Professor Michael Bliss
2 December 2015
The Controversial Dominance and Gratifications within the Relationship of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
During the careers of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, they demonstrated an entertaining relationship in the comedy world. These two comedians were able to give their audience a good laugh while displaying a dynamic partnership simultaneously. On the outside, Oliver Hardy was seen as the strong leader that guiltily stayed around with Stan Laurel. He saw himself as the one in charge and the disciplinarian of Stan Laurel. Stan Laurel, on the other hand, was always creating the problems and considered the one without a single thought. However, when one looks deeper into the relationship these two share, this parent-child relationship should be questioned. Stan Laurel’s ignorance gives him a sense of independence, while Oliver Hardy’s sensitivity results in a longing for friendship and dependence on his partner. Oliver Hardy’s continuous desire to be an authoritative leader leaves him more vulnerable and in a worse state than that of Stan Laurel.
Throughout the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy films, Hardy tries to take on the role as the definitive leader. He moves through the films as the one deciding what jobs they should complete or partake in. Hardy puts on a front that he creates, distinguishing himself as the controller over every aspect of the duo’s lives. Oliver Hardy sees Stan Laurel as incompetent; as a result Hardy gives himself this role in hopes of helping the group stay afloat. Hardy uses Laurel’s ignorance to his advantage as well, which is demonstrated in Laurel’s inability to stand up for himself when yelled at by Hardy. This ultimately leaves Hardy with the upper hand something Hardy continuously tries to achieve. Laurel is incapable of making his own decisions, leading to Hardy’s conclusion that he should choose for them. Hardy in the end attempts to be the “parent trying to retrain or punish Stan” by giving him “jobs to do”.1 Due to the fact that Hardy puts himself in this leadership position draws into question the ability he has to perform as a legitimate authority. In the film Another Fine Mess, Hardy takes on the role of Colonel Buckshot while Laurel is forced to take on the role of the maid. Hardy tries to fulfill the role as the colonel, but ultimately fails in the end. He tries to outwit the renters into thinking he is the real owner, but it is clearly shown he does not have the intelligence he asserts he has to get away with this lie. Hardy is unable to fulfill the renter’s requests due to the fact he knows where nothing in the house is. Hardy’s inability to form a cohesive plan and successfully execute it reiterates his inability to perform as a successful leader. The way he diminishes Laurel as he forces him to be the maid, demonstrates Hardy’s desire to always be the leader. Hardy continuously attempts to help the group out by giving himself the leading role, but in the end it always fails demonstrating his false sense of domination.
Although Hardy tries to be the one in charge and unaffected by his companion, he in reality is the one requiring most of the attention from Laurel. When it comes to observing the two with a deeper perception, these two individuals are looked at based upon “their childlike qualities: their innocence, their forgetfulness, their squabbing and at the root of everything their logic”.2 Hardy’s effort to hide these obvious characteristics about himself makes him look less and less like a genuine leader. On the outside, it is apparent these two lack intelligence, but one may suggest that Hardy is the better-fit leader. However, Jonathan Sanders discusses the false leadership skills that Hardy sees in himself. Hardy can only be identified as a “childish father figure”.3 Hardy retaliates this questioning domination by “attempt[ing] to sound tough only revealing his inner weakness”.4 Oliver Hardy’s weakness is also portrayed in the way he always blames Stan Laurel for their mishaps, when “they share the blame equally”.5 During the argument Laurel and Hardy have in You’re Darn Tootin’, Hardy gets angry at Laurel. At first Hardy gets mad because of their inability to find a place to play now that they have been fired. Hardy however, is the one to step on the police officer’s foot drawing attention to the two on the corner. Soon after Laurel falls into a pothole and is scolded by Hardy for his stupidity; Hardy then tells Laurel to be more careful of where he is walking. However, only a few moments later, it is Hardy who falls into another pothole which then results in Laurel getting hit by Hardy. Finally, Hardy gets mad due to their inability to play in sync, which indefinitely is both of their faults. Hardy becomes so agitated with Laurel he breaks his instrument. This sequence of events and poor outcomes is both of their faults, however in the end it is Hardy who blames Laurel. Hardy punishes Laurel by breaking Laurel’s clarinet. Hardy’s failure to take blame for any conflicts, or ability to create a completely beneficial solution to any of their problems makes it even harder to justify the leadership position Hardy gives himself.
