Messy Facts About Laurel and Hardy, Comedy’s Greatest Duo

April 10, 2024 | Alicia B.

Messy Facts About Laurel and Hardy, Comedy’s Greatest Duo

This legendary pair played lovable idiots on screen, but scandalized off screen.

1. They Had Chaotic Relationships

Laurel and Hardy’s messy marriages, crazy exes, mistresses, feuds, and scandals are just as entertaining as their movies. Their longest lasting relationship ended up being with each other–but even that ended tragically.

Stan Laurel And Oliver Hardy - 1938National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

2. They Were Polar Opposites

Laurel and Hardy weren’t supposed to cross paths. Stan Laurel was born into a British theater family in 1890, while Oliver Hardy was born into an American military family two years later. But they both fell in love with performing and comedy. 

When Laurel and Hardy’s dreams grew too big for their hometowns, they left. But even their wildest dreams had nothing on what unfolded.

Stan Laurel C1920Stax, Wikimedia Commons

3. Hardy Risked It All

Hardy didn’t just fall in love with comedy. He fell for the wrong woman. After working at his hometown’s movie theater, Hardy became convinced that he was better than the actors on screen. He took a leap of faith and started at the bottom of a production company. 

He also started a romance with Madelyn Saloshin. She was 28 to his 21. Not that Hardy cared.

American comedian Oliver Hardy in suit and hatGeneral Photographic Agency, Getty Images

4. Hardy Jumped Into Marriage

Anyone who had a bad feeling about Hardy and Madelyn’s marriage was right: Hardy’s first marriage became his first mistake in just months. Even though Hardy and Madelyn fell out of love as quickly as they fell into it, they remained married on paper for eight years. 

Unbeknownst to Hardy, Laurel also had girl problems around this time.

Oliver Hardy - Yes, Yes, Nanette (1925)Hal Roach Studios, Yes, Yes, Nanette (1925)

5. Laurel Had A Work Wife

Successful double acts are rare, and there’s a reason why. In 1917, 27-year-old Laurel and 29-year old Mae Dahlberg began collaborating on stage and on screen. She claimed to be a widow and even began calling herself Mae Laurel. Laurel desperately wanted to be her official husband, but couldn’t. 

Turns out, Mae already had one back in Australia. But this was a blessing in disguise.

Stanley Laurel on the phoneStuart Axe, Flickr

6. Laurel Had A Difficult Lover

Laurel learned the hard way why you don’t mix work and play. Laurel and Mae’s dressing room fights became so common, they faded to background noise. Mae wasn’t just a Dahlberg, she was a diva. She just lacked the little things, like actual talent to back her up. 

This didn’t stop Mae from demanding roles in all of Laurel’s jobs. But he was no angel either.

Mae Laurel in fur coat looking at rightLMPC, Getty Images

7. Laurel Had Dangerous Habits

Stan Laurel was unpredictable–and that was before he started drinking. His professional reputation took a beating, but he just kept landing jobs. Laurel may have been a heavy drinker and unreliable, but most importantly, he was charming and gifted. 

That was good enough for most people. Mae, on the other hand, didn’t get this grace. It was the beginning of the end.

Stan Laurel, Silent Film ActorUniversity of Washington, Wikimedia Commons

8. Laurel Had To Dump Her

Laurel and Dahlberg had both a professional and a romantic relationship. Neither survived. Laurel’s boss Joe Rock knew he could be a star–but not with Mae in his life. So Joe banned her from appearing in his movies, period. He even included it in Laurel’s contract. 

When even this didn’t stop Mae, the producer knew what he had to do.

Mildred Reardon and Stan Laurel in Hustling for HealthFrank Terry, Wikimedia Commons

9. Laurel Was Heartbroken

At this point, Laurel and Mae had been together for eight years: Joe knew he had to go big for her to go home. He tried to convince Mae to dump Laurel and return to Australia. Joe did it not with not only his words, but he sweetened the pot with jewels, clothing, and cash. It worked. 

Despite everything she'd put him through, Mae’s departure depressed Laurel. Luckily, Joe knew the perfect way to cheer him up.

Stan Laurel in The Pest, 1922 feeling downAmalgamated Producing Corporation, The Pest (1922)

10. Laurel Moved On Fast

When Joe introduced Lauren to actress Lois Neilson, he hoped to cheer his star up. His plan worked yet again, and Laurel moved quickly with his actress lover. This time, they became husband and wife for real. But this love story had the same ending. The honeymoon phase was over in the blink of an eye. 

Even as they married and conceived a child, Laurel was already cheating with actress Alyce Ardell. Lois never stood a chance.

