice restaurant, or any restaurant. So they would sneak food into their room, cooking with a hot plate, which was forbidden.
For their own dining amusement, Laurel and Chaplin worked out an intricate miniature chorus line of sorts, using vegetables, rolls, and whatever eating utensils they possessed. So here were two indigent, ragged-looking entertainers playing with food every night in an imaginary pantomime and puppet show staged at what passed for their dining room table. No tickets were sold, and no one saw this show. They were their own audience, these two unknowns, Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.
Fifteen years later, attending a screening of THE GOLD RUSH (l925), it brought tears to Stan Laurel's eyes to see only a small part of their private dinner routine integrated into what was already a poignant scene, now known to Chaplin fans as the ingenious "Dance of the Rolls." Chaplin used forks to spear a pair of bread rolls which magically became boots and legs in a high-kicking dance, with the related effort behind every movement reflected in Chaplin's expressive face.
To watch Chuck McCann tell this story is to see the nostalgia of Stan Laurel's visage, as well as the wistful thoughts of Chaplin, brought back to life, as he enacted that piercing scene from THE GOLD RUSH.
On the subject of enacting dual roles in OUR RELATIONS, which required appearing in virtually every scene, Laurel was quoted in the pressbook, "Many times we had to look at the clothes we were wearing to tell which was which and who was who." The variety of costuming helped also in defining their characters for audiences who were often equally confused. Just as LeRoy Shield's music score, like the differing outfits, informed us in a subtle but effective way which twins we were viewing on screen.
By several accounts, director Harry Lachman was prone to insist upon elaborate and realistic sets. His films were always pictorially interesting, with a solid look to them. So on OUR RELATIONS he was intimately involved with set design. In the pressbook much attention is given to the architecture, construction and ornamentation of the palatial pirate ship cafe: "The elaborate production of OUR RELATIONS to furnish Laurel & Hardy with an artistic and lavish background for their inimitable type of screen comedy is carrying out Hal Roach's announced plan to desert the two-reel comedy field with the heaviest schedule of full-length features he has ever programmed."
Besides l50 fashionably-gowned women and formally attired men, the lavish set featured, as reported in the pressbook, an orchestra "playing the tuneful musical scores of LeRoy Shield, NBC musical director in Chicago."
Renamed as "Lake Laurel & Hardy" on the Hal Roach lot in l954, back in the l920s and l930s this Our Gang playground was variously known as "the fish pond," "the goldfish pool," and "the studio water tank." Driving through what laughingly served as the gate, and passing by the apartment on the west side of the administration building where the parents of Hal Roach lived, the greatly admired pool and surrounding lawn and flowers was the first thing visitors to the studio observed.
Spanky McFarland -- who enjoyed fishing his entire life -- liked to troll for goldfish in the studio tank. Luckily the Little Rascals troupe was on a personal appearance tour beginning in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis when a corps of carpenters transposed the pool into a wooden dock wharf for the waterfront scenes during the climax of OUR RELATIONS. The structure was l50 feet long, and 30 feet high. Our Gang's pet goldfish were carefully netted for transfer to a temporary holding tank during filming. Since these were supposed to be night scenes, a tent was set up over the dock and tank in order to shut out the sunlight, although according to studio production documents many shooting days ran into nights and on seven occasions past midnight!
With the construction underway, Dick Hurley recounted for the pressbook that when Babe Hardy drove into the studio he told the little old man who "guarded" the place, "Well, it looks like the trap is set for me to get another ducking."
In l963, when the entire Hal Roach plant was being torn down, Stan Laurel wrote Mike Polacek, "We used the studio pool many times -- spent many long and sometimes wet nights there, often till daybreak. A lot of happy memories there." Laurel did not name OUR RELATIONS in his correspondence, but certainly it must have been one of the films he was thinking of.
The pressbook reprinted a single-panel cartoon illustration from Wiley Padan's IT'S TRUE feature which disclosed, "Oliver Hardy weighs 265 pounds, his mother weighs 220, his father weighed 25l, his brothers and sisters, as well as his four aunts and uncles, all weighed 200 pounds or more." Elsewhere in the same OUR RELATIONS pressbook, one can read that Hardy weighed 285 pounds ("30 pounds over his normal weight"). Plus there is a third item headlined "How Much Do Laurel & Hardy Weigh?" To accommodate a "public guess-contest" in a Paris newspaper, the "lean and fat funny men" stood on the scales to reveal their heaviest weights ever. Stan Laurel weighed l67, Oliver Hardy -- this time -- totalled a momentous 303. Take your pick.
