Oliver Hardy, half of Hollywood's iconic comedy team Laurel and Hardy, died 65 years ago today at the age of 65 from complications following a stroke.
Although "Babe" Hardy died two weeks before I was born, I have been a fan of Stan's and Ollie's since my early boyhood. Ollie's partner, Stan Laurel, who survived him by seven years, answered every fan letter personally and kept his name and telephone number listed in the Santa Monica phone directory so that fans could call or write to him. In 1964 he answered a fan letter from a little boy by sending him this signed photo of Laurel and Hardy.
Below are a few brief reflections on Laurel and Hardy taken from my 2013 book, "And Then I Met." Next month, on the 30th anniversary of the day I spent with movie producer Hal Roach (then almost 101 years old), I'll post more memories from the studio chief who first joined together two of his contract comedians, and then introduced the world to Laurel and Hardy.
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While a prosecutor and judge in Los Angeles during the 1980s-1990s, I befriended a local Glendale businessman. For almost 30 years, Rand Brooks owned and ran Professional Ambulance Service. For several years, I never knew that Rand's ambulance company was a later-in-life career. Only over lunch some years into our friendship did he mention casually that in the 1930s, he worked as a trick-riding cowboy in a Wild West show. Later he tried his hand at acting in movies and early television. But he had one role that guaranteed his place in motion picture history: he played Charles Hamilton, Scarlett O'Hara's first husband in the 1939 film classic, "Gone with the Wind."
That discovery paled next to another that he shared with me: he had been married for many years to Stan Laurel's daughter. I delighted in listening to him reminisce about my favorite comedy duo:
"Babe [Oliver Hardy's nickname] gave Stan all the credit for their success. Babe always said, "Stan was a genius, and all I did was do what he told me to do.
"Although Stan could be funny in private, he was basically a very serious man. He was sweet but serious. We had a wonderful relationship.
"Stan was married many times. One of his wives, Lois, was a bitch. She was cheap as well as mean. I was married to their daughter Lois for 28 years. The first 20 years were good ones. My ex-wife, Lois, was a good lady, but her mother did everything possible to destroy our marriage.
"The guy that owns the merchandising rights to Laurel and Hardy, Larry Harmon, is a crook. He stole the rights from Stan. I was going to handle all that for Stan and Stan would have made money. Instead, Harmon did it and cheated him. Stan's attorney, Ben Shipman, was also a crook. He kept Stan broke while he lived high off the hog from Stan's money. Stan kept Shipman around because Shipman was always able to get Stan out of trouble."
Rand offered a brief insight into another Hollywood legend, his onetime costar, Marilyn Monroe: "I got a call from a guy in New York recently who wanted me to talk about Marilyn for a scandal magazine. I told him to go to hell. I made a low-budget movie with Marilyn many years ago [Ladies of the Chorus, 1948] when she was first getting started. There was no scandal there. Our relationship was friendly and pleasant. There was nothing sensational. Marilyn was just a sweet, naïve, and insecure girl."
I'm sorry that Rand never wrote his book. He had more than enough wonderful stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood to fill a volume. He was a great guy and a great friend.
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Rand Brooks sold his ambulance company and retired to his ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley to breed horses. He died of cancer at age 84 on September 1, 2003.
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