Stan Laurel in White Wings, 1923.George Jeske, Wikimedia Commons

11. Hardy Was A Bad Husband

Meanwhile, Hardy divorced Madeleyn after eight years of separation. He soon married Myrtle Reeves. She was younger, beautiful—and troubled. They were doomed from the start. For one, Myrtle and Hardy had nothing in common. On top of that, Hardy worked and gambled too much. Myrtle put up with everything until something–or someone–pushed her over the edge.

Comedic film star Oliver Hardy and his wife, Myrtle Reeves, aboard the S.S. Santa LuciaBettmann, Getty Images

12. Hardy Was A Cheater

It was all over when Hardy crossed paths with Viola Morse. She was a gorgeous single mom who, unlike Myrtle, shared interests with him. They began an affair. Meanwhile, Hardy’s wife began drinking. Once Myrtle started drinking, she couldn’t stop.

It got so bad that she spent the rest of their marriage being committed to—and escaping from—mental institutions. It gets worse.

Myrtle Reeves wearing bathing suitLibrary of Congress, Picryl

13. Hardy Married A Drinker 

One day, Myrtle locked herself in a hotel room and threatened to jump out the window. On the ground, officers, firemen, and even reporters were there to witness her breakdown. Hardy did try to help her—but he couldn’t resist a decade-long affair with Viola. 

But this was before social media, and few people noticed their issues: Hardy was too good at entertaining people, off and off screen.

Oliver Hardy and Ethelyn Gibson in Billy West, Wikimedia Commons

14. They Didn’t Need Each Other

At this point, Laurel and Hardy each were strong, independent actors who didn’t need a partner. Laurel didn’t just write and direct, he also appeared in over 50 films. Meanwhile, Hardy had 250 productions to his name. By their late 30s, they’d developed their talents and careers respectably. 

But together, Laurel and Hardy set comedy on fire.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Dick & Doof wearing black suitsullstein bild Dtl., Getty Images

15. They Forgot Their First Project

Laurel and Hardy was not love at first sight. In fact, they didn’t even remember their first time working together. Both believed their 1926 film 45 Minutes To Hollywood was the first collaboration. Turns out, the duo appeared in the silent film The Lucky Dog together five whole years before that. Neither remembered. 

They’d eventually get their second chance–but it was a total disaster.

Laurel & Hardy in The Lucky Dog (1921)G. M. Anderson, The Lucky Dog (1921)

16. They Almost Didn’t Make It

Producer Hal Roach's decision to pair Laurel and Hardy in 45 Minutes To Hollywood was based on convenience and budget more than anything else. That might explain why it was a complete mess. The cameras couldn’t even capture Laurel’s pale blue eyes properly. They appeared eerily white on screen.

It seemed like "Laurel and Hardy" was over before they even began. Then a lifeline arrived.

45 Minutes from Hollywood | Stan Laurel & Oliver HardyHal Roach Studios, 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926)

17. They Were The Perfect Match

A year later, new technology fixed the camera problem. Laurel and Hardy were officially back on—but the odds were still against them. You see, comedic duos usually consisted of a straight man and a funny man…but Laurel and Hardy were both funny men. But what they had was the talent to switch back and forth. 

Once Laurel and Hardy discovered this signature style, they became unstoppable.

Stan Laurel in The Lucky Dog in suitG. M. Anderson, The Lucky Dog (1921)

18. They Had A Schtick 

This pair was a sight to behold. Laurel’s height, weight, and build were average–but it never seemed that way. That’s because Hardy’s height and voluptuous body made Laurel look puny. Laurel played clumsy and innocent characters, while Hardy played arrogant and buffoonish ones. Their differences were part of the charm. 

Their comedic style was slapstick, visual, and cartoonish—and it was a perfect match for silent films. But it couldn't last. 

The Flying Deuces (1939)RKO, Wikimedia Commons

19. They Faced A Massive Challenge

By 1929, “talkies” replaced silent films. Laurel and Hardy had to sink or swim. Change is hard–especially when you’re in your late 30s and have been doing things a certain way for decades. This is the crisis that Laurel, Hardy, and other silent film actors faced. Even the most legendary performers—including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd—failed to adapt. 

Laurel and Hardy survived. And then some.

Laurel and Hardy in The Flying DeucesRKO, The Flying Deuces (1939)

20. They Beat The Odds

Laurel and Hardy didn’t just adapt, they thrived. Adding sound effects and spoken dialogue only enhanced their work. They hit the ground running in 1932 with their first sound film, The Music Box. It became one of their most iconic pictures and nabbed them an Oscar. 

But while their careers thrived, the same can’t be said about their marriages. 

