Ever wondered how much was created ‘live’ and how much ad-libbing took place during the filming of a Laurel & Hardy picture? Well, this splendid book may well give you the answer!
Late last year I was delighted, amazed actually, to realise that the missus had noted a gap in my Laurel and Hardy library when she presented me with this book for my birthday! Some would say “great, but this is only about the scripts of the films we’ve seen countless times”. Well yes, that might be true, but at the same time, the book is so much more than that. What follows then is my impressions of this wonderful book, not a review, no need for that as its great, but an attempt to show how much is in there and how it is presented. Mike Jones
There is so much of the Laurel and Hardy world that we probably wouldn’t know about were it not for the commitment and diligence of Mr Skretvedt. This publication is a wonderful ‘chaser’ to his definitive tome on the boys Laurel and Hardy : The Magic Behind the Movies.
In ‘Magic’, aka the ‘Big Book’, which Patrick Vasey (Laurel and Hardy Blog.com) with some accuracy, says is “about the size of a mattress and weighs as much as a bus”, we get some detail of gags and scenes that were scripted but not filmed, or were filmed but deleted before release. We also learn about many filmed gags that don’t appear in any script.
However, ‘Scripts’ does that and much, much more as it replays full scripts and detailed introductions of them. The book also includes many ‘new’ photographs, some of which were provided by the wonderful website of David Lord Heath, and can be seen in what follows.
I already knew that Randy and his college-mates had collectively purchased a number of scripts and given each other copies, but what was news to me was how he got the detail from so many others where the owners were reluctant (understandably!) to part with them. This, he tells us, involved sitting in the hot Californian sun on consecutive Saturdays (for the owners only opened for business at the weekend) dictating the detail into a cassette-tape recorder! Dedication indeed!
What might have happened to these pieces of history as time passed doesn’t bear thinking about, so it is not unreasonable to state that Randy’s efforts quite possibly saved these from oblivion.
There are 20 such scripts annotated in the book with spelling mistakes retained, along with mentions of hand written notes and revisions and all manner of idiosyncrasies that emerged in the hands of those who made the films. In addition there is a prologue and an epilogue:
The former discusses how scripts would vary in length, how closely they were followed and more often the extent by which the released print deviated from the script.
The latter considers the impact on the boys’ work that their forced move away from short subjects had, while also looking at the writers and the loss of input that Stan, especially, suffered. The epilogue also contains a splendid tribute which you can read at the end of the article. Randy also postulates on more than one occasion, that some of the more bizarre and risqué incidents were perhaps not scripted, as Hal Roach did occasionally veto such things; An example of this being the scripted ending for Block-Heads, where Stan and Ollies heads were to be mounted on Billy Gilbert‘s wall – to complement his other ‘trophies’.
It is not clear how many copies of each script was printed, but Randy suggests that the main actors, director, cameraman film editor and prop department head will all have got one. All, of course, had different roles in the production of the films, so different versions of the scripts existed too. For instance, the One Good Turn chapter contains both ‘action’ and ‘dialogue’ scripts
It is worth noting that the scripts include occasional 1920 and ‘30s slang and references that are of their time; some of which are perhaps inappropriate today. The information is taken from artefacts though and I was so glad to note that the text is reproduced exactly as it was in the original documents! So, if easily offended, this really is a case of “those not interested do not answer” (from Going Bye-Bye, in case you were wondering).
The first and perhaps most fascinating entry is an unfilmed script, unknown to most, but which could well have become the first ever Laurel and Hardy Roach film. This has a script reference ‘Untitled S-14’ and is set in a similar nautical scenario as Why Girls Love Sailors, though both differ greatly and were written five months apart.
Each script has its own chapter, and these are as follows:
- Untitled S-14
- Duck Soup
- Slipping Wives
- Love ‘Em And |Weep
- With Love And Hisses
- Sugar Daddies
- The Second 100 Years
- Their Purple Moment
- Early To Bed
- Perfect Day
- The Hoose-Gow
- Our Wife
- One Good Turn (both ‘Action’ and ‘Dialogue’)
- Twice Two
- Me And My Pal
- Dirty Work
- The Live Ghost
- Tit For Tat
The annotated scripts are not easy to read as they don’t flow like the films, and of course are missing so much of the comedic intricacies and nuances that were developed and added on set. Every script though has some commentary beforehand, briefly discussing the film, the script and differences between the two which many times even included different cast members.
The changes in the silent scripts to the finished article are much less than those evidenced by the talkie scripts though, as these tended to be much shorter.
Here, Randy tells us “The silent films tended to have longer scripts, running between 16 and 21 pages while the talkies were generally four or five pages long, and sometimes barely two.” noticeable though was the script for The Second 100 Years, which is of course a silent, but consisted of just four pages. “The writers were definitely counting on Stan and Babe’s improvising comedy to carry some of the sequences”.