OUR RELATIONS was the first Hal Roach film to record sound using non-directional microphones. This new recording instrument was designed to pick up sound from any direction and allowed actors more freedom of movement because they didn't have to be positioned directly in front of the microphone.
This caused some trouble at the outset during the serene and peaceful afternoon tea domestic scenes. The extremely sensitive mike picked up the ambient sound of Stan munching on the celery. It was so distracting they decided to emphasize the resounding crunches for comedy, but from then on everyone knew to take extra precautions against all noise on and off the set.
Dick Hurley remembered scenes shot in the pirate cafe were difficult because of the heat. It was very hot outside, and inside the stage was not air conditioned. What was then known as "refrigerated air," was a luxury to be found in no Hollywood manufacturing operation. To keep cool, according to Hurley's recollection, both Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy consumed adult beverages, usually delivered by Patsy Kelly. She was shooting her last Hal Roach two-reeler, HILL TILLIES, on the next stage.
Hurley also explained that during scenes for the film's climax, Hardy, Laurel and their stunt doubles wore wooden supports that fit inside and up around their waists in order to be able to stand up and maintain their balance while supposedly anchored in cement. Working wet, late, hot, behind schedule, wearing wood beneath their clothes, plus being abused by Alan Hale, Sidney Toler, Jimmie Finlayson, two gangsters and four women -- is it any wonder they overate?
After concluding the picture at last, the studio staged a celebration to commemorate Laurel & Hardy's ten-year anniversary as a comedy team. The following excerpt from a publicity release was close enough to the truth to warrant excerpting:
"Stan and Oliver have not had a single disagreement since Hal Roach brought them together in March of l926. A few months ago there was a report of a clash, but both Laurel and Hardy, as well as Hal Roach, deny that it was true. The producer has the stars signed to individual contracts and not as a team, and they have always managed to work together harmoniously -- one might say hilariously, as there is always a riot of fun on a Laurel and Hardy set with the principals the ring leaders....
"The comedy stars have this to say about their ten years together:
"Laurel: I cannot recall the exact day but I remember well that it was in August of l926 that Hal Roach got Oliver and myself together and proposed that we play as a team.
"Hardy: Those were the days of the silents when Stan was writing, directing and acting and I was playing 'heavy roles' on the Roach lot.
"Laurel: We both welcomed the opportunity. We seemed to click from the start, have had a barrel of fun and haven't a regret.
"Hardy: Perhaps the reason we have gotten along without a single disagreement or cross word of any kind is that we play such opposite types. I couldn't possibly do the stuff Stan does, and in turn Stan couldn't do my stuff.
"Laurel: Oliver is the greatest fellow in the world to work with. His antics and facial expressions amuse me fully as much as they do audiences and I have to fight hard to maintain a blank expression and go through with my part."
So someone performed research preparing that piece. Although he had worked for Roach before as a "day player," beginning with WILD PAPA in the spring of l925, Babe Hardy did sign his first contract with Roach in February of l926, to take effect in March, following an engagement with Larry Semon referred to in the agreement. Therefore as of March, l926, both Hardy and Laurel were individually employed by Roach. And August of l926 was when 45 MINUTES FROM HOLLYWOOD was made. Both actors did appear, but someone constructing a story in l936 wouldn't know Hardy and Laurel were not a team in that film without screening it.
Nevertheless, in retrospect these were the earliest dates one could point to (and also support with physical evidence) for the purpose of designing a scenario whereby Hal Roach planned to pair Hardy with Laurel, and then actually did so. Yet after so many years of scrutinizing how Hardy came to be teamed with Laurel, few would accept this pressbook puffery as gospel. But some might. We will never know for sure exactly what happened, and the recorded memories of those who were there are inconsistent and irreconcilable, but it is a fact that the script for DUCK SOUP, which presents the pair as the fully-formed, familiar team of Laurel & Hardy, was begun in August of l926. It is possible that this pressbook version of how Laurel & Hardy were teamed, written only a decade after the fact, may be essentially correct!
One reason for the success and harmony of Stan and Babe as partners on and off screen was the absolute division of responsibility. Unless the motion picture camera was turning in front of them, Mr. Hardy left everything to Mr. Laurel. As he told Tony Thomas for a recorded interview in l957, "Well, Babe wasn't serious -- you know -- he loved to play. He didn't hold much interest in the production of the pictures. I would never see him between pictures. I think that our success in that situation was due to the fact that we never mixed socially....I did all the worrying....There was never any jealousy between the team because of Babe's attitude that he left everything to me. He was very happy to know that he didn't have to be worried or have any responsibility at all. He didn't accept the responsibility."
