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"I was dreaming I was awake and then I woke up and found myself asleep -
Ich habe getraeumt, ich waere wach, und als ich dann aufwachte, habe ich gemerkt, dass ich geschlafen habe."
(Stan Laurel, Oliver the Eighth, 1934)
Two boys - one Phenomenon
Just kidding - being a kid! How often have we used the expression, when we tried to be funny? Only to find out over and over again that the own jokes are the best - to ourselves only though. Especially when we didn't get any reactions by others, no courteous smile, not even a tremor in the corners of their mouth. Then again, simple things can be so funny. Like taking a picture of a child or watching one of these old movies. Of Brats, underage or adult, or Little Rascals, again of any age. Is parlour game the right term to describe, what the unforgotten Fra Diavolo movie triggered off? Those Bogus Bandits impertinently playing finger wiggle and earsy, nosey, kneesy? Did you also have fun trying yourself at home afterwards? Bottom line: It is easy to have fun. You just have to allow it to happen.
A Newspaper Headline proclaimed: "Wir werden dicker und doofer - We become fatter and stupider!" Using a word play with Laurel & Hardy's German nick names "Dick & Doof - Fat & Stupid", the article summarized the local health and education situation: "Long term study shows: The Austrians put on more fat. PISA-school achievement tests and university rankings are going downhill." An institute had weighed and measured more than 15,000 people between 1980 and 2010 with an alarming result:
Taller and heavier into the future! Overweight among teenagers, who are lovin' it - to use the slogan of one of the biggest fast food chains - goes hand in hand with missing exercise. Quieting down kids in front of TV sets and an addiction to in-door video games have replaced outdoor activities, while the education system dropped to average in international ranking. Still, the headline showed how present Laurel & Hardy still are in our voacabulary. Just as everyone know silent movie-clown Charlie Chaplin. Although not many youngsters have watched a Laurel & Hardy or Chaplin movie.
Lifestyle: Fat & Stupid. As by an Austrian newspaper headline, "We become fatter and stupider!" The truly motivational piece of literature continues: "Long term study shows: The Austrians put on more fat. PISA-school achievement tests and university rankings are going downhill." While the education system drops to average level in international comparison, people grow taller and wider, as part of a general trend of degeneration.
Recognition of "The Kid". A sentence from a Chaplin biography stuck in my mind: "Today almost everybody, even very young folk, recognizes the image of Charlie Chaplin. But only very few of them have actually seen one of his movies or know about his career... " Remebering TV-shows like "Zwei Herren dick und doof - Two gentlemen fat and stupid", "Spass mit Charlie - Fun with Charlie", "Vaeter der Klamotte - Fathers of Slapstick" and "Auch Spass muss sein - Everyone needs a bit of fun as well" with Herbert Prikopa, I decided to "educate" my own kids and introduce them into a wonderous black and white world, when pictures learned to move… First results would show, as our son got extra "points" for recognizing the movie poster of "The Kid" in the school history book.
Humourless People, in German, are said to "go into the basement for laughing." As no one has ever seen them smile, it is suggested that they might only secretly open themselves for a good and healthy laugh, if they know this relieving feeling at all. That's just what Laurel and Hardy did in one of their most remembered movies "Fra Diavolo." They would go into a wine cellar to just burst of laughter, hold it, look at each other, start to grin and giggling all over again. It is the absurdity of that scene that makes us laughing along with them, not at them. Which is a better choice for dealing with people anyway.
Ultimate Pie Battle. A frequently recurring theme in early slapstick films is pie in the face humour. Laurel and Hardy though settled matters once and for all. The "Battle of the Century" was fought in 1928. The street fight involved a gradually increasing number of innocent passers-by until the battlefield was covered by some 4,000 creamy missiles: A pie picture to end all pie pictures. The short film was long considered lost until fragments could be put together from "laughing parade"-compilations. The remainders have withstood time as a celebration of unadjusted behaviour towards social norms and beauty ideals true to the old motto: An eye for an eye, a tart for a tart. Coupled with gleeful impertinence, the resulting childlike anarchy simply re-invented the comedic elements of "slow burn," a kind of psychic explosion in slow motion, and the "double take," a slow-witted only fully understanding at second glance.