I found myself smiling and occasionally even laughing as I visualised some the routines, you can almost hear Stan and the gag writers discussing the plot, camera position and angles, and even the actual dialogue. However, what is clear is the old Roach adage: “Fifty-percent of the script will not play”. Some of the business mentioned that sounds good on paper just didn’t make it into the final print.
Case in point being the midgets or ‘Little People’ performers from the Al G Circus (also perhaps unacceptable today) who were in the original previewed version of Their Purple Moment. Most of their contribution ended up on the cutting room floor. It seems then that Mr Roach did indeed know what he was talking about.
Equally, as Laurel and Hardy became more famous, we can see that Stan, the director, writers and performers were given increasing freedom to improvise and make improvements in front of the camera as they went along.
We also learn that the ‘stock company’ of actors and comedians at Roach had their training in vaudeville and silent comedies so perhaps didn’t need many takes and even rehearsals. Much of the comedy would come from their experience, and no-one was discouraged from coming forward if they had an idea. In fact, in the Prologue, Henry Brandon (Silas Barnaby in Babes in Toyland) remarked “I made the mistake that I will never again make in my life, I said ‘aren’t we going to rehearse?’ and Stan turned to me and said ‘do you want to spoil it?’”
Randy goes to some detail in explaining the slang, terminology and phrases used for falls etc: For example, a ‘Brodie’ is an elaborate fall; a ’108’ is a fall with a somersault; a ‘takem’ is an enhanced surprised reaction, and to ’get over’ is to convey something in pantomime.
Like in ‘Magic’, he also supplies some detail on lesser-known cast members and writers etc., and a particular joy for this reader, there are a number of previously unseen stills, several of which were taken behind the scenes, a passion I share with Mr Skretvedt!
I learned a lot reading this, and here are just a few of the entries that are candidates for future Beau Chumps tent email updates and tent bulletins in the Did You Know? Section!
- Duck Soup has the ‘three whole days’ gag in the script, “yesterday, today and tomorrow”. This would eventually appear in One Good Turn and be reused to far lesser effect in Great Guns.
- Several terms used in the script would not be acceptable today, these are, after all, taken from original artefacts. For instance I did learn where the unfortunate term for immigrant, ‘Wop’ comes from ‘Without Papers’!
- The script for Perfect Day repeatedly refers to “Uncle Jimmie” implying the ‘Uncle Edgar’ role, wonderfully played by Edgar Kennedy, was created with James Finlayson in mind
- If Dirty Work had been filmed as written, it would have been a three-reeler
- Some directors had the scenes in the scripts numbered; others scratched out each scene as it was completed and in the can.
- It is remarkable that the wonderful Tit For Tat is such a splendid production as the script was so poor that apart from the basic storyline, almost everything was created on the set.
- The ‘you almost blew my brains out!’ gag, used in both Wrong Again and A Chump at Oxford was unused but in the script for Slipping Wives.
- In the Sugar Daddies script Stan’s lawyer character, via title card, says “A fine mess you’ve made of things!”! Now where would we hear that, or similar, again?
- Stan told his biographer and Sons of the Desert founder, John McCabe, that he thought Twice Two was “the worst film we ever made”.
- When Ollie berates Stan for getting tickets for Chicago when he really wanted to go to Skatch … Sesquatch … Saskatchewan on honeymoon in Me and My Pal, the script instead invokes Ollie’s ire as Stan had got Ollie and wife-to-be two upper berths!
The final chapter in the book, the epilogue, considers the effect moving away from shorts into features had on the quality of the picture, along with this beautiful tribute from Randy :
Continued gratitude to Hal Roach, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and the many gag men, supporting players and technicians who made the films which we love so much, and which we celebrate here.
This is an absolutely fascinating book in every regard for a Laurel and Hardy buff, though it really is one for the committed Laurel and Hardy enthusiast. Readers might struggle with some of the layouts – which are of course essentially scripts for the cast and crew to work with (and work around!).
As already mentioned, Randy’s preambles to each script make them come alive for fans of Stan and Ollie. He writes with such enthusiasm and knowledge and is always informative, one can’t help but be grabbed by this and be dragged into the warm ambiance of Hal Roach Studios, aka ‘The Lot of Fun’. This term, “warm”, was used by special effects supervisor when Randy met with him in in 1975: “It wasn’t the temperature, it was a human element”.
In conclusion, The Laurel and Hardy Movie Scripts is indeed a great companion to ‘Magic‘ and I cannot recommend it highly enough!
We hope you enjoyed this overview of this splendid publication, which a can be found here on Amazon UK (other online sellers are available! MJ). If you have any thoughts or questions please leave them in the box below and Mike will do his best to answer them for you. Randy does follow the Chumps Website, so is likely to see these at some point.