In the early days of film, few people were as funny as Laurel & Hardy.
Stan Laurel was dim-witted, his hair always standing on end as if electrocuted. Oliver Hardy was chubby and gregarious and just as dense as his pal.
In an upcoming film, both comics will be brought back to life by Steve Coogan (as Laurel) and John C. Reilly (as Hardy), Deadline reported. BBC Films exec Christine Langan called it a “dream casting.”
“John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are dream casting for Stan & Ollie, bringing to life with uncanny accuracy and irresistible gusto the genius creative marriage that Jeff Pope’s script explores so lovingly.”
The film, called Stan & Ollie, doesn’t have a release date just yet, and it won’t recreate Laurel & Hardy’s funniest gags. Instead, it will follow the comics’ life behind the scenes and long after their heyday.
The comedy duo was made up of Brit Stan Laurel, born in 1890 in Ulverston (now Cumbria) England, and Georgian Oliver Hardy, born two years later. Both died within a few years of each other — Hardy in 1957 Laurel not long after in 1965.
Laurel was raised in British music halls; his father was a showman. He came to the U.S. in 1910 as part of a comedy troupe with Charlie Chaplin and stayed in the country, where he toured in vaudeville and landed a spot in a film from time to time. Hardy, on the other hand, opened a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia and acted in Florida. Later, he moved to Hollywood, where he worked in the Hal Roach Studio as a comic.
And that’s where he met Laurel. Their comic partnership began in 1926, and a year later, they were a hit, starting in silent films and then moving easily into the talkies. These films became legend, and inspired the man set to pen the screenplay, Jeff Pope (who co-wrote the Coogan film Philomena), according to Entertainment Weekly.
“Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are my heroes When I watch their movies, in my head it is forever a Saturday morning and I am 6 years old watching the TV at home utterly spellbound. I am aware of the huge responsibility of bringing their characters to life, but I have not treated the boys with kid gloves or looked at them through rose colored specs. They are living and breathing characters, with flaws and shortcomings.”
And so Laurel & Hardy’s golden years will not feature in the film. Instead, Stan & Ollie will cover their 1953 variety hall tour of England, which didn’t look to promising at its start. Their heyday long since past, Laurel & Hardy found their venues nearly empty — and Hardy’s health failing — but they still made each other laugh, connected with old fans, and made new ones. In the end, the tour was a hit, and the duo enjoyed a resurgence in the 50s and 60s.
Stan & Ollie will be a “portrait of the most tender and poignant of creative marriages begins to unfold as the duo, aware that they may be approaching their swan song, try to rediscover just how much they mean to each other,” according to Deadline.
“Like so many others I grew up watching Laurel & Hardy,” said the film’s director, Jon S. Baird, according to BBC News. “I’m therefore honoured to help bring this incredible true story of love, laughter and friendship to the big screen.”
Laurel & Hardy were known for physical and visual comedy, their catchphrases, and an “inventory of pantomimic mannerisms, devices and props which distinguished their work: the derbies, the cry, the hairstyles, the long- suffering camera looks, the eye-blink, the back-breaking pratfalls, the white magic, the tie-twiddle,” according to a bio of the pair.
But most of all, they were beloved for being far too dumb to be unkind, Hardy himself once explained. And that’s why they were so funny.
“Those two fellows we created, they were nice, very nice people. They never get anywhere because they are both so dumb, but they don’t know they’re dumb. One of the reasons people like us, I guess, is because they feel superior to us.”
[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]