Laughter in the Basement
This Tribute Page to Laurel and Hardy is inspired by a book about "Friends for a Lifetime." It lists all those characters that you knew as a kid and start to remember when having kids on your own. As we had rediscovered the everlasting comedians Laurel & Hardy when their movies were broadcasted for the first time on TV in the 1970's with new German synchronisation, we found them again at the beginning of the new millennium on DVD, both with their original voices (well, except for in their silent movies) and the German dubs (spoken by Walter Bluhm and Arno Paulsen, among others). However, originally there had been even separately produced foreign language versions of some of their films, which are mostly lost nowadays. Because synchronization was still difficult during the early days of sound film, movies were shot several times in different languages. Supporting characters were usually replaced by native speakers. Aided by speech coaches and off-camera prompting boards, the leading actors had to struggle with their broken German, French, Italian or Spanish. A still shows Stan during a break in shooting with his three wives from the American, French and Spanish film version of "Blotto". In fact, Laurel & Hardy spoke German with a similar accent as Phil Collins nowadays singing both the English and German soundtrack of Disney-Movies like "Tarzan" and "Brother Bear" by its phonetic transcriptions. This would result in legendary dialogue in their rediscovered first German talkie "Spuk um Mitternacht (Spook at Midnight)" from 1931, such as: "Sogtest Du nikt mol, Du haettest einen Unkel - Didn't you once tell me that you had an uncle?" Which was fine with Laurel & Hardy comedies, but was not as well received in connection with serious films. As a curiosity, then-unknown leading actor John Wayne was replaced in all four foreign language versions of "The Big Trail" that were produced in 1931. Who would have later dared to re-cast John Wayne's part?
Time for a Revision. For a long time Chaplin and Buster Keaton have enjoyed the highest praise as actors among cineasts and self appointed genre experts all over Europe, while especially in German-speaking countries Laurel and Hardy's works have been easily dismissed as brute humour with knee-slapper jokes, instead of acknowledging their ingenious characterization and biting wit for what it was: Cleverly composed comedy, well-timed and timeless entertainment. In his book "Laurel & Hardy - A Revision" the Munich literary scholar Sven Hanuschek pleads for a re-evaluation and reconsideration of the earlier misjudgement. The initial ignorance has less to do with the comedians themselves, but with their local presentation, dissection and desecration of their film classics. Fileted and hashed at the cutting table of children's programs of the 1970's and 1980's, single sketches had been separated and carelessly reassembled in comedy programs, typically underlaid with semi-funny voice overs and ultimately issued under their not very flattering local trademark "Dick & Doof - Fat & Stupid". At last, newly released DVD editions allow us to rediscover the forever comedians uncut and unrestrained for what they have stood for in the first place: Laughter at an unjust world, a motif that runs like a red thread throughout their work. It is worthwhile to newly discover the treasure, which the two have left behind!
Monday Morning Motivation. As the old saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine! Let us be grateful for moments of real joy and laughter. Hoping that there is no blow of fate coming along that will make the laughter die in our throats. So often it is important to cheer people up, motivate them when they are in a Monday morning mood. Having fun together though is just as important as not crossing the border of hurting each other emotionally by a quick tongue-in-cheek comment. Or making ourselves ridiculous in front of others by clowning around too much, not to be taken seriously any more, when we would like to be. As so often there is a balance of doing and overdoing things and you need to find the right amount at the right time. Just as too much medication is unhealthy, too much fun at the wrong time can poison an atmosphere and relationship. Especially, if the opponent goes into the basement for laughing!
"The Music Box" was filmed on steps on Vendome Street, right off Sunset Boulevard. Visiting the location one fine day in LA, on one of the first steps we discovered a commemorative plaque that remembers Laurel & Hardy's Oscar winning favourite.
Selling Christmas Trees in Summer. Their last silent film "Big Business (1929)" turned out to be one of their funniest. Not even biblical quotes are spared, as the movie is introduced: "The story of a man who turned the other cheek - and got punched in the nose." What starts with door-to-door selling of Christmas trees, escalates in mutual destruction of property - car and trees versus house and garden, another form of tit for tat. In advance, the production company had bought a house for usage in the picture. However, of identical style just a block away, legend has it the filming crew did damage to the wrong house, which resulted in Hal Roach having to pay for its reconstruction. Just imagine the shock of owners returning from work and finding that their home had been mugged by mistake. Wrong again, so to say... Stan Laurel later contradicted those "memories" of Hal Roach. Even if the story is not true, it is made up very well.