Laurel and Hardy sitting at a carriage with a horseHal Roach Studios, The Music Box (1932)

21. They Were Different Off Screen

Laurel and Hardy’s true personalities would’ve shocked their fans. Hardy was so easy-going that a colleague even joked “It was astonishing that Hardy could even find his way to the studio”. Meanwhile, Laurel wasn’t just meticulous and professional. 

He could be unpredictable and moody–and his wives always paid the price.

Laurel and Hardy in The Music BoxHal Roach Studios, The Music Box (1932)

22. Laurel Faced A Devastating Loss

By 1930, Lois and Laurel’s marriage was already a mess. And that’s before they experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of their nine-day-old son. Laurel found coping mechanisms, but they excluded his wife completely. They included throwing himself back into work. Oh, and having another affair. 

It doesn't take a relationship expert to see: This was the beginning of the end.

Laurel holding a hat Hal Roach Studios, The Music Box (1932)

23. Laurel Was A Bad Husband

There’s moving fast, and there’s Laurel. He divorced Lois in 1935, and married his mistress Virginia Ruth Rogers mere months later. But he paid for his hastiness. When he realized the divorce was a mistake, it was too late. Ruth was a new wife, but Laurel was still the same husband. 

And she was about to learn that how you get them is how you lose them.

Virginia Laurel, the second wife of the comic screen star Stan LaurelHulton Archive, Getty Images

24. Laurel Couldn’t Stop Cheating

When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy. Laurel continued to see Alyce and other women, but it was the affair with a 19-year-old that set his wife off. Ruth found outand what happened next was straight out of a Laurel and Hardy film. She grabbed a riding crop and raced to the girl’s house. The girl’s grandmother opened the door.

The grandmother not only confirmed that Laurel was inside, but insisted he was her granddaughter’s fiancé. Ruth didn’t take this well. Riding crop in hand, she screamed at Laurel to come outside. He refused to and hid. Ruth eventually gave up and headed home. But this was just the beginning of Laurel's betrayals.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy with their wivesbrandstaetter images, Getty Images

25. Laurel Was Dangerous

When Laurel drank too much, he behaved horrifically. On one occasion, he chased his wife around their home with a knife. He only stopped after a friend arrived and saved Ruth. It wasn’t a surprise when they called it quits in 1937. After all, they experienced decades worth of drama in two years. But Laurel’s confession was shocking.

Laurel  in The Flying Deuces in suitRKO, The Flying Deuces (1939)

26. Laurel Couldn’t Move On

When Laurel filed for divorce, he couldn’t resist pouring more salt into Ruth’s wounds. Laurel confessed he was still in love with Lois. Laurel even told countless people that he’d lost all he ever cared about when he lost her. Ouch. To make matters worse, Laurel didn’t just miss Lois. He tried to get back. Note the word: tried.

Stan Laurel ex wife and daughterBettmann, Getty Images

27. Hardy Was Finally Free

After 16 years, Hardy and Myrtle finally divorced in 1937. People predicted he’d marry Viola Morse, his long-term mistress, next. But Hardy got cold feet. 

Despite the chaos, Hardy and Myrtle’s marriage rarely received press coverage anyway. The same can’t be said for Laurel, who received enough for the both of them.

Oliver Hardy in the Music Box wearing a shirt Hal Roach Studios, The Music Box (1932)

28. Laurel Juggled His Exes

There’s only so much someone can take. By the end of 1937, Laurel was already facing a divorce with Ruth and a rejection from Lois. Of course, that’s when Mae crawled out of the woodwork. Laurel’s former common-law wife joined the fray and sued him. To make matters worse, he already financially supported both Lois and Ruth. 

Laurel, chest deep in trouble, decided to make some more.

Laurel and Hardy in The Flying Deuces RKO, The Flying Deuces (1939)

29. Laurel Impulsively Married

When a sketchy Hollywood friend introduced Stan Laurel to a mysterious woman, he had the brilliant idea of proposing to her. After just five weeks. Laurel spent the first day of 1938 tying the knot with Vera Ivanova Shuvalova. She was a Russian singer who went by Illeana. Illeana? 25. Laurel? 47. 

Their wedding? A disaster straight out of a Laurel and Hardy movie.

Stan Laurel and wifeGeneral Photographic Agency, Getty Images

30. Laurel Had A Wedding Crasher

Laurel just couldn’t catch a break with his ex-wives. This time, Ruth crashed his wedding. She declared they were still married and she was the real Mrs. Laurel. Ruth demanded officials invalidate Laurel and Illeana’s marriage. But he proved their divorce went through, albeit just days earlier. 

