Stan and Ollie

I was ten years old, in Grade 5 at Bedford Park Public School in Toronto.  The school had a fun night for us kids and I remember it felt very special to be showing up there in the evening.  There were all sorts of cool stations, such as standing in front of a projector while a mom traced my silhouette on black construction paper.  As I cut out the image, I was in wonder that this was me.  I’m real.

Further on in the evening, after oodles of popcorn and sweets, we sat in the gym and watched a movie.  It was Laurel and Hardy at their slapstick best.  Laurel, pencil-thin with the most flexible face I’d ever seen … and Hardy, so very fat and jolly, complete with a little Hitler moustache (although I’d never heard of that guy).

I was transfixed and exploding regularly with laughter.  Self-esteem wasn’t my best subject and what a blessing to be so very happy in the company of my friends.

Laurel and Hardy clearly sunk deep inside this insecure boy, and stayed there.  On Saturday, I was searching for a movie to see in London.  Stan and Ollie was playing at the Hyland Cinema and it was already speaking to me.  The story focused on their later years, well after the popularity of their one hundred films.  The end of the celebrity was coming and two very human beings presented themselves to me … at odds with each other and yet deeply loving each other.  Here’s a review:

Jeff Pope’s script gives us two men whose partnership needs an audience to thrive.  Alone they’re close but often businesslike, held back; with even a single pair of eyes on them they blossom into life, slipping into routines in the hope of raising a smile.  Every audience from one to a million gets the same amount of effort.

I’m here to perform.  I’m here to be around people and hopefully touch their lives.  Hopefully make them smile.

At one point late in their journey together, Stan looks at Ollie and says “You don’t love me.  You love Laurel and Hardy.”  Biting words, and Ollie chooses not to send the venom back.  As his health declines and he declares retirement, and thus the end of walking onstage, there’s a scene in bed.  Ollie is tired in his PJs and Stan crawls in beside him, fully clothed.  They sit there holding hands, and we the audience are moved.  Simple contact forged over decades of friendship and collegiality.

Here’s another reviewer:

After that delightful prologue, Stan & Ollie begins in earnest – sixteen years later, by which time Laurel and Hardy – now competing with television, their own reruns and a couple of imitators named Abbott and Costello – have been forced to tour second-tier theaters in Britain, staying in un-grand hotels and playing to half-empty houses.  They’re not happy about it, but they’re troupers above all else, playing their classic “bits” as if they’re discovering them for the first time.  Written with compassion and worshipful wit by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie pays tribute to a bygone era when a little song, a little dance, a dollop of slapstick and some clever stage patter counted as enormously successful pop entertainment.  By dint of sheer self-preservation and professionalism, Stan and Ollie manage to turn their final tour together into a triumph, not knowing that it’s a curtain call, not just for their nearly 30-year partnership but for an entire culture.

I see the history of Bruce as I sit in the Hyland.  A little boy, laughing and laughing at big men.  Now I’m a big man myself and happily I’ve not let the joy slip out of my life.  In the falling away of Laurel and Hardy, and of slapstick humour, I see my own future ending.  I expect lots of raucous silliness between now and then.  And I hope that some kids, when they’re in their forties, will look back on their childhood and remember me with fondness.  “Mr. Kerr – he was pretty strange … and nice.”

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