Stan & Ollie Night. As part of a "Stan and Ollie Night" with the kids we were watching "Way out West." On of the biggest laughs occurred, as the purported heir of a gold mine asked the boys: "Tell me about my dear, dear daddy. Is it true that he is dead?" Stan's reply: "Well we hope he is. They buried him!" And so it honors Stan Laurel that even on his deathbed he still did not lose his very original sense of humor, admired by billions. After a heart attack admitted to hospital in Santa Monica, CA, he said to a nurse: "I wish I was skiing." The surprised nurse, just preparing a shot for him, replied: "Oh, Mr. Laurel, do you ski?" And so his last words were: "No, but I'd rather be skiing than doing this." Then he died. It was the 23rd of February, 1965. How will we act, when time has come...?
Flying Monroe Skirt. Stan's stage persona as well as his on screen appearance had the type of thing audiences loved. You just wanted to take him home! Additionally, he developed the Stan cry. He never cried when he was scared or hurt though, he only cried when he was confused, which is exactly the reaction of a kid. Even their musical theme, "The Cuckoo Song" was reflecting their routine. The top part was a kind of bugle call - "Babe" Hardy giving orders to Stan, who in counterpoint was 'Cuckoo, cuckoo.' As noted in "Stan and Ollie - The Roots of Comedy", the silent short "Putting Pants on Philip (1927)" can be regarded as some kind of pioneer in film business. Long before Marilyn Monroe excited filmgoers by having her skirt blown upwards by a vent in the pavement in the movie "The Seven Year Itch (1955)," Stan made the ladies of Culver City faint by standing above a shaft of air that settled the question whether Scotsmen wore anything under their kilts.
(No) Pun Intended. Reducing the hectic of earlier slapstick comedies, one secret of Laurel & Hardy comedies lies in perfect timing. The interplay of Stan's comic act and Ollie's look into the camera is not coincidental. That calm reaction shot, the "slow burn", buys the audience time to finish laughing. Apart from all childish innocence, their works contain a number of quite ambiguous statements. Throwing the boys out of his shop for the first time in "Tit for Tat", Charley Hall still smiles: "Did you hear me tell 'em, baby? No beatin' around the bush with me!" The statement could be also understood as wordplay with his acting partner Mae Bush, who later laughingly comes downstairs with Ollie. Their dialogue right in front of her jealous husband says it all: "I've never been in a position like that before. But it's certainly a pleasure to have seen you again."
Arm-in-Arm with Celebrities. One day, I discovered an ad for Celebrity Friend Fake Photos, reading: "How would you like to appear in a high quality convincing fake photo with this fantastic Hollywood Legendary Comedy Duo?" Howver, I figured that we did not quite live at the same time to realistically appear as buddies on the same photograph and that's why we can only see pictures of them now. But what, if it had been the other way round? Well, here's another nice mess I had gotten us into…
L.A. Sightseeing: Music Box Stairs
One of the Boys' most remembered Short Films is definitely "The Music Box," in German called "Der zermuerbende Klaviertransport - The back-breaking piano transport." And that memory is there not only for the extraordinary Sisyphus-like performance, but also for being their only movie to win an Oscar, which it received in 1932 in the then newly introduced category "Short Subjects, Live Action Films." It must be noted though that Stan Laurel was awarded a special Oscar in 1960 for "his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy." Typically Stan, he would refer to that statue as Mister Clean (the bold headed icon for the all purpose cleaner, in German referred to as "Meister Proper"). During a visit to Los Angeles, one day heading towards Hollywood Boulevard, we would stop by the "Music Box Steps," filming location of the hilarious comedy. They are found on 923-937 Vendome Street, right off Sunset Boulevard (and can be reached by leaving the busy Hollywood Freeway - U.S. 101 at the Silver Lake Blvd exit). Notably, the same steps had already been used in a lost Laurel & Hardy silent short about the transportation of a washing machine. The commemorative plaque found on one of the first steps (my boy counted them as 131 in total) reads: "Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy 'The Music Box' 1932. This plaque marks the site of the making of 'The Music Box,' winner of the 1932 Academy Award for Short Subject - Comedy. The film starred comic screen legends Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who also employed this location in their 1927 film, 'Hats Off.' Both films were produced by the Hal Roach Studio."