This set a delightful tone for Laurel and Illeana’s honeymoon.

Stan Laurel in a still from the short film The Tree in a Test TubeUnited States Department of Agriculture, Wikimedia Commons

31. Laurel Had An Awkward Honeymoon

Three’s a crowd, but Laurel didn’t get this memo. He had the perfect idea for their romantic cruise honeymoon: inviting Lois. It's even worse than it sounds: Lois also happened to be suing him for more money. 

After the honeymoon, Lois continued to come over for intimate chats about their old married life. Poor Illeana. She didn't even realize how bad it was going to get.

Stan Laurel in suit and a hatUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

32. Laurel Had A Crazy Ex

Whatever happened between Laurel and Lois had nothing on Ruth’s schemes. She wasn’t content with wedding crashing. For the next year, Ruth terrorized the newlyweds by sending fire engines and firefighters to their home to put out imaginary fires in the middle of the night. 

Unsurprisingly, Laurel eventually sued her for stalking. But Ruth remained delusional until the very end. This would’ve strained the healthiest marriage–and what they had was the furthest thing from it.

Laurel & Hardy in movieInsomnia Cured Here, Flickr

33. Laurel Had A Reckless Wife

Expectations were low, but Laurel and Illeana managed to sink even further. When the newlyweds weren’t fighting, they were drinking. Illeana’s run-ins with the law included car crashes, driving without a license, reckless driving, and disorderly conduct at a club. On more than one occasion, she found herself behind bars. 

Illeana was clearly a hot mess–but so was Laurel. 

Laurel & Hardy in Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr

34. Laurel Drank and Drive

When Laurel ended up behind bars and in court for drinking and driving, he had a wild defense: Instead of taking responsibility, he blamed Illeana’s “terrific temper”. Laurel claimed she went after him with a telephone, a skillet full of potatoes, and sand in his eyes. 

Unlike Illeana, Laurel got off on these charges. She later accused Laurel of inventing that story—and scapegoating her—to protect his career. But the damage was already done.

Laurel and Hardy in The Flying DeucesRKO, The Flying Deuces (1939)

35. Laurel Was Dumped

Turns out, the couple that drinks and drives together, doesn’t stay together. Illeana celebrated their first anniversary by filing for divorce. She explained that Laurel drank too much, behaved appallingly, and regularly disappeared for days. But not long after, she had a change of heart and the couple kissed and made up. 

It didn’t last long, and she filed for divorce again.

Laurel & Hardy in Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr

36. Laurel Pursued His Ex-Wife

Stan Laurel never knew when to leave well enough alone. During his and Illeana’s divorce, he called up Ruth to beg for another chance. Yes, the same ex-wife who crashed his wedding and used fire engines to harass him. Unlike Lois, Ruth agreed to get back together. 

She hoped that time changed had Laurel for the better. Spoiler: it hadn’t.

Stan Laurel in suit and a hatSilver Screen Collection, Getty Images

37. Laurel Remarried An Ex-Wife

Laurel was still Laurel. And by that I mean, he struggled with his emotions, gave her the silent treatment, walked out often, and fought with her constantly. They remarried in 1941 anyway. Second time’s the charm? It didn’t take long for Ruth to realize it wasn’t. 

When Laurel and Ruth divorced again in 1946, it was for good. Meanwhile, Hardy’s love life was worlds apart.

tan Laurel and his wife, Virginia Laurel on on board a shipExpress, Getty Images

38. Hardy Found True Love

Hardy had much better luck in love. He didn’t marry his long term mistress Viola after divorcing Myrtle. It was the right call. On a movie set, Hardy fell in love with script girl Virginia Lucille Jones. She became the third Mrs. Hardy in 1940. Third time’s the charm? It actually was. 

It took a few decades, a few marriages, a few divorce settlements, and a few affairs–but he’d finally found the one. Laurel needed a bit more time.

Oliver Hardy and wife Virginia Lucille Jones.Mirrorpix, Getty Images

39. Laurel Married For Good

By 1946, Laurel had three ex-wives and four divorces to his name. That doesn’t even include the mess with Mae. No one would’ve bat an eye if he swore off marriage. But Laurel gave marriage another shot soon after divorcing Ruth. 

This time, he married Ida Kitaeva Raphael. Like Hardy, he’d finally found a marriage that lasted, even when times got tough.

Stan Laurel and wife Ida Kitaeva Raphael.Mirrorpix, Getty Images

40. Their Careers Declined

At their peak, Laurel and Hardy appeared invincible. Everything they touched turned into gold. But the 1940s and onwards showed they were human after all. There wasn’t a singular thing that caused their decline. Rather, it was a combination of factors like feuds with their producer, changing studios, and new film styles. 

