The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Shark?

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Richard M Roberts
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The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Shark?

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Feb 18, 2016 5:11 am

Chris Seguin posts an interesting article on his blog asking a question one can get lynched at Sons of the Desert meetings for asking:

http://thescribefiles.blogspot.ca/2016/ ... shark.html

Can't say I disagree with a lot of what Chris is saying here, but this was indeed a turbulent period in the lives of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and the upheavals at the Hal Roach studios. Roach and Laurel were busy fighting each other, Laurel was drinking and in marital hell, and the Golden Age of Comedy was dying everywhere. W. C. Fields went through a similar coarsening of his persona at Universal at the same time. We forget that the reason Laurel and Hardy signed with Fox was that Laurel refused to return to Roach and Roach was not much more willing to have him. It took a few years for Laurel at least to learn that error of his ways.

Good article Chris.


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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Feb 19, 2016 12:24 pm

Whoops, looks like Chris got Randy Skretvedt riled up in the comments section.

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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Louie Despres » Fri Feb 19, 2016 5:07 pm

Richard M Roberts wrote:Whoops, looks like Chris got Randy Skretvedt riled up in the comments section.

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whoa...........................

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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Gary Johnson » Tue Feb 23, 2016 3:35 am

Boy, Seguin really doesn't care for 'white magic' gags. I don't believe I've ever read anyone complain about that particular L&H arsenal before.

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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Richard M Roberts » Tue Feb 23, 2016 7:18 am

Gary Johnson wrote:Boy, Seguin really doesn't care for 'white magic' gags. I don't believe I've ever read anyone complain about that particular L&H arsenal before.



Yeah, I never had a problem with those, and there are good gags in all of those pictures, but I do agree that there was a bit of a falling off from WAY OUT WEST on, although a lot of it was the general falling off the whole Roach Studio suffered when they gave up on shorts. I've never thought that much of ANY of those late 30's Roach features, TOPPER included.

BLOCKHEADS is the best of those late L and H features, but it loses steam at the end, and essentially it was an unfinished film as far as Laurel's creative participation was concerned. A CHUMP AT OXFORD is the next best, but only in the streamlined version, which is the A-cut version of that material (the feature version has not only the weak opening padding/remake of FROM SOUP TO NUTS, but the rest is a complete recut using many alternate takes). SWISS MISS and SAPS AT SEA have moments, but the former is a mess with two unsympathetic main musical characters and the latter indeed looks like a quick slap-together as Stan and Babe are heading out the Roach Studios door. THE FLYING DEUCES is fair, but obviously underfunded.

And it's obvious in both SWISS MISS and BLOCKHEADS that Stan laurel is not top of his form, he's a lot puffier looking and has gained a lot of weight (and compared with Hardy, who's on the lower ebb of his girth at the time, Stan looks nearly as heavy as Ollie). This was the year his drinking and marital discord was at it's peak, a couple of the reasons Roach fired Laurel during the shooting of BLOCKHEADS.


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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Gary Johnson » Tue Feb 23, 2016 3:03 pm

Right Richard. As it's been said before, the state of comedy was changing by the late 30's. I'd say radio was the main cause. Everyone, and I mean everyone was a wise ass over the airwaves then. So I agree with your assessment of the late L&H Roach features and I agree with Randy S.'s vigorous defense of Stan & Ollie's characters through the years. I can even agree with some aspects of Seguin's critiques (just some, mind you). What I cannot accept is the expression "jumping the shark" to describe L&H's career arc. That's a really strong term. It was apt for the program that the phrase became known from -- HAPPY DAYS really did go downhill fast after the fanatical popularity of the Fonzie character and the abdication of Ron Howard. The show became unfunny and unwatchable. That is not what happened with L&H immediately after WAY OUT WEST. They still had 3 more years of great, productive comedy to create at Roach. The parts may have been greater than the whole, but those parts still outshone anything that came out of the FOX/MGM years.

Every comedian worth their salt alters their personae eventually during a long career. The flower that Chaplin brings to his boss in PAY DAY signaled a turn to a more sensitive, less roguish tramp -- and not for the betterment of comedy. I prefer scrappy Charlie. Chase famously dropped his man about town character, halfway through his Roach talkies, in favor of a fussy, prissy older man. I prefer the earlier Charley. Fields elegant cynicism on display throughout the Paramount years was coarsened and hardened into a parody of how the public conceived him from his radio appearances by the time he went to Universal. I prefer Sam Bisbee any day. The Marxes went from anti-social hooligans to loveable scamps. I think we all know where we stand in that equation. Keaton, Langdon and L&H all had their characters altered after they lost their independence.

And yet, despite that, we still laugh and enjoy all of these eternal performers throughout all of their many incarnations. Probably not at the same level as during their hey day, but enough to make us remember them. Jumping the shark, indeed.....

