To be called a legend is a compliment bordering on excess, but it is no excess to describe the long comedy partnership of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in such a way. The story of their individual careers, and the teaming of two people who to this day continue to make the world laugh, has been documented in so many biographies and journalistic articles, that you may think it a trifle strange that I should include a page here devoted entirely to them.
But so many people have asked me to tell them of my own personal meeting with them, and my subsequent correspondence with Stan, that I felt I would like to share at least part of it with you. That meeting, and how it came about never ceases to amaze me.
In the second part of the 1950’s Stan and Ollie came to Britain to tour the Music Halls. Their film careers had all but foundered, but fortunately there were loyal and devoted fans all over the country who were waiting to welcome them enthusiastically in the land of Stan’s birth, and that included me. When I read in the newspapers that they were going to play for one week at my local Music Hall, the Finsbury Park Empire, I was thrilled to know that I would be able to see them in person on stage. Unfortunately, however, the week’s performances had to be cancelled at the last moment as Stan had been taken ill with a bad bout of the ‘flu. But when they re-scheduled their show some weeks later, I wrote to them c/o the theatre to ask them if I might bring two children of friends of mine to get their autographs after the show. To my astonishment, by return of mail I got a handwritten letter back from Stan from the Mayfair Hotel in London, in which he said that it would be their pleasure to meet me and the kids.
It was a foul, cold, foggy night when the kids and I took our seat for the first 6.15 performance of Stan and Ollie in a sketch taken from one of their famous comedy films, 'GENERAL HOSPITAL'. When it was over, we made our way to the stage door, where, to my astonishment, we were shown straight into Stan’s dressing-room, where we were warmly greeted by not only the two comedians themselves, but also their wives. And guess what? On a small trestle table in the tiny, freezing cold dressing-room, the wives had set out sandwiches, cakes, and bottles of lemonade for me and the kids. After that, we sat and talked with Stan and Ollie until it was almost time for them to go on stage for the second house of their twice nightly show.
My memories of that extraordinary meeting have always lingered in my mind. Stan, with his wisp of remaining grey hair dyed ginger, pale-faced from his recent illness, warming his hands in front of a two bar electric fire, and Ollie grinning incessantly at the kids like a proud granddad. Needless to say, when I left the theatre that night, I wasn’t even aware how cold or foggy it was outside. Sorry to be so effusive, but you don’t forget moments like that in your life, do you? You see, at heart I’m still a fan just like anyone else!
My association with "L and H" did not stop there, for when Stan got back to his home in Malibu, California, we continued by writing to each other regularly. I cherish his letters about some of his experiences, including his first arrival in Canada and the United States, and when Oliver died, Stan did something quite remarkable for me. Ah – but that’s another story…
If you want to know any more, why not email me.