the early 1900’s, a struggling actor called Arthur Stanley Jefferson visited Darwen on two occasions. He was never top of the bill and he may not have set the stage alight, but he was later to become one part of one of the greatest comedy double-acts ever…Laurel & Hardy.
In 1905 Arthur Stanley Jefferson made his mind up to be a comedian, against his father’s wishes. His father had put Stan in full time employment, behind the scenes, at the Metropole Theatre in Glasgow. Unknown to his father, he had built up an act and gave himself a couple of tryouts on amateur night every Friday at The Britannia Theatre, the oldest music hall in town. Eventually his father realized where he was going and one night as Stan came onto the stage he saw his father was standing at the back of the room.
After the show, Stan dashed back to the Metropole, only to find his father waiting for him. In his office, Stan expected the worst, but his father praised him for his performance and offered him a drink. Stan recalled it as “the greatest moment of his life”. Now that his father realised that Stan was determined to pursue his career as a comedian, he decided that it was better to get him off to a good start and used his position to get Stan an audition for the Levy & Cardwell Juvenile Pantomime Company. Stan proved his worth and his first show was the pantomime “Sleeping Beauty” in 1907...
The show toured the UK, starting in Sunderland on the 30th September 1907 and finishing on the 20th April 1908 at the Grand & Opera House in Hartlepool. During the tour they played in Darwen at the Theatre Royal from Monday 18th November for one week before moving on. The preview, shown here from The Darwen News, is quite encouraging...
…Stan actually received in mention in some reviews, such as this one from the performance in Carlisle…
Stan was back in Darwen in January 1909. He was still performing with the Levy & Cardwell Juvenile Company but this year’s pantomime was “The House That Jack Built” ...
A week before rehearsals began, Stan was rocked by the death of his mother, Madge, on the 1st December 1908. She had been ill for a while but when she died it knocked poor Stan sideways. Immediately after the funeral, Stan had to hide his grief and start rehearsing for the show, which started a week later at the Royal in Tyldesley, Manchester. On the 18th January they were to return to the Theatre Royal in Darwen for a weeks run.
Stan was working his way up the cast list and on this occasion. Although it was only a minor role, he continued to shine. “The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe” was the story, which was part nursery rhyme, part fantasy but also included some humour involving a motorcar, driven by Harold & Percy, played by Ireland Cutter & Stan. The reviews were very good, the one above is from the Northern Daily Telegraph and the following one is from the Darwen News, but unfortunately these do not mention Stan directly.
However, this review from the Castleford performance does mention Stan…
tried to make it as a solo comedian after the pantomime run finished and then joined the Percy Williams Company and then Fred Karno’s Celebrated Troup of Comedians that included one Charlie Chaplin in their ranks. On touring the USA, Stan decided to stay in the States to try his luck as a writer and director but a name change, a kitchen mishap for a certain Oliver Hardy led to Stan returning to the stage and the rest is history...
Roger Booth with special thanks to “A.J.” Marriot and his excellent publication “Laurel & Hardy – The British Tours”. Please visit his website http://www.laurelandhardythebritishtours.com/ for more about Laurel & Hardy.
Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born on 16th June 1890 at 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston, Cumbria. His parents Arthur & Madge were both active in the Theatre and Stan was raised around the music halls of the North East. He attended school at the King James I Grammar School in Bishop Auckland. He made his first appearance on stage at the Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow at the age of 16. He then appeared in various touring companies that toured the UK. He made his first trip to America in 1910 as a member of the Fred Karno Troupe of Comedians, which also included Charlie Chaplin. Stan remained in the USA, touring in vaudeville and landing the occasional movie role.
He first appeared with Oliver Hardy in “The Lucky Dog” but this was before they became a duo. It was around this time that he met Mae Dahlberg; she suggested that he change his surname to Laurel and she became his common-law wife for the next six years. He was offered a contract by Universal after appearing in “Nuts In May” with Mae. The contract was soon cancelled due to a re-organization at the studio however. Whilst under contract with Joe Rock, Mae started interfering with Stan’s work and Rock, in an effort to get rid of her, offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted. In 1926 Stan married Lois Neilson and in 1928 they had a daughter, Lois. In May 1930 they produced a son, Stanley Robert Laurel, but he died at the age of only 9 days. Stan Laurel went on to join the Hal Roach studios as a writer and director but in 1927, fate intervened. Oliver Hardy, who was another member of the Hal Roach studio, was injured in a kitchen mishap and Stan was asked to return to acting. He began to act regularly and soon started to share the screen with Oliver Hardy, they became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. The Laurel & Hardy series was born. Together they began producing a large collection of short films including "Be Big!", "The Battle of the Century" & "Should Married Men Go Home?" and successfully made the transition to talking films. They won an Oscar in 1932 for “The Music Box”.
In 1935, Stan divorced Lois and married Virginia Ruth Rogers. They divorced after only two years but were re-married in 1941 after Stan had married his third wife, Vera Ivanova Shuvalova (1938-1940). When their contract with Hal Roach expired, the duo signed with 20th Century Fox. It was during this time that Stan discovered he had diabetes and he encouraged Oliver to make a couple of films without him. In 1946 he divorced Virginia and married Ida Kitaeva Raphael with whom he had a happy marriage until his death. The duo made two successful tours of Europe in 1952 and 1953-54 but it was during this tour that Stan fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks. Oliver then had a heart attack and the rest of the tour was cancelled. In 1955 they were planning to do a television series but it was delayed because Stan suffered a stroke. Although he recovered, on 15th September 1956 Oliver also suffered a massive stroke and was paralysed, unable to speak and bedridden for several months.
On 7th August 1957, Oliver Hardy died. Amazingly, Stan did not attend his funeral, just saying, “Babe would understand”. Stan would never act again now that his long-time friend was gone, but he did continue to write for other comedians. Friends of Stan said he was absolutely devastated by Ollie’s death and never recovered.
In 1961 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar for his work. He saw out his final years in an apartment in the Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica. He spent his time answering fan mail and talking to fans on the phone as his telephone number was in the local directory! Stan was always a heavy smoker and didn’t give up until he was 70 years of age. He died on 23rd February 1965, several days after suffering a heart attack, aged 74 in Santa Monica, California. At his funeral, Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy and Buster Keaton was overheard to say “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest”. Stan wrote his own epitaph: “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again”.
In 1989 a statue of Stan Laurel was erected in Dockway Square, North Shields where he lived at No.8 from 1897 to 1902. Stan also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and it is situated at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard. In 2008 a statue of Stan Laurel was unveiled in Bishop Auckland on the site of the Eden Theatre. In 2009 a bronze statue of Laurel & Hardy was unveiled in Stan’s home town of Ulverston, Cumbria. There is also a plaque above the door of the house where Stan lived, 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston.
By Roger Booth
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