What follows is a significantly updated version to that posted in previous years with many new images including many rare ones from the 1928 Christmas Publicity shoot, but as ‘tis the season to be jolly and we should be decking the halls with Stan and Ollie’, we hope you will enjoy reading it again.
Stan, Ollie and Christmas have always been synonymous with each other. Is there any better way of enjoying the holidays than in renewing our friendship with our heroes – or, in modern parlance, having a Laurel and Hardy marathon or binge? The boys of course occasionally tipped their bowlers to ‘the happiest time of the year’ and in what follows, we look at those occasions, reflect on the Laurel and Hardy memories etc of Sons around the world, and finish with a bit of fun. We have a look at how a classic Christmas film might have been cast if a Laurel and Hardy version had been made. Mike Jones
Perhaps this article should have been entitled Another Nice Christmess or similar, but perhaps that has been used before somewhere … Anyway, we’re sure that both Stan and Babe loved Christmas. Both were both gentle men as well as gentlemen and enjoyed the company of others – the latter being a pre-requisite of the holiday season.
Stan obviously had little Lois on whom he doted and will have spent lots of time with her at that time of year. And Babe, who loved music and singing, would have doubtless revelled in the opportunity to belt out the odd carol or two, as well as other festive music that would have been around at the time.
While there is very little in the Laurel and Hardy catalogue which focuses specifically on Christmas, there are a number of occasions when the season is featured, both clearly, and in the background.
Films that are clearly set at Christmastime
There are really only two films that we know with certainty are set in the ‘season to be jolly’, and Stan and Ollie are salesmen in both of them. In the first, they’re trying to shift Christmas Trees; the second, it is Christmas Cards “wot Stan wrote” (with apologies to Ernie Wise). Needless to say in both instances, business isn’t particularly good…
In Big Business, Christmas trees are available for sale from the back of their Ford Model T Pick-up. This is not – as popularly misconstrued – in the height of summer for comic effect, but is actually set in December. It can still be very sunny and quite warm at that time of the year in Los Angeles. The script was actually written in mid December 1928 and shot between the 19th and 26th of that month, though they closed down on Tuesday 25th! Not released until April 20th 1929, one wonders if this was properly thought through – an earlier shooting schedule would have meant a release in December perhaps optimising the patronage of audiences that were in the Christmas Spirit?
Anyway, and as you no doubt are aware, Jimmie Finlayson is the boys last customer, and their attempts to sell him a tree result in a wonderful series of tit-for-tat violence which is visited on each other’s property – a process later dubbed ‘Reciprocal Destruction’. The long held, and still oft-mentioned, rumour that the wrong house was wrecked during this sequence was, apparently, perpetuated by producer Hal Roach, who trotted out the story several times over the years.
According to Stan, the showman in Mr Roach had got the better of him, and we know that the house was actually owned by a Willian Terhune – a Roach studio employee who rented the property on a regular basis, and only moved in there around 1932 when his family began to grow. We assume that not only will he have received a fee for the rental of the house, but also significant recompense for the destruction it suffered!
Amazingly, Ollie lets Stan write the jingles for the Christmas cards they are hawking in The Fixer-Uppers. Understandably, these rhymes are to say the least, remarkable, though not perhaps in a good way… In this, the boys penultimate short, the action appears to take place in France and it was released on February 26th 1935, having been written and and filmed between January 9th and 19th.
Having drawn a blank despite each card being adorned with such touching greetings as these, they end up in the apartment of an unusually (for her) vulnerable Mae Busch who is lamenting the loss of her husbands affections. Even the reading of the boys’ “four-in-one card” doesn’t help.
Stan suggests a scheme to make the husband, Pierre Gustave (Charles Middleton) jealous, setting up one of the boys best ‘Tell me that again’ routines. Ollie will become the one to make Gustave jealous (having been offered $50 to take on the ‘role’), inevitably resulting in Gustave not being jealous at all, though he does get rather cross, and demands satisfaction from Ollie! The resulting duel is with blank bullets however, so all is well that ends well, though Ollie and the contents of the bin he hides in end up in a garbage cart as we fade out.
