STAN: The Life of Stan Laurel by Fred Lawrence Guiles

STAN: The Life of Stan Laurel

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Gossipy star-biographer Guiles (Tyrone Power: The Last Idol, etc.) does his usual slapdash job on the thin, weepy half of Laurel & Hardy--in an adequately researched, sloppily written chronicle that stresses the off-screen marital miseries of poor Stan. He came from a successful north-of-England theater clan but roughed it on his own for over a decade in music hall and US vaudeville (starting out as understudy to Chaplin, his unmatchable lifelong rival) before making his first silent shorts in Hollywood. Even then, however, as a solo star for Hal Roach, Jr. and others, Stan never clicked (despite his writer-director gifts), and his career was held back by his drinking and by his first, common-law marriage to beefy vaudeville partner Mae (he had this ""fatal attraction to bitches,"" Guiles tells us). But then Mae was sent home to Australia, legal wife #1 Lois took over, Roach paired Stan with Oliver ""Babe"" Hardy, and director Leo McCarey gave the team definition: ""Superstardom came late but rapidly in 1928."" Ten years on top followed, while Stan itched for creative independence but found that he'd ""written and acted himself into a dead end as a possible single."" And the ""female revolution"" in comedy--plus the rise of Abbott & Costello--made him a has-been by 1945, a has-been who'd gone through three more wives, bouts with the bottle, and depression; the next 20 years would bring, however, legendary status via TV rediscovery. Guiles finds no shape or real drama in this sad, thin scenario; nor does he bring insight or evocative description to the films themselves. Instead, he fills the book out with limp hyperbole (Stan was ""perhaps the most democratic major star of all time""), dubious generalizations, strained comparisons (obtuse references to Woody Allen), and psycho-babble: ""he was more loyal to his own sex than to women in a nonemotional way. This stemmed not so much from fickleheartedness as from boredom."" Only for undemanding, gossip-oriented fans, then: comedy buffs will prefer to stick with the cheerier nostalgic treatments by John McCabe and others.

Pub Date: Dec. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Stein & Day