Their health crises didn’t help one bit.

Stan Laurel and  Oliver HardyUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

41. They Had Health Issues

The size difference between Laurel and Hardy was funny–until it wasn’t. Laurel became so frail that it was no longer part of the gag. It was just alarming. As they got older, both suffered from countless health issues which impacted their ability to work. They canceled more and more projects. At least Laurel and Hardy managed to have one last hurrah before it was too late

Laurel And HardyKeystone, Getty Images

42. They Flopped

Atoll K, the last Laurel and Hardy movie, was also their worst. They struggled with everything from production issues to health scares. During filming, Hardy developed heart problems, while Laurel’s weight plummeted to 114 pounds. Critics noticed these issues and didn’t hold back. It was a depressing end to a legendary run.

But despite their countless personal and career problems, Laurel and Hardy remained best friends. Nothing could change that. Well, only one thing could.

Atoll K:  Laurel & Hardy's Final MovieFilms EGE, Atoll K (1950)

43. Hardy Became Unrecognizable

In 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and a wake up call. He began caring about his health for the first time–but it was too late. In 1956, Hardy suffered a career ending stroke. Stroke after stroke followed. They left him frail, bedridden, and unable to speak. 

When Laurel visited Hardy for the last time, the platonic soulmates could no longer communicate. Laurel wept on the way home. 

Atoll K:  Laurel & Hardy's Final MovieFilms EGE, Atoll K (1950)

44. They Had Money Problems

Laurel and Hardy should’ve been filthy rich by the end of their careers. But they’d gotten themselves into one too many messes. While Laurel and Hardy did their ex-wives dirty, they paid the price for it. They found themselves in legal battles with virtually all their ex-wives at some point over money. 

Even after Hardy sold his house to pay for his medical care, they kept coming after him.

Atoll K:  Laurel & Hardy's Final MovieFilms EGE, Atoll K (1950)

45. Hardy Couldn’t Catch A Break

In the end, Myrtle’s schemes for her ex-husband's money backfired. She sent a process server to Hardy’s home to deliver her demands for more money. When the server arrived, he was horrified by what he saw: a frail and dying 65-year-old. He couldn’t do it. 

The server couldn’t beat a man while he was already down. He refused to hand over Myrtle’s papers and fled in shame.

Oliver HardyFilms EGE, Atoll K (1950)

46. Laurel Was Devastated

In 1957, Hardy fell into a coma and never woke up. Laurel later told the press “What’s there to say? It’s shocking of course. Ollie was like a brother. That’s the end of the history of Laurel and Hardy”. But when Laurel found out, he became physically ill. 

Laurel had been through a lot, but nothing could’ve prepared him for this loss. It broke him.

Stan LaurelFilms EGE, Atoll K (1950)

47. Laurel Was A No-Show

Everyone from family, friends, and the who’s who of entertainment attended Hardy’s funeral. Well, almost everyone. Attendees realized that Laurel was nowhere in sight. Turns out, he was too ill to attend. But Laurel wasn’t hung up on his no-show because he knew Hardy “would understand”. But he still couldn’t imagine working without his other half.

Oliver Hardy GraveArthur Dark, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

48. Laurel Reunited With Hardy

In 1965, Laurel joined Hardy. The 74-year-old told his nurse he wouldn’t mind skiing. This was news to her, so she asked “Do you ski, Mr. Laurel?” Laurel replied that he didn’t, but “I’d rather be doing that than getting all these needles stuck in me”. Even now, he still had perfect comedic timing. He died within minutes. 

After Laurel and Hardy passed, their lawyer admitted “Such sweet men. But oh, the problems they could get into!”

Grave Of Stan LaurelAlan Light, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

49. They’re Legends

There are famous comedians, and there’s Laurel and Hardy. They starred in over 100 films and inspired countless people together. These include artists, writers, musicians, actors, and other creatives. Even more impressive was this influence spans generations, from their earliest films in the 1920s to the present day. Mark Hamil put it best, “If you don’t like Laurel and Hardy, you are no friend of mine.”

Laurel & Hardy in Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr

50. Laurel Faced Serious Accusations

At the end of the day, Oliver Hardy was a loveable scoundrel—but Stan Laurel might have pushed it a little too far. Before their divorce, his wife Illeana shared her experiences, and one story was beyond disturbing. 

One night, he dug a giant hole in their yard. When Illeana asked him what it was for, his response was chilling: “To bury you in”. That behavior is...troubling, to say the least.

Laurel & Hardy -Men O’ War (1929)Dennis Amith, Flickr

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