Some of the original footage for this was lost in a storage room fire and had to be re-shot, and perhaps explains why Gustave portrait goes from as new to shredded with no explanation…
Films with Snow in Them
Okay, that’s a daft title for this section, but Stan and Ollie did make several pictures when there was snow on the ground, so it’s not too big a stretch to link these to the bleak mid-winter and by natural progression, to Christmas?
A good example to start with is Below Zero when the boys’ somewhat questionable musical talents are brought into focus. It is snowing and there is more than a liberal sprinkling of the cold, wet, white stuff on the ground, and yes, they still try to raise the spirits of passers-by with a rendition of “In the Good Old Summertime”. The irony of this rather questionable selection is, naturally, lost on our heroes though and what makes matters worse, is they originally set up with Stan’s harmonium and Ollie’s double bass outside a Deaf and Dumb Institute …
This was written in early 1930, shot between 17th and 28th February and released on April 26th that year. Strange timing again, given audiences are more likely to sympathise with Stan and Ollie’s plight if they were suffering the hardships of a cold winter themselves. But perhaps the alternative applies? Where spring has sprung, are folk perhaps drawn to even greater sympathy as they are looking forward to the warm weather ahead? Anyway, this concludes with one of the most bizarre visual endings to any Laurel and Hardy picture, and above is the image of the aftermath of Stan being stuck in a barrel of freezing water and having to drink it to avoid drowning. All of it…
Also set when the snow lies deep and crisp and even is Laughing Gravy. In this, largely a remake of 1929’s Angora Love, Stan and Ollie fail to hide their little dog – Laughing Gravy – from irate Landlord Charlie Hall. Naturally, Hall banishes the little pooch to the elements and inevitably, Ollie gets stuck out there too, resulting in this classic image below when Stan remembers he is out there and finally lets him back in!
This, an absolute classic, was originally released with two reels in the US and UK, with a third reel added for the overseas market. The shorter version is a much tighter production, but the third reel – which was filmed but deleted – remained sought after for many years. It was never lost, only forgotten, and it re-emerged in 1985 when someone opened a film can a noticed original Roach film editor Bert Jordan’s handwritten label – “Laughing Gravy – A lifted sequence”.
The restored version we see today has this third reel underscored with splendid Leroy Shield background music performed beautifully by the Dutch revivalist music ensemble ‘The Beau Hunks’. Whilst it is wonderful to see, once viewed, it is perhaps clear why this third reel was removed from English language versions. Stan and Ollie are not their usual selves, the sequence is very slow, and though it is wrapped up in a very Laurel and Hardy way, one still feels a little let down after the splendid first two reels. (This is my opinion and I’m stuck with it … In it … )
The film was scripted in late January 1931, filmed on various days between February 2nd and 18th, plus an extra scene that was filmed on February 24th. Being released on April 4th, again, just as spring had sprung…
Both Swiss Miss and The Bohemian Girl have snow in them, and both are set in Europe – the former is in the Alps of course – so there are possible tenuous links with Christmas, but not much more than that. Mind you, Stan does manage to partake in more than a little alcohol in both. Recomember the brandy and the St. Bernard in Swiss Miss and the wine bottling scene in The Bohemian Girl?
The musical feature Babes in Toyland, aka March of the Wooden Soldiers has become a staple Christmas watch, not just at Sons of the Desert meetings, but around the world in general. Released just in time for the 1934 Christmas audience, it was originally planned by producer Hal Roach as a Technicolor extravaganza (a fact confirmed by Stan’s ex-wife, Lois, who saw the set-up, equipment and lavish sets as daughter, also Lois, was an extra on the film) It was to star Laurel and Hardy, but also Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, and some of the Our Gang kids.
However, Stan disagreed strongly with Roach’s script and after much wrangling and rewrites, it was filmed variously between August 6th and October 17th, previewed on November 7th and and released on November 30th 1934. In the meantime though, Roach had baulked at the cost of Technicolor and decided that black and white would suffice.
So the studio delivered what we see today, which as we have seen, differed from Roach’s original concept and is also only loosely based on the classic Victor Herbert operetta! A version of the film has been ‘Colorized’ and reports indicate that it is not a bad job, but if you read our earlier blog Laurel and Hardy In Colour you may get an idea of our thinking on the subject.
