Who Was Oliver Hardy?
Born on January 18, 1892, in Harlem, Georgia, Oliver Hardy began performing in minstrel shows at eight years old. Starting in his teens, he began acting in a variety of comedic shorts and graduated to two-reelers, dramas and westerns, playing "the fat guy" character. Although Hardy first worked with Stan Laurel around 1920, it would take close to a decade for the two to embark on their double act, after their film, Putting Pants on Philip (1927), became a hit with moviegoers. From there, Hardy — with his small mustache, forward combed black hair and tie-twiddle — would go on to make over 100 films with Laurel, including The Flying Deuces, Busy Bodies, Helpmates and Men O' War.
Hardy had three wives in his lifetime. He first married Madelyn Saloshin (m. 1913-1921) but decidedly divorced her for a younger lady, Myrtle Reeves (m. 1921-1937). However, Myrtle's alcoholism and self-abuse overwhelmed Hardy, and he eventually fled into the arms of another woman, Viola Morse, starting in 1929.
Hardy and Viola would see each other on and off for the next decade until he married his third wife, Virginia Lucille Jones, whom he wed in 1940 and stayed with through his death in 1957.
Unlucky in love, Hardy's first two wives, Madelyn and Myrtle, would end up tormenting him until his death, relentlessly demanding money, while his longtime partner Viola would try to commit suicide after their breakup.
Hardy (given name Norvell Hardy) was born on January 18, 1892, in Harlem, Georgia. His father, Oliver, served in the Confederacy and after the Civil War, helped manage his family's cotton plantation. Hardy's mother was a school teacher named Emily Norvell. By the time the elder Oliver and Emily married in 1890, each had been divorced three and two times over, respectively.
The couple had five children together, with Hardy being the youngest. Although he was a bit of an unruly child, Hardy responded well to music and theater and appeared in minstrel shows starting at age eight. His mother encouraged his talents and paid for him to receive singing lessons.
As Hardy began developing his stage persona, he soon changed his name to Oliver in honor of his father, who died when Hardy was an infant.
As a teenager, Hardy managed a movie theater and soon joined the Lubin Company in Florida. He began acting in a series of comedic shorts and made his film debut in Outwitting Dad in 1914. He graduated to two-reelers, drama and westerns, playing "the fat guy" character.
Laurel and Hardy
Hardy's first appearance with Stan Laurel was in The Lucky Dog (1921), but it wasn't until 1927 — working with famed producer Hal Roach — that the two found their collaboration was a match made in heaven when their short film, Putting Pants on Philip, became a smash hit.
Laurel and Hardy received top billing for the first time with the short From Soup to Nuts (1928), and the two made their first feature film, Pardon Us (1931), followed by such films as March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934) and Way Out West (1937).
During the course of two decades, Laurel and Hardy would produce over 100 films together, including other notable hits like Men O' War (1929), Laughing Gravy (1931), Busy Bodies (1933), Helpmates (1932) and The Flying Deuces (1939).
Their double act made them one of the most popular comedy teams of the era. Even after Laurel and Hardy stopped acting in films in 1950, they would spend the remainder of their working years on the road, touring together throughout England.
Death & Funeral
In the spring of 1954, Hardy experienced a mild heart attack and soon after, lost 150 lbs. within a matter of months. Considering both Hardy and Laurel were extremely heavy smokers, many speculated that Hardy's rapid weight loss was due to his possibly having terminal cancer, which Laurel had mentioned in written letters.
Regardless, Hardy's health problems went from bad to worse when he had a major stroke in 1956 that left him bedridden and unable to speak temporarily. After two more strokes the following year, Hardy fell into a coma. He passed on August 7, 1957. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis.
Hardy's body was cremated and his ashes were laid to rest at the Masonic Garden of Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood.
Suffering from an illness, Laurel was unable to attend Hardy's funeral but was quoted as saying "Babe would understand." Laurel reportedly had a difficult time dealing with his death and never emotionally recovered from the loss.
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