A Clown's Sad Childhood. A lot has been written about the unforgettable comedy duo. Even if forgotten, some may suspect a purpose behind. The omission of Stan Laurel in Charlie Chaplin's entire autobiography suggests that he ignored his ex-colleague from the Karno company ensemble as rival and possible threat to his eventual title as the supreme clown of all time. As demonstrated in Stephen Weissman's psychoanalytical biography "Chaplin: A Life," Charlie Chaplin's overwhelming success can be linked back to his incredibly sad childhood. The clumsy tramp's swaying walk imitated his father, an alcoholic, and the blind stare of the flower girl in "City Lights (1931)" reminded of his mother, who fell into madness. He had just lost his newborn child before starting filming "The Kid (1921)," which could be understood as an imagination of what he could have done wih his son, if he had lived. The scene, where the kid is being taken away in the paddy wagon, was based on bitter memories from his own orphanage days. In Sigmund Freud's words, "he always plays only himself as he was in his dismal youth."
Keeping a Husband at Home. In 1913, when Chaplin left Fred Karno for his film career, Stan's name had been Stan Jefferson still. Which began to worry him because it had thirteen letters in it, and he was extremely superstitious. When in 1917 his stage partner and steady Mae Dahlberg showed him the wreath of laurel around the head of the Roman general Scipio Africanus Major (236-183 BC) in a history book, they had found a new last name. "Stan - The Life of Stan Laurel" by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Stein and Day Publishers, 1980), draws from various sources including the diaries of Virginia Ruth Laurel, whom Stan married three times. In 1933, breaking up with his wife Lois before marrying Ruth for the first time, Stan gave the following explanation: "When two people reach the place in life where they can no longer share a laugh together, then it is practically impossible to share the same bed and board." The opening question from "Should Married Men go Home (1928)" comes to mind: "What is the surest way to keep a husband home?" Answer: "Break both his legs." The the sketch "The Marriage of Stan Laurel", alternately known as "The Wedding Party", has survived in a radio broadcast, which was possibly recorded in 1943. It features a most unique declaration of a birthplace. The ceremony is lead by the Justice of the Peace: "And now what is your name? " - Stan's replies: "Laurel. They call me Stanley for short." - Justice of the Peace: "And where were you born?" - Stan: "Born... Bridge, Minnesota."- Justice of the Peace: "Bridge, Minnesota?" - Stan: "On the bridge, right between St. Paul and Minneapolis. You know I'll never forget that morning. All the cars were coming around and there was trucks..." - Justice of the Peace: "Will you be quiet!"
Serving the Salad without... Dressing?
Order what you want, eat what you get. Simple Food Orders in the US may end up in multiple choice questions up to a level where the process should be flowed out for better understanding. Not only that a colleague would understand "super salad" instead of the quick question for "soup or salad" as sides, it is especially the salad dressing that may cause confusion with visitors from abroad, suddenly given options from 1000 Islands to Honey-Mustard, from Ranch via Lite Italian to French and others. A salad all dressed up instead of just having some plain Oil & Vinegar marinade on. In those situations I have often remembered a scene from the Laurel & Hardy classic "From Soup to Nuts." The silent short from 1928 shows Stan and Ollie as waiters, helping out at a dinner party in a noble household. Almost everything goes well (not really) until Stan is asked to "serve the salad without dressing." Returning without pants, the situation escalates. Showing Stan in his long johns and not fully undressed, the scene remains innocently silly without getting shocking. Once more the boys have demonstrated how to be simply funny without any offense. An art too often forgotten these days. On the other hand, maybe that is not enough any more to catch people’s attention, which is why commentaries often dismiss their behaviour as that of big children. Although we all have a child within, don't we? The sketch was remade with Stan in a cross-dress maid outfit as part of a later added intro to "A Chump at Oxford (1940)" in order to extend it to a full length feature film for European sales. And don't ask how often I have already referred to the joke in restaurants, when ordering side dishes. Always remembering how Stan Laurel had complained in the kitchen: "I have to serve the salad undressed! What kind of party is this?"
Laughing Children. After hearing them in the background on the phone, a colleague would repeatedly refer to my kids as "the laughing children." Kids in general laugh more than adults and whenever asked, where they got all the bad jokes from, these would answer: "From you!" Using their imagination, kids can be much easier amused by things, which adults have taken for granted and not questioned for years. Although also among the grown up smiling becomes more and more popular over frowning. Especially when their photograph is taken, people tend to show their teeth, if successfully constructed, called smile and as part of an optical impulse attracting others. A smile can be interpreted by the recipient as friendly but also as disarming. Do they smile at me or about me? And there are those that have trained the winning (and selling) smile up to a point where it becomes artificial. Some cultures are said to teach kids how to make a friendly face as part of their education. Even nodding when disagreeing or not understanding. Almost like laughing instead of crying. Forcing themselves to take things light-hearted, when being miserable doesn't change anything any more.