I’m still more than a little scared of the Bogeymen though …
Christmas Filming and Releases
The run up to Christmas was seemingly a busy time for Stan and Babe with several films being made in this period. The studio also released a more than few at this time too – perhaps hoping to cash in on a happy audience full of the spirit of goodwill etc that is supposedly everywhere at that time of year.
Habeas Corpus was released on the 1st December in 1928, having been filmed between 16th and 24th July earlier in the year. Putting Pants on Phillip first appeared on the December 3rd in 1927. This early departure from the newly- established bowler-hatted costumes seen in Do Detectives Think and Hats Off! underwent principal photography from 13th September and concluded on the 23rd.
On December 8th 1934, The Live Ghost got it’s first airing. This had only just been filmed – starting on November 8th and concluding on the 14th!
December 12th in 1931 had seen Beau Hunks / Chumps hit the screen for the first time following a production schedule that ran from July 15th through to August 24th, and Angora Love, the boys’ final silent picture was released on December 14th, a couple of years earlier in 1929.
If you’re thinking that was a busy period, no less than five Laurel and Hardy’s were released between Christmas and New Year! And if that wasn’t enough, On the Loose, a Thelma Todd – Patsy Kelly vehicle in which the boys make a cameo at the end emerged on December 26th 1931 as well!
Forty-Five Minutes from Hollywood was shown for the first time on the same day five years earlier in 1926. While hardly a Laurel and Hardy picture, it did never-the-less feature them both. December 29th saw We Faw Down premiered in 1928 and the classic feature Sons of the Desert was also released on the 29th in 1933 following an understandably lengthy production schedule earlier in the year that ran from first write in early July right through to the preview on November 9th.
New Years Eve, December 31st saw both The Battle of the Century for the first time in 1928 (this having been filmed in October) and Towed in a Hole which was released five years later in 1932. The latter had started filming on October 31st and concluded on November 7th. The turnover in those days was, to say the least, rapid, but this just did not affect the quality of what are so many classics. Remarkable!
Our usual thanks to Randy Skretvedt and his wonderful “Laurel and Hardy : The Magic Behind the Movies” from which many of the above facts came.
Now, if we consider tenuous links, how about this. Featurimg clips from Below Zero, Big Business, Laughing Gravy and The Fixer Uppers, it’s a bit of nonsense really, but you might enjoy this: “Deck the Halls with Stan and Ollie”! Click on the link, for that is what it is and apologies if an ad pops up first. Stick with it and skip it as soon as you can, you wont be disappointed.
My Christmas With Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy are, for me, very evocative of Christmas in so many ways and in speaking with many fellow Sons, they too have happy memories involving the boys.
I recall that the old feller got us a VHS video recorder in the late 70’s, and he would set the timer for 5:40-6:00pm on weekdays so we managed to get a good few Laurel and Hardy sound shorts to build a collection for what is now called a ‘marathon’ or ‘binge’ watch which we would enjoy during the Christmas holidays. When I say enjoy, I mean we’d lap them up and spend hours in tears of laughter. Priceless.
Original Chump, Ian Self, in a similar vein told me this: I think I’ve been laughing at Laurel & Hardy since I was about five years old. That’s a long time but I’ve never tired of it. I don’t think my parents were fans, so I must have stumbled across The Boys accidentally when negotiating the TWO television channels that were available back then. As the years went by and I started to watch as much Laurel & Hardy as possible and understand the humour a lot more, my parents would often join me and laugh along with me. What I didn’t realise until a few years later is that their laughter was caused by my reactions rather than what was happening on-screen. Laughter is infectious, after all.
Viewing some Laurel & Hardy at Christmas with my folks became something of a ritual in the following years. There always seemed to be plenty of Stan & Ollie on the BBC over that ‘two-week Radio Times double-issue’ period and rest assured, every single film was ringed in black felt tip and I made it my duty to watch every one of them. Things got even better once I could record Laurel & Hardy on our first VCR and from that moment, I could tailor the programme for Christmas viewing. Basically, anything with some snow took some priority and my parents were force fed the likes of ‘Laughing Gravy‘, ‘Swiss Miss‘ and ‘Below Zero‘ for years to come. Even after I’d left home and went back for Christmas dinner, I’d turn up with a Laurel & Hardy video to keep the tradition going.
