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  • 8/4/2004

Oliver Norvell Hardy

(January 18, 1892_ August 7, 1957)

Norvell Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia, on January 18, 1892. Oliver was 48 in 1890 when he married Emily and he was not in the best of health. He died less than a year after Norvell Hardy was born. Emily was left with few prospects and five children to raise. It was a difficult time but Emily was resilient and hard working. She worked as a hotel manager in Madison and later in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Raising young Norvell Hardy must have been a challenge. He was not overly interested in gaining an education. Norvell acquired an interest in music and theater from tenants of his mother's hotels. He ran away from home to follow a theatrical group. He was sent to a boarding school nearAtlanta but he ran away from that, too. Since he had a good singing voice Emily sent him to Atlanta to study music and voice with a prominent musician but Norvell skipped lessons to sing in a vaudeville house. He was sent to a military college but again he ran away. He was enrolled at Young Harris College but shortly begged Emily to be allowed to return home. He toyed with the idea of studying law but finally decided that he had to follow his dream of a singing career.

In 1910 a movie theater was opened in Milledgeville and 18-year old Norvell became its projectionist, ticket taker, janitor and part-time manager. He became obsessed with the fledgling motion picture industry. He was convinced he could do as well as or better than what he saw on the screen. When a friend encouraged Norvell to move toJacksonville where movies were being made he did so and quickly found work as a cabaret and vaudeville singer. There he met, courted and married Madelyn Saloshin, a pianist in her in her 30s. Since his singing engagements were in the evening, Norvell spent his days at the Lubin Studios, watching and learning. A director enlisted Norvell in his first movie,Outwitting Dad (1914). Norvell chose to be billed as O. N. Hardy, taking his father's first name as his own. Thereafter he referred to himself as Oliver Norvell Hardy.

But it was the Italian proprietor of a nearby barber shop who gave Ollie the name by which he was known to friends for the rest of his life. After shaving Ollie, the barber would apply talc to his cheeks and say, "nice-a-bab-y." This was eventually shortened to Babe. In many of the late films at Lubin he was billed as "Babe" Hardy.

Babe made fifty films at Lubin during 1914-15, all one-reel short comedies. When Lubin was sold he made a few films for Pathe, Casino and Edison in the New York area but returned to Jacksonville to work for Vim and King Bee, where he supported Billy West, a Chaplin imitator. For those studios he made over a hundred films.

Late in 1917 Babe and Madelyn decided to move to Los Angeles which was rapidly replacing Florida and New York as the motion picture capitol. At first Babe worked free-lance at several Hollywood studios. In mid-1918 he appeared inLucky Dog (released in 1922), a film produced by "Bronco Billy"Anderson and starring Stan Laurel. Stan and Babe would not work together again until 1926.

Hollywood, aswarm with pretty girls, became a temptation to Babe. Late in 1919, he and Madelyn split over Babe's infidelities. A year later they were divorced. In the meantime, Babe met and fell for Myrtle Reeves, an Atlanta Girl. They were married in November, 1921. By 1926, however, Myrtle had become an alcoholic and Babe's home life became difficult. They remained together for another ten stormy years, finally being divorced in 1936.

Babe went to Vitagraph Studios, where he was teamed as the "heavy" for Larry Semon, another Chaplin imitator. He made more than 40 films for Vitagraph between 1918 and 1923. Early in 1924 Babe went to work for Hal Roach. By mid-1925 he had become a regular at Roach Studios. Meanwhile, Stan Laurel had also gravitated to Roach, but as a gag man and director, not as an actor. In 1925 Stan directed Babe in a one-reel comedy,Yes, Yes, Nanette!, starring Jimmy Finlayson.

My mid-1926 Babe had appeared with all the "All Stars" at Roach Studios. Stan, on the other hand, remained behind the scenes. A chance accident with a hot leg of lamb put Babe in the hospital just as filming was to begin onGet 'Em Young, and Stan was recruited to replace Babe. Although he had no intention of remaining in front of the cameras, he agreed to appear in another two-reeler,45 Minutes fromHollywood. Although Babe and Stan are both in this film they are not acting together. It was not untilPutting Pants on Philip that the boys were consciously teamed together. Stan called it their "first" Laurel & Hardy team film.

For years Stan and Ollie were under separate contracts with Roach that did not coincide. Stan and Hal Roach began to have disagreements about artistic style. In 1939 Stan resolved to not renew his contract until the team could do so jointly. During the intervening months Babe madeZenobia, with Harry Langdon. Shortly afterwards the boys signed a new contract with Roach. Roach loaned the boys to the independent General Services Studio to makeFlying Deuces. The script girl on that production was Virginia Lucille Jones. Babe was smitten. They were married inLas Vegas on March 7, 1940.

In October, 1941 Laurel and Hardy agreed to do a film for 20th Century Fox. Over the next four years they made six features for Fox and two for MGM. But the boys were not happy with this work. Contrary to their initial expectations they had little artistic control. They were well aware that these films were not up the quality of the Roach features, but they couldn't quit. They needed the money. Babe was being bothered by the IRS and by Myrtle. The law suits dragged on for years.

When their contract with Fox expired they did not renew. Instead, they agreed to a six-week tour of the English Music Halls. The tour of England and Scotland grew to seven months, followed by engagements inScandinavia,Belgium and France and a Royal Command Performance for King George and Queen Elizabeth. Their six-week tour lasted nearly a year.

When Stan returned to the States he was exhausted. Tests revealed that he was diabetic. He needed a long rest. Babe was asked to play a small part in the Maxwell Anderson playWhat Price Glory on tour inCalifornia. This charity production also starred John Wayne and was directed by John Ford. Wayne was impressed by Babe's acting ability and invited him to play a supporting role in his upcoming feature filmThe Fighting Kentuckian (1949). At first Babe refused, insisting that he was part of a team. But Stan insisted, so Babe finally agreed. Frank Capra was also impressed with Ollie's acting ability and invited Babe to play a cameo role inRiding High (1950) with Bing Crosby.

In 1950 Laurel and Hardy were approached by a European consortium to produce a film in Europe to be financed largely by the French Government. Trusting their promise of script approval Stan and Babe agreed. The result wasAtoll K (also known asUtopia andRobinson Crusoe Land). The international nature of the cast and crew created insurmountable problems. The French actors spoke French, the Italian actors spoke Italian and the boys spoke English. The European actors' voices were dubbed. The writers, all speaking different languages, did not work together. During the filming Stan became seriously ill and required prostate surgery. He lost nearly 60 pounds and in many scenes he looked cadaverous. Babe also took ill and was diagnosed with heart problems. The amazing thing is that the plot did hold together and there are some good gags, but in general it is a depressing movie to watch.

Returning to the states, both Stan and Babe needed convalescence. When they recovered they were offered a second British tour, and, in 1954 a third tour, both of them highly successful.

In 1955 they contracted with Hal Roach Jr. to produce a series of TV shows based on Mother Goose fables. A few days before filming was to commence Stan suffered a stroke. As he slowly recovered Babe had a massive heart attack and stroke that left him paralyzed. While Stan continued to recover, Babe did not. He lingered on for several months, finally succumbing to a series of strokes. He died on August 7, 1957 and his ashes were interred in the Masonic Garden of Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.

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