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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Richard M Roberts » Tue Feb 23, 2016 7:12 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:Right Richard. As it's been said before, the state of comedy was changing by the late 30's. I'd say radio was the main cause. Everyone, and I mean everyone was a wise ass over the airwaves then. So I agree with your assessment of the late L&H Roach features and I agree with Randy S.'s vigorous defense of Stan & Ollie's characters through the years. I can even agree with some aspects of Seguin's critiques (just some, mind you). What I cannot accept is the expression "jumping the shark" to describe L&H's career arc. That's a really strong term. It was apt for the program that the phrase became known from -- HAPPY DAYS really did go downhill fast after the fanatical popularity of the Fonzie character and the abdication of Ron Howard. The show became unfunny and unwatchable. That is not what happened with L&H immediately after WAY OUT WEST. They still had 3 more years of great, productive comedy to create at Roach. The parts may have been greater than the whole, but those parts still outshone anything that came out of the FOX/MGM years.

Every comedian worth their salt alters their personae eventually during a long career. The flower that Chaplin brings to his boss in PAY DAY signaled a turn to a more sensitive, less roguish tramp -- and not for the betterment of comedy. I prefer scrappy Charlie. Chase famously dropped his man about town character, halfway through his Roach talkies, in favor of a fussy, prissy older man. I prefer the earlier Charley. Fields elegant cynicism on display throughout the Paramount years was coarsened and hardened into a parody of how the public conceived him from his radio appearances by the time he went to Universal. I prefer Sam Bisbee any day. The Marxes went from anti-social hooligans to loveable scamps. I think we all know where we stand in that equation. Keaton, Langdon and L&H all had their characters altered after they lost their independence.

And yet, despite that, we still laugh and enjoy all of these eternal performers throughout all of their many incarnations. Probably not at the same level as during their hey day, but enough to make us remember them. Jumping the shark, indeed.....



Yeah, I'll have to admit that "jumping the shark" is a stupid phrase, just like so many that for some bizarre reason gets fixed in the public's mindset. The real irony for me (and who thought I'd ever be discussing HAPPY DAYS anywhere with anyone ) is thatthat show went downhill after the first season, when they went from a single-camera filmed show to a three-camera live with a studio audience show. I was long gone as a viewer when Fonzie jumped the shark.

Yep, radio was indeed a big cause of the coarsening of film comedy, except in Laurel and Hardy's case, who were not appearing on radio. Like I said before, the change seemed to infect the whole Hal Roach Studio, everything seemed to get a bit more obnoxious. I can't even stand those last two years of Our Gang one-reelers, because there is nothing more obnoxious than Alfalfa! At this point, there was no Director General like Charles Parrott, F. Richard Jones, or Leo McCarey to over see all the comedy with either a humanist or just a good gagman's eye. Henry Ginsburg and S. S. Van Keuren were just businessmen, and the product began to suffer. And we were indeed heading into the WW2/Abbott and Costello generation, more shallow wisecracks streamlined for wartime production. The Fox years would show the real changes to Laurel and Hardy's humor, and even though they can be the real line of demarcation for the fans, I think it is valid to say the decline, however gradual, had started when the Boys were still at Roach, and some blame can be lain at Stan Laurel and Hal Roach's feet.


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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Gary Johnson » Wed Feb 24, 2016 1:04 am

That is so funny that you bring up the season of the live studio audiences for HAPPY DAYS. I was originally going to mention that as the real beginning of the end for that show but I was trying to stay on topic so I just short handed it to The Fonz's popularity. What was so unbearable was that when Henry Winkler would walk on stage the audience would erupt into a pack of screaming banshees and the show would come to a halt until everyone settled down.
But are you sure that switch happened after the 1st season? I thought there was at least 2 seasons of quality shows before it went live with an audience.

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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Richard M Roberts » Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:45 am

Gary Johnson wrote:That is so funny that you bring up the season of the live studio audiences for HAPPY DAYS. I was originally going to mention that as the real beginning of the end for that show but I was trying to stay on topic so I just short handed it to The Fonz's popularity. What was so unbearable was that when Henry Winkler would walk on stage the audience would erupt into a pack of screaming banshees and the show would come to a halt until everyone settled down.
But are you sure that switch happened after the 1st season? I thought there was at least 2 seasons of quality shows before it went live with an audience.



One season, because that's how long I stayed with watching the show.

Yep, the Fonz's entrance on HAPPY DAYS was the same sort of audience claptrap bait for the live sit-coms in those days like having to wait for JImmie Walker to say "Dyne-o-Mite!" on GOOD TIMES or Flo the waitress to say " Kiss my grits" on ALICE. This is also around the time I quit watching most of mainstream network television.


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Re: The Scribe Files: When Did Laurel and Hardy Jump the Sha

Postby Gary Johnson » Wed Feb 24, 2016 1:52 pm

Stay away from contemporary talk shows if you don't care for out of control audiences. Every once in a blue moon I may flip by Colbert or Kimmel and their openings are excruciating. The people scream so I'm afraid they'll pop a blood vessel. I stick with reruns of Letterman and Carson -- available online. But I'm noticing that by the mid 80's audiences were getting very rambunctious even then. Some nights Johnny looks embarrassed as they carry on so he can't start his monologue. Whereas Dave will take it for a minute or so and then just yell "shut up!!". That's the difference with the new hosts -- they lap up the phony adulation to the hilt.

I have a theory that this behavior may be tied to this generation who likes to take pictures of themselves. Maybe they think that if they yell loud enough during a taping, when they go home to watch the recording they will be able to hear themselves.

I have to ask Richard -- when Scorsese was filming ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE in the Phoenix area did you manage to track down their location, as you were want to do back then? (Although, I think he mostly filmed in Tucsan)


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