Myself and the late and much missed fellow original Chump, Peter Johnson, often met up to drink and watch hours of Laurel & Hardy and one of our favourite lines to drunkenly shout was “Yoohoo! Oh Mr Whiteman!” (from the line by Kay Deslys that goes over so many heads in ‘Below Zero‘). Again, we held back on ‘Below Zero’ and ‘The Fixer Uppers‘ for our Christmas meet-up. It just made sense. Peter and myself did some research (pre-internet) on Mr Whiteman and struggled to find much on him, other than the fact he was a musician. It didn’t stop us uttering the line as often as we could though. Paul Whiteman was indeed a jazz musician and band leader and bore more than a passing resemblance to Oliver Hardy himself. Thanks to Laurel & Hardy, Mr Whiteman will always remind me of Christmas, bizarre as that sounds.
So it seems many have happy Stan and Ollie memories of this period and here are a selection of those that were sent in:
Anth Q: My Christmas memories of Stan and Ollie were of an old poster of Below Zero. This was kept with the Christmas decorations and only saw the light at that time of the year. When the decorations came down from the loft it was the first thing I looked for and, when I unrolled it and saw the boys, I knew it was Christmas. We would hang it on the wall and put tinsel around it to make it look more Christmassy. When I left my parent’s house, I took it with me and over the years moving from house to house there was no room for it so instead of throwing it away (the very thought!) I hung it on my shed wall. The years have not been kind because the moths love it as much as I do – infact it looks quite eerie now. Wouldn’t look out of place in the Laurel Mansion in ‘Murder Case’! Isn’t it strange that Stan and Ollie’s faces have hardly been touched though?
Willie McIntyre: It was Christmas 1975. I opened a gift from my wife Pat which would absolutely change my life forever. It was a copy of “The Comedy World of Stan Laurel” by John McCabe. It invited readers to write to him about the Sons of the Desert. I did – and it led to me founding the Bonnie Scotland Tent in 1976 and publishing the first edition of Bowler Dessert.
David Fullbrook: I remember the several “Christmas” weekends in Ulverston that suddenly became a tradition… racing up the M1 and M6 to the A590 and the hallowed ground of Ulverston, Wonderful. A week or two before Christmas we would gather on a frosty Friday evening, with the Cubin welcome and the gathering of a bunch of lunatics in fezzes…. usually at The Kings Arms at the top of the town from various tents from all around the country. Very soon we would all be in full swing with plenty of shenanigans, no particular plan and flying the Sons’ fraternal flag… Fantastic times, great characters.
Marc de Conink: With the Me and My Pal Tent of Belgium, I had four meetings a year and I made sure that the last meeting of the year was the weekend before Christmas.
Everyone who attended received a little Christmas gift with either the logo of the Tent or the name on it. And I handed out Laurel & Hardy desk calendars with a compilation of nice photos. But in my younger years I used to make drawings of Laurel & Hardy once in a while. And I also made one for Christmas which you can see on the left.
Andrew Cobby: I remember that Pack Up Your Troubles was shown on Christmas Day some time in the 1980s/early 1990s in the days we had four TV channels to choose from – on a good day! I think it was on Channel 4 but couldn’t swear to it. The first time I saw Big Business was when it was shown on ITV around Christmas time in 1982 or 1983 (I think I was at college at the time so it would have been either of those two years). I think at the same time ITV showed Way Out West. I remember this because I excitedly discussed it with some of my fellow students. I think I was more excited than they were, though.
It was unusual for ITV to show Laurel and Hardy but they also broadcast Early to Bed. I know it’s sad but I’m sure I remember the attached picture of Stan and Edna Marion was in the TV Times to ‘advertise’ Early to Bed. The thing that’s making me doubt myself over this is that it’s a still from From Soup to Nuts! Stan plays a servant in both, though. ITV probably showed others as well but these are the three I remember.
Actually, I’m doubting myself on where I first saw this pic. I thought it was TV Times but it may have been some other publication. Not that it matters – Christmas is obviously a time for mis-remembering as much as for remembering.