However, when one looks at the other individual in the duo, Stan Laurel, his inability to grasp what is going on around him makes him more independent in the long run. Laurel’s persona that is created throughout these films illustrates him as the ignorant and childlike individual that he is. Laurel’s stupidity keeps him lighthearted and unaffected by negative outcome. He is only able “to understand friendship as an extension of, or means to, elementary gratifications: food, warmth, coziness”.6 With this in mind, Laurel is unaffected by his mistakes or disappointing his friend because he sees no upside in making Hardy happy. Laurel is more so an independent character as he is unaware of his stupidity and the positive person it makes him. In the film, Helpmates, Laurel’s dumbness leads to Hardy’s house being burned down. At first the scene shows Laurel walking around trying to put the flames out. However, a couple moments later Hardy walk in to see this smoking sight. When Hardy finally sits down on what is left of the furniture, Laurel looks as though he is going to cry. However, immediately after he explains what happened all previous thought disappears; he can no longer identify anything concrete that he can help Hardy with, as he replies, “well I guess there’s nothing else I can do”. This simple remark shows the stupidity yet the inability Laurel has in grasping emotion. Laurel’s incapability to feel such remorse makes him able to forget and move on from the matter at hand. This in the end leaves a worry free and independent character.
Hardy’s method of dominance is just a cover-up for his everlasting dependence on Laurel. Hardy’s mind “has been worked into more abstract feelings: feelings for others”.7 This is demonstrated in Hardy’s continuous anger for Laurel’s ignorance, yet his inability to step away or remove himself from the friendship. In the film, Laughing Gravy, the end scene is Laurel receiving a letter stating he is going be given a large amount of money. Hardy becomes outraged as he inquires what the letter said, but the information stays withheld from him. Laurel feels no need to tell Hardy of this present based on the previous words Hardy had stated about Laurel being a burden. When Laurel begins to feel a sense of remorse he rips up the letter, but the audience is reminded of his inability to truly care about Hardy’s feelings, as Laurel states it was for the dog. This scene is a clear representation of “Stan’s love of animals, in preference to either money or Ollie”.8 The film is concluded with Hardy angrily yelling and stomping at his beloved partner’s response. The way Hardy reacts in the end demonstrates the underlying and apparent love Hardy feels for their friendship. The response Laurel gives is witty yet is unintentionally hurtful to Hardy. Hardy is greatly affected by Laurel’s insensitive response, but in reality this is only Laurel’s true and ignorant personality. In the end, it is clear Hardy is ultimately more dependent on Laurel as he sees the significance of friendship meanwhile Laurel is more worried about Laughing Gravy.
There are many times throughout their films that show the attachment Hardy has for Laurel, when it comes to making him happy or keeping the friendship together. Due to the many obstacles and injuries the two faces together, one would think they would give up and lose faith. However, this is not the case, “they stick together even events [that] test their solidarity to the utmost”.9 The standard Laurel and Hardy principle stated by Simon Louvish is that “if at first you don’t succeed fail, fail again”.10 Although the two never give up, it is for two very different personal reasons. Laurel is incapable of leaving not because he needs Hardy, but because he does not understand the concept of leaving. Laurel’s unintelligence keeps him tied to Hardy. On the other hand, like previously stated, Hardy keeps Laurel around because of his need for love and friendship, making himself vulnerable which results in a needed companionship. In the film, The Finishing Touch, Hardy is injured numerous times by Laurel. When Laurel attempts to make a ramp for Ollie to walk on, he fails on countless attempts, which leads to multiple injuries for Hardy. Hardy’s patience with Laurel can only be read as a sense of compassion. This one scene is an illustration of the frustration and accidents these two create, but their inability or desire to quit. Hardy desire to place himself in charge over Laurel is a result of the caring and dominant parental manner Hardy looks to implement. Hardy tries to assist Laurel in hopes of aiding his ignorant friend. Due to the fact Laurel is incapable of making these sympathetic responses or relationships Hardy looks for, Hardy makes himself seem tougher by acting as the one in charge in hopes of hiding his vulnerability.
