Jerry Summers: Oliver Hardy - Harlem, Ga.'s Comedian

Monday, November 29, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

If you are old enough to remember black and white television and movies or have heard your parents/grandparents mention the long running “Laurel and Hardy” comedy series, be advised that the heavy-set partner Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem - Georgia.

            Oliver Norvell Hardy was born on January 18, 1892 in Harlem near the Savannah River down the road from a military installation – Fort Gordon.

            The town was originally named Saw Dust until the 1860s when the building of a Georgia railroad town took place.  Freight trains still travel that route today.

            Hardy became one half of the famous comedy team of Laurel and Hardy in the silent film era that lasted from 1927 to 1955.  His partner was the pan-faced colleague, Stan Laurel, (Arthur Stanley Jefferson) a native of Ulverston, England, having been born on June 16, 1890.

            Together they would revolutionize comedy as they appeared in 107 short feature films and cameo roles.  The high point of their successful careers would be the winning of an Academy Award (Oscar) for their short subject entitled “The Music Box” in 1932.

            Hardy was the son of a Confederate veteran of the Civil War and had been destined for a military career but had opened a movie theater in the neighboring town of Milledgeville, Georgia. He later would commence his acting career in Jacksonville, Florida in 1913 after attending the Georgia Military Academy, the Atlanta Conservatory of Music, and the University of Georgia for a short period of time.

            After working at the newly established film colony in Florida and performing at various studios on the East Coast, he moved to Hollywood, California in 1918 and by the mid-1920s was working as an all-purpose comic at the Hal Roach Studios.

            Stan Laurel was the son of a British showman and had been raised in British music halls.  In 1910 he made a trip to America in a musical comedy troupe which included a fellow performer, Charlie Chaplin.  After his initial trip he stayed in the United States touring in vaudeville and performing in small parts in the silent film industry.

            Lauren and Hardy first became a duo at the Roach Studios and their partnership began in 1926.

            The first time that they performed together in a motion picture was the silent short, “The Lucky Dog” in 1921.  Their lifelong professional and personal relationship lasted until Oliver died of a massive stroke on August 7, 1957.  Stan would die on February 23, 1965 of a heart attack at the age of 74.

            In 1981 a film on the lives of the two comedians Stan and Ollie, starring Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy, was produced and depicted the twilight years of their careers.

            The town of Harlem has not forgotten the famous pacesetters of early comedy as they have established the “Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem”, 135 N. Louisville Street, Harlem, Georgia 30814-5078.  It contains artifacts, memorabilia, and a theatre room to view the many movies Stan and “Babe” (Hardy’s nickname to friends) made together.  Admission is free but donations are accepted, and patrons are encouraged to stay and watch a movie or two in which they performed.  The operating hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.  (706) 556-0401.

            The size of the museum limits the size of the exhibits to about 20-25 percent of the approximately 7,000 items donated by friends from around the world that are rotated every three months.

            Visitors describe the museum “as clean, well kept, friendly staff and great Laurel and Hardy historical items.”  A gift shop and opportunity to have your picture taken through life-size cutouts of Stan and Ollie are also available.

            A curator is available to answer questions and each year during the first week of October a music festival takes place.

            For a trip to a Southern Harlem, it might be a worthwhile trip.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)


 

Oliver Hardy
Oliver Hardy

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