Chumps Vice Sheik Peter Jones: Although I started watching the boys with my Dad from when I was a very young pup, my best Christmas memory advances me to Christmas of 1978 when I asked for a snooker table from the big red guy (Father Christmas not the Russian Premier). Well the table arrived a week before Christmas and my Dad decided to let me have it then rather than try to send it to Father Christmas only for him to then bring it to me on Christmas morning.
So we started playing around tea time and then BBC 2 always showed a Laurel and Hardy film at 5.40pm so Dad and I started playing snooker and like in the World Championships we would have a mid session break and we would watch Stan and Babe in one of their films. We would howl with laughter as we watched the boys and then when the film had ended, we would have a calming drink as it was impossible to play snooker straight after the boys as we would be sniggering to each other and coming out with a phrase from the film we had just watched or talk about a scene! We would have to wait at least 30 minutes before we could resume playing but even then the odd faux pas would happen.
I can remember us seeing my favourite short The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case pretty soon after I received the gift and as we played after watching the film, our home telephone actually rang and my Dad just said “You’re wanted on the phone, downstairs ” to which we just fell about laughing. My Mam who ended up answering the call, came in to the dining room and said to my Dad… yes you’ve guessed it: “You’re wanted on the phone” well we just cried with laughing and my Mam just looked at us as if we were daft. Such a great memory of not only being with my Dad but watching Stan and Babe at Christmas with him. That is the reason why my favourite short is ‘Murder Case’.
My dad is now 85 and still enjoys chatting with me about the boys and he has a signed drawing from Way Out West of Babe in the water with Stan and Dinah looking at him in his living room.
Some wonderful reminiscing there, occasionally with folk who are no longer with us, though perhaps that makes those particular memories even more special.
My sincere thanks to the amazing Gary Winstanley for these. All are from his splendid book ‘Tell Me That Again.’
Laurel and Hardy Christmas Carol
In compiling this blog, the Chumps ‘Continuity Vizier’, Anth Q, had the thought: “What if Stan and Ollie had made an honest-to-goodness Christmas Movie?” “What would they have done with, say, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Hmmmmmm. Images of ‘it was just a dream’ à la ‘Murder Case‘ or Oliver the Eighth immediately spring to mind. ‘Ghosts’ such as Arthur Houseman too, but what of the cast? So, here’s a bit of nonsense that we hope you enjoy!
We all know the story: In Dickensian London, wicked, curmudgeonly and cowardly miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge, has a tough childhood which helps him become strong enough to accumulate significant wealth, but pretty much ruins his life in every other aspect. He even hates Christmas until visited by his late partner, Jacob Marley and several other ghosts who teach him to appreciate what he has, to find love for others, enjoy the holidays and basically rejoin the human race.
It is something of a bleak story (with a multi-faceted happy ending), but there seems little doubt that the talents of Stan Laurel could have delivered many comedic situations to the plot – well The Muppets made a decent fist of their version! We don’t presume to have the skills to develop any plot ideas or gags, but instead, how about thinking of some familiar faces as the cast?
‘Laurel and Hardy’s Christmas Carol’ – Cast?
James Finlayson as Ebenezer Scrooge: Who else? You can almost hear him exclaim “Doh Humbug” and of course his double-takes and other reactions when confronted by Jacob Marley and subsequent ghosts would have been a sight to see!
Stan Laurel as Bob Cratchit: Stan is often put upon, but can be determined too. But to see the likely nice messes he would get himself in with the coal scuttle and of course the consequences of his likely incompetence in the face of multiple Scrooge “Doh’s!” would be wonderful.
Mae Busch as Mrs. Cratchit: This lady is Bob Cratchit’s driving force. Even when Scrooge starts to realise what a poor human he has been and becomes the founder of their feast, she still isn’t prepared to forgive and forget, and Mae would be perfect in the role as she doesn’t take any from anyone.
Walter Long as Jacob Marley‘s Ghost: Seeing Walter’s miserable face appear on the door knocker would be enough to scare anyone. Plus, who else would be tough enough to carry all those chains.
Arthur Housman as a character that Dickens’ imagination didn’t stretch to: A drunken lost ghost who might wander into the wrong house much to Scrooge’s annoyance. It’s not difficult imagining him going through the wrong wall and all you hear is the crash, bang, wallop of him falling down some stairs. Or perhaps he could just lose something ‘down the grating’?
