Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Ultimate Book on Laurel and Hardy

With respect to everyone who wrote a book about Laurel and Hardy in the past, and will do so in the coming future, the latest from Randy Skretvedt, a massive 628-page cockroach killer, is a must-have. There can be no doubt that others will follow with their own tomes, documenting new discoveries and/or attempting to out-shine past endeavors, but Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies practically covers everything as a massive compilation of all things Laurel and Hardy. Even if you watched every Laurel and Hardy film short, twice, reading the entries under each film short and full-length motion-picture will make you want to watch the films again. 

Where to begin? 

His first edition was written back in 1987 and 29 years later, much has happened to the legacy of Laurel and Hardy. The Hal Roach films were purchased by Hallmark Cards, who wanted the film as collateral when trying to obtain funding for their Hallmark Hall of Fame television specials. They virtually did nothing with their films, and thought so little of the films that they almost destroyed the original 35mm master materials, which were saved by the eleventh hour by a Laurel and Hardy scholar and the staff at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. 

Thankfully, the rights to the Hal Roach talkies eventually returned to the custody of RHI Entertainment, the 35mm materials donated to UCLA, and restored prints are presently being funded. And this is where Randy's new book comes in to play. Adding to the continued legacy of the comedy duo that almost faded from the mainstream, decades of continued research made up this 628-page book, slick glossy paper, consisting of 800 photographic images -- many never-before-published with photos from Oliver Hardy's personal collection. Randy interviewed actors and actresses for recollections and anecdotes, and tracked down locations where the team filmed many of their famous scenes. Having access to the shooting scripts, Randy compared the finished product to determine which jokes were improvised on the set, unscripted, and which scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

Randy debunks the story Hal Roach told in Brownlow's Hollywood documentary, regarding the mistaken house used in Big Business (1929), how Jean Harlow's grandfather was outraged when he discovered his actress daughter appeared on camera (just shy of 18 years) showing off her figure in Double Whoopie (1929), and why they made a brief appearance in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. I was not aware that the steps used for The Music Box (1932) has become an official landmark in the City of Los Angeles (complete with special signage), an un-filmed ending for Towed in a Hole (1932) is documented in detail, and photos from a deleted scene in Twice Two (1933) adds sugar on the icing.

This is definitely one of those books that you watch a film short, laugh your head off, and then take a moment to read up on the behind-the-scenes trivia to take a deeper appreciation for the craft.

Considering only one film short remains missing in its entirety, Hats Off, the information in this book is extremely valuable. Such documentation preserves history.

Even with a dozen reference works about Laurel and Hardy on my bookshelf, each a pleasant read, Randy's hardcover will now be the first -- and probably only -- book I pull off my shelf when I need to know something about Laurel and Hardy. The retail price may be as hefty as the book itself, $80 plus postage, but with a limit print run of 2,000, do not hesitate. The book has only been available for two years and the author told me he only has 300 left. Grab your copy today.

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