“That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” – Oliver Hardy.
Oliver Hardy Biography
Norvell Hardy was born on 18 January 1892 in Harlem, Georgia, USA. He was the son of a civil war veteran called Oliver, who had fought and been wounded fighting for the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam. His mother was Emily Norvell who was descended from Captain Hugh Norvell who had arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia sometime before 1635.
Norvell’s father died when he was less than twelve months old. He was the youngest of five children, although tragically, his brother Sam had died when they were children as the result of an accident on the Oconee River. Norvell had managed to pull Sam from the water, but he was unable to revive him.
Norvell was known to be a somewhat difficult child and as a result was sent to a military academy in Milledgeville, Georgia and then when thirteen years old he attended junior high at the Young Harris College in North Georgia. He wasn’t a huge fan of formal education and ran away from boarding school in order to sing with a theatrical group he had joined. His mother, recognising that he had a talent for singing and that he had gained an interest in theatre, sent him to Atlanta where he studied music and singing with Adolf Dahm-Petersen. Norvell skipped some lessons though in order to make a little money, and sang at the Alcazar Theatre for $3.50 per week. It didn’t last though, and he ended up back at Milledgeville.
As a tribute to his father, Norvell added the name Oliver in front of his own sometime before 1910 and appears in the U.S. census for 1910 as Oliver N. Hardy. From that point forward he used the name Oliver on all formal documents and communications.
In 1910 a movie theatre opened in Milledgeville, which is where Oliver was now calling home. He worked in the theatre in a number of different roles including as projectionist and manager, but as he saw more and more movies on the big screen he started to believe that he could do a better job. Oliver wanted to get into the movie industry and a friend suggested that Jacksonville, Florida may be a good starting point as he knew some films were being made there. Oliver Hardy moved to Jacksonville in 1913. At night he sang at the local cabaret and vaudeville theatres. He had a regular job there during the day at the Lubin Manufacturing Company, which is where he met Madelyn Saloshin and they were married on 17 November 1913.
All the time he was working in Jacksonville, Oliver Hardy stayed on the lookout for work in the film industry and his patience paid off when in 1914 he acted in his first movie, called Outwitting Dad. However, he found that his large size, he was over six feet tall and weighed more than 300 pounds, restricted him to playing certain roles. These were usually along the lines of the “hired muscle” or the villain. He did however also find that his size lent itself quite nicely to comedy roles. Over the next twelve months, Oliver Hardy had appeared in more than 50 single reel short films for the Lubin company.
Over the next few years, Hardy worked for a number of different studios including Pathé and Edison in New York before returning to Jacksonville to work for the Vim Comedy Company. Although Vim closed down after Hardy found that they were stealing from the payroll, the company was bought by the King Bee studio, leading Oliver to work with Bill Ruge, Billy West and Ethel Burton Palmer. He was by this time known as a comedy actor but occasionally played the part of “the heavy” well into the 1920’s.
In 1917, Oliver Hardy moved to Los Angeles and worked as a freelance actor for a number of studios in Hollywood. He separated from his wife in 1919 and by November 1921, they were divorced. Seven days after his divorce had been finalised, Oliver married again, this time to Myrtle Reeves, but it is said that she became an alcoholic and their marriage was not a happy one.
In 1921, Oliver starred in The Lucky Dog, a movie produced by G.M. Anderson, which also starred an English comedian called Stan Laurel. Although this was the start of a legendary comedy partnership, neither of them knew it, and didn’t work together again until Hardy appeared in Yes, Yes, Nanette! which starred Jimmy Finlayson, but was directed by Stan Laurel. It would be 1926 though before Laurel and Hardy shared screen time again, even though they had no scenes together in a film called 45 Minutes from Hollywood.
The following year though, it would all change as Laurel and Hardy began to star together as a comedy duo and churned out a huge number of short comedy films. In 1930, they appeared in their first colour movie called The Rogue Song and their first full-length movie, Pardon Us, followed in 1931. They won their only Academy Award in 1932 for The Music Box, another short film, which they continued to turn out until 1935.
In 1936, Oliver Hardy’s marriage to Myrtle Reeves was over and they were divorced.
Whilst on the set of The Flying Deuces three years later, Hardy met and fell in love with Virginia Lucille Jones, who was a script girl. The couple remained happily married up until Oliver Hardy’s death.
In the early 1940’s Laurel and Hardy began performing for the USO and supported allied troops throughout the second world war.
After the war in 1947, the pair went on a tour of the United Kingdom. They were initially apprehensive about how they would be received, but they needn’t have worried as they were mobbed everywhere they went. Their initial six week tour was extended and expanded to include other engagements in Europe including Scandinavia and France. They continued to visit the UK and France up until 1954.
Laurel and Hardy’s final film came in 1951. Called Atoll K, it wasn’t the easiest film for the pair to work on. They both became ill during filming and Stan Laurel had to rewrite some of the script to make it fit their style.
In 1954 they were featured, as a duo, on This is Your Life on television, and their final public appearance together was for a filmed insert for the BBC TV show, This is Music Hall in 1955. They were contracted to appear in more TV shows, but health issues for both men, meant that the plan never came to fruition.
In May of 1954, Oliver Hardy had a small heart attack and after this, he made efforts to look after his health more. He lost a considerable amount of weight, but on 14 September 1956, he suffered a major stroke and was confined to bed, unable to speak. He was cared for at home by Lucille, but in early August of the following year, he suffered two more strokes and slipped into a coma. On 7 August 1957, Oliver Hardy died at the age of 65. He was cremated and his remains were interred at te Masonic Garden of Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetary in North Hollywood.