Charlie Hall as Young Ebenezer Scrooge: Baby Faced Charlie’s mood can turn on a sixpence and he showed he can play a heartless man as the landlord in Laughing Gravy. A nice tit-for-tat sequence with a school mate or later accounting colleague being more than possible!
William Austin (from County Hospital) as Scrooge’s nephew Fred: A good all round pompous chap full of the joys, no matter what Scrooge says to him. “I say, Uncle Scrooge old bean, what do you think? It would be absolutely spiffing if you could join us for Christmas Dinner “
Thelma Todd as Belle, young Ebenezer’s Fiancé: A gorgeous girl to emphasise what a fool Scrooge is in letting her go, and none are more gorgeous than Thelma. Besides, young Ebenezer undoubtedly deserves a sock to the chin on more than one occasion, and we know that Thelma certainly packs one of those. She also does a splendid double-take which she would need to deploy more than once!
Anita Garvin as Fan, Ebenezer’s Sister: Fan was a nice, honest but determined lady and this is Anita down to a tee. As the action takes place when there is invariably snow on the ground, surely a plot line could be convoluted where she slips and falls on her derriere – as she does so brilliantly in The Battle of the Century?
Oliver Hardy as Mr Fezziwig: Rotund, happy, loves singing and dancing. Ollie’s Southern Gentlemanly charm would fit perfectly. What more is there to add?
Babe London as Mrs Fezziwig: Rotund, happy and clearly dotes on her ‘ducky lover’. No other choice really. A perfect Mrs Hardy, er, Mrs Fezziwig
Edgar Kennedy as Mr Jorkin: If Edgar Kennedy can talk Stan and Ollie into robbing a house, I’m sure he can talk Mr Fezziwig into employing young Scrooge and into selling his business!
Daphne Pollard as Mrs. Dilber, Maid and Housekeeper to Scrooge: Small but formidable, would she bash her boss Scrooge on the head with a skillet though? Well, the no nonsense mighty atom would be the only woman who would work for such a man. She can do a great cockney accent as seen in Bonnie Scotland too.
Alfafa (from Our Gang) as Tiny Tim: Skinny and weedy, certainly a better option that the better known, and ‘larger’, Spanky McFarland
Lucien Littlefield as The Undertaker: Rather eccentric and a little off kilter; a bit like Professor Noodle. Perfect casting if only to hear the ‘Noodle laugh’ again!
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as the Ghosts of Christmas Past: In a dream sequence, there would be so much our heroes could bring to a joint role (in this version anyway!)
Billy Gilbert as the Ghost of Christmas Present: Reprising his Von Schwarzenhoffen character! You can hear him shouting “Harrumph. Come on in and know me better, man!”
Charles Middleton as the Ghost of Christmas yet to come: Daunting in the extreme as a foreign Legion Camp Commandant and, well, he was asked by Ollie how much he would charge to haunt a house in Pack Up Your Troubles… Perhaps he could even appear in his role from Flash Gordon? He wasn’t known as Ming the Merciless for nothing!
Thanks to Anth for these but if you can think of any more, or perhaps even more appropriate casting decisions, please let us know in the comments section below.
Those readers that are on the Beau Chumps Email update list will know that these usually finish with an ‘And Finally’. Well here’s a seasonal one of those – from Rogerrrrrrr Robinson
Ollie dressed up as Santa
After Stan had gone to bed
Ollie came down the chimney
And not one brick fell on his head
Ollie had brought Stan a present
Because that’s what friends are for
But Ollie knew one piece was missing
Of the ‘Me and My Pal’ jigsaw!
We’ll leave the final festive words to original Chump Ian; Don’t forget that Stan & Ollie are for life, not just for Christmas.
Have an enjoyable and safe Christmas everyone, even as you and I.
And Finally: Mike’s favourite from Fernando https://ferllera.blogspot.com
We hope you enjoyed our collection of Christmas films, activity, recollections and just general silliness and if you have anything to add, any questions or just observations, please leave these in the reply / comments section below. We’d love to hear from you and every entry will receive a response on this page
We’ll leave the final words to Alfalfa, er Tiny Tim: “Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!