In a program funded by Bob Dickson, on May 2, 2000 the UCLA Film and Television Archive presented a program of Laurel & Hardy rarities which included a Hearst Metrotone Newsreel clip dated August 20, l932 showing Stan Laurel and Babe Hardy stopping by New York en route to Europe on a vacation. Their appearance everywhere seemed to draw enormous crowds, and on this occasion they improvised a routine for the newsreel cameras. Having caused a traffic jam, the boys receive a lecture from the cop on the beat. Even with their hair slicked back and dressed stylishly, the team slipped easily into their characters -- with one telling exception. At the end of the quite obviously spontaneous skit, Hardy accepts the ticket and says, "My friend," gesturing to Laurel while passing him the citation, "he takes care of all the business for us."
Dick Hurley, who in the OUR RELATIONS pressbook had rewritten for public consumption what Laurel & Hardy told him about their partnership, was himself interviewed about the team over Twin Cities television in l974. "They were a delight, those two," Hurley recalled, beaming. "Babe was a very polite person. Stan was more outgoing, livelier, always laughing. Both were gentlemen in the extreme, and so modest, you wouldn't believe it. They were working all right, there would be pressure, but no one could tell from looking at Stan and Babe, quietly talking things over, rehearsing.
"The only problem I ever saw was this. One day Spencer Tracy stopped by to see Hal Roach about something, probably polo. Mickey Rooney came with him. They both came right over from Metro, just two minutes away. Rooney stayed on the set for a while, watching whatever was going on. He was then and always a precocious brat. He had the crust to greet Babe in a loud voice and slap him on the back. You could see Babe bristled, was mad, but didn't say anything. Although I saw Babe exchange one angry look with Stan, who in turn smiled and shook his head as if to say, 'Don't let it bother you.'"
Rooney knew Hardy from Santa Anita, where both bet on the horses. In a big way. As a boy Rooney wagered and lost $2, on something. So he tried to bet another sum and win back the $2. The 80 year-old Rooney, once the number one boxoffice draw in the world, now says he has spent $20 million in an attempt to get even. He failed.
During the l970s and l980s, as founder of Santa Anita, Hal Roach often spent Sundays there in the directors' room, holding court, presiding over social activities, and watching the races. Going up an escalator with Roach one Sunday in 1979, I saw Mickey Rooney in the crowd below and said so. "Yes, well, keep that guy away from me," Roach barked. I thought maybe Rooney still harbored a grudge against Roach for having been turned away from Our Gang. Not it. "He's lost a fortune here," Roach said only half-kidding, "and he resents me because he thinks I have all his money. I am tired of hearing about it."
An honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement was presented to Rooney in l983. Roach received his Oscar the following year.
One exploitation angle reported in the pressbook for OUR RELATIONS was a nation-wide contest sponsored by Hal Roach Studios and SCREEN BOOK MAGAZINE. $500 in cash and prizes were offered for photographs of persons who could pass as doubles for Laurel & Hardy. The contest began July 28 and closed at midnight, October l0, l936.
And for exploitation purposes, exhibitors were cautioned to "hammer that 'full length comedy' phrase in everything you do. Don't run the risk in any promotion undertaking of having your public mistake this picture for a short subject -- which they will do if you aren't careful."
Finally, in l936 the Laurel & Hardy Club in Paris sent their idols a giant wooden postcard, filled with thousands of signatures and dedications from fans across France. Somehow the six-foot wide card was delivered through the mail. A marvelous photo survives showing Laurel & Hardy standing behind this thing. The studio put it on display and all visitors to the OUR RELATIONS set were asked to add their own autographs in exchange for one from the comedy team.
When English comedy writer Tony Hawes married Stan Laurel's daughter Lois, they inaugurated a Sons of the Desert chapter in the western end of the San Fernando Valley, part of Los Angeles. If anyone, anywhere, was ever entitled to name their tent after the film OUR RELATIONS, it was this couple. And so they did. Meetings were held at a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard near their home, the same residence where Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were filmed visiting Lois and her family in l956, in color -- a private home movie taken by a fan friend of Stan Laurel's which through no fault of his has been widely duplicated and sold in recent decades.
-- by Richard W. Bann --