Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Minds Without A Single Thought

I just read Stan And Ollie: The Roots Of Comedy -- The Double Life Of Laurel And Hardy by Simon Louvish.  It's tricky to do a double bio on the team, since they grew up separately and both worked about 20 years in comedy before officially teaming up.  (I say officially because as fans know, they worked together by chance years before, and also did several films at Hal Roach's studio together before they had their characters down and were seen as a team.)

Laurel & Hardy are special clowns.  During their greatest years--roughly from the late 20s to the late 30s--they probably made more people laugh than any other performers.  (It helped that they made a ton of shorts and a fair number of features then--during the same period the Marx Brothers only made a about ten features and Chaplin three or four).  Their characters had a comic refinement that put them above simple slapstick, but they still had a simplicity that allowed people around the world, no matter what their language, to enjoy them.  They're also the only great silent comedians who improved with sound.

Louvish, as in his books on W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, shows he's a better researcher than storyteller.  But the book does a good job getting the facts straight and walking us through their careers, from the earliest days to the sad end.  (He spends enough time on the early years that you realize the characters they ended up with were hardly inevitable--in fact, as much as the Stan and Ollie characters are classics, you have to wonder if the two could have gone onto other things if they hadn't hit upon their formula.)

I don't think Louvish replaces the classic John McCabe book on L&H, but at the very least it's a helpful supplement.


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