Monday, January 18, 2016

Born Today January 18: Oliver Hardy


Born Norvell Hardy (some sources site "Oliver Norvell Hardy" as his father was named Oliver; Norvell was his mother's maiden name), probably in Harlem, Georgia--though he may have actually been born in Covington--also in the state of Georgia.  Although he had little interest in formal education, and was reported to be a difficult child who was sent off to military school at the age of 13; apparently by the age of 8 he showed great potential in singing and performing--though no members of his family were involved in this profession (though there is a story that he caught this bug from some his wealthy mother's tenants; this may be apocryphal). He started out as a teen in local minstrels. He joined a touring group after running away from a boarding school in Atlanta. After being caught and brought home, his mother agreed to send him back to Atlanta for formal lessons in that field, but he preferred to skip many of these lessons to sing in the Alcazar Theater for $3.50 a week.  That was the start of it. The whole world knows that he went on to be a giant of the silent era, one of the most recognizable figures in early Hollywood, and famed 1/2 of the Laurel and Hardy; getting there was quite the task.  By 1910 he found work in a movie theater that had newly opened Milledgeville, GA., first as janitor--working his way up to ticket taker, then to projectionist and finally manager.  This is were is obsession with film took over.  It was around this time that he actually took on the name "Oliver" as his first name, in honor of his father, who had died before he reached one year of age.  This also prompted his move to Jacksonville, Florida.  While no Fort Lee, NJ--there was a small movie production industry there (I can attest to this personally, as my grandfather, who was born there in 1897, was obsessed with photography and film, told some stories about this).  While there, Hardy worked in Cabaret and Vaudeville by night and the with Lubin (film) Manufacturing Company by day. His very first film was the comedic short Outwitting Dad in 1914--he was billed as "O. N. Hardy."  By the end of 1915 he had made more than 50 one reel films with Lubin.  By the middle of 1915, his began to be billed by his nickname of "Babe;" the first film in which he was billed as "Babe Hardy" was Fatty's Fatal Fun, a 10 minute comedic short produced by the Mittenthal Film Company.  Knowing about the "real" film industry in Fort Lee, Hardy moved to New York. While there, he made film with Casino, Pathe and eventually Edison Studios.  But Hardy preferred the Jacksonville studio system to the one in the New York area, and returned there to work for Vim Comedy Company.  When he discovered that Vim was stealing from him, this caused that studio's bankruptcy, owed to the fact that he was their lone star.  Vim was purchased by the King Bee studio and Hardy came with it.  Finally in 1917, he moved to Los Angeles and went to work for Vitagraph.  He eventually ended up working for Hal Roach, the kingpin of silent comedies.  In 1921 he landed a role in the film The Lucky Dog, which featured a young British comedic actor name Stan Laurel--this was the iconic duos first pairing.  It would be many years before they actually became a comedic film duo, however.  In 1925 he starred in three pivotal roles in The Wizard of Oz (one of them later became known as "The Tin Man"), a film shot entirely in sepiatone (and currently on Amazon Prime).  This was his first feature length film at 81 minutes long.  All in all, he starred beside many other giants of silent era comedy that included:  Mabel Norman, Our Gang, & Charley Chase.  The next time he would have role next to Laurel was in 45 Minutes from Hollywood a comedic short released in 1926, and ironically starred Theda Bara in a rare comedy role; though the two did not have any scenes together.  The first film in which they were deliberately paired was in 1927 in Duck Soup (no relation to the Marx Bros. film).  There was no looking back from there!  Hardy continued to make comedic shorts, both with and without Laurel (mostly with) throughout the rest of the 1920's--almost all of them silent.  His first partial sound film, made with Laurel, came in 1928 in Habeas Corpus, a 20 minute short that had sound effects on a soundtrack.  Their first full sound film was Unaccustomed As We Are came in 1929 with the sound mono version running 20 minutes; an alternative silent version ran for just 19 minutes.  Men O'War, another 20 minute short and, also from 1929, was the first film they made with no silent alternative version.  Thought the last film they made in the 1920's, Angora Love was indeed another silent short comedy.  The first feature length film they appeared in together was quite the spectacle!  Entitled The Hollywood Revue of 1929, it was Hollywood's first all star revue; a grand musical featuring all the best talent from Hollywood and Broadway, in which Conrad Nagel represented Hollywood and Jack Benny represented Broadway.  It featured Western Electric mono sound and early two-color technicolor; it was even nominated for an Oscar.  The 1951 Utopia AKA Atoll K was the last film that the duo would ever make and the last film that either would ever appear in.  They had contracted with Hal Roach Jr. to produce a television series based on the Mother Goose stories, but Laurel had a stroke which took a significant amount of time to recover from and Hardy suffered on heart attack, which was the beginning of serious health trouble for him.  After the heart attack, he started looking after his health for the first time, losing more than 150 lbs.--which led fans to believe he had terminal cancer.  But neither he nor Laurel could manage to get their smoking under control.  They were such heavy smokers that they stood out even in the 1950's as "smoke stacks."  Hardy suffered a major stroke in September of 1956 which left him unable to speak.  Then early in 1957 he suffered two more strokes which sent him into a coma, which he never woke up from.  He finally succumbed on the 7th of August 1957; the cause of death being listed as "cerebral thrombosis."  He was 65 years of age.  He was cremated and his ashes are interred in the Masonic Garden in North Hollywood's famous Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery (Hardy had been initiated into the Masons, while working in Jacksonville).  In the end, neither men made into television.

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