This leadership factor is a controversial idea that creates an inner struggle and conflict within the films. Hardy’s inability to come to terms with his personal insecurities and affection for Laurel, results in forcing petty and potentially harmful jobs onto Laurel. Hardy does this in hopes of sustaining his idea of his own personal dominance. At the beginning of the movie Helpmates, the distribution of petty jobs to Laurel is administered. Laurel is asked by Hardy to come over and “help” clean his house before his wife returns. However, when Laurel shows up to the house, all the cleaning is put on Laurel. Hardy never intends to help out his friend, but gives Laurel this jobs because Hardy knows Laurel’s lack of ability to say no. The other way the domination factor contributes to the films is the way in which they create violence. The harmful aspects of the films are usually a result of some type of stupidity between the two. However, these injuries are in direct correlation to Hardy forcing something onto Laurel for it only to backfire, harming Hardy in the end. Another film, Laughing Gravy, Hardy is injured numerous times, in the chimney, by falling bricks and being left in the cold. Hardy tries to put his partner indirectly in harms way, by giving him the jobs he does not want to complete and knows Laurel is incapable of saying no to. Hardy forces Laurel to climb up the chimney first to get the dog, open the door of the angry landlord and hide the dog, all coincidentally never ending poorly for Laurel. Laurel’s stupidity to continuously say yes leaves him coincidentally never in danger and as joyful as ever. However, in contradiction to Laurel’s luck, the familiar concept of karma is demonstrated as Hardy is left in a worse position then he had expected to be. Hardy’s desire for domination, yet his true inner weaknesses he obtains, result in this method of distributing harmful jobs to Laurel. Hardy’s fears and insecurities are truly exemplified, as he is the one who needs jobs done for him. Hardy tries to act like he is the one with the all the intelligence and the courageous personality, but in reality without Laurel many things would go unaccomplished. Hardy is continuously too scared to step out of his comfort zone or scared of being yelled at, that he pushes Laurel to take the hit instead. Barr distinguishes this relationship, as Hardy is solely “playing grown up to Stan’s ‘baby’.11 The domination factor is a topic that is seen differently among viewers and the characters. As Hardy “meets with disaster because of his need to feel superior” he gives Laurel an indirect and coincidental safety net.12
These two comedians’ play amazing and complex characters. The continuous inner struggle Oliver Hardy has within himself, hoping to gain total dominance, is questioned. Hardy is never fully able to get rid of this inhibiting factor, also known as Laurel, that he believes will help him achieve his success. Hardy sees Laurel as a nuisance, but his genuine love for their friendship makes it impossible for him to leave. However, Laurel’s inability to grasp any concepts or social cues leaves him in a better place than Hardy. Laurel’s lack of affection or desire for friendship creates a simple character that is able to survive on his own. Laurel from an inside perspective is the dominant figure in the group as he moves along with no sense of fear, leading the duo in the end.
Harness, Kyp. The Art of Laurel and Hardy: Graceful Calamity in the Films. Jefferson
, N.C: McFarland, 2006. Print.
Louvish, Simon. Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy : The Double Life of Laurel and
Hardy. 1st U.S. ed. New York: T. Dunne Books, 2002. Print.
Barr, Charles. Laurel & Hardy. 1st American ed. Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1968. Print.
Sanders, Jonathan. Another Fine Dress: Role-Play in the Films of Laurel and Hardy.
London: Cassell, 1995. Print.
Janik, Vicki K., and Emmanuel S. Nelson. Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and
History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press,