We’re about five years away from the 100th anniversary of famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy’s first film as a double act: “Duck Soup” in 1927. And yet, a showing of their films was held at the Superior Moose Lodge earlier this month.
That’s thanks to the passion of the Busy Bodies Tent #60 of the Sons of the Desert , the official international society of Laurel and Hardy film buffs. The international society was founded in 1965, the last year that Stan Laurel was alive.
“He approved of the name,” said Dave Kirwan, grand sheikh of the Busy Bodies. “It was derived from one of their movies called ‘Sons of the Desert,’ a feature film. And that’s the name of the fraternal organization they’re involved in in the film, so there’s a big connection there.”
“And because of that, some of us wear fezzes sometimes — not much, but we do,” he continued. “I do.”
Kirwan, of Duluth, and Roger Krob, of Superior, have been with the local club from nearly the start in 1985.
“A young gentleman actually started the club,” Krob said. “He was 18 or 19 at the time and ran it for a couple of months. Then he got kind of tired of it and wanted to do other things, so he asked if I wanted to take it. He’d give me all his materials. I thought, I wouldn’t know where to start, but I said ‘yes.'”
Shortly after, the group started having regular meetings. The first was in the NorShor Theatre, followed by a series of restaurants where the club would put up a large white screen in a separate dining room. Eventually, the club found its homes at the West Duluth American Legion Post 71 and at the Superior Moose Lodge and continued to alternate between the two.
The group gets together about once a month in either location. They also do some outreach in various other places as well and walk in Superior’s Fourth of July parade.
“We get together and spend too much time on announcements, then show old movies, take an intermission and raffle off some neat stuff,” Kirwan said. “We have a membership that costs $13 a year for an individual and $16 for a family. That’s mostly just to cover the costs of the newsletter.”
The newsletter is Kirwan’s enthusiastic creation. Members can read a wealth of information about Laurel and Hardy; their few visits to the Twin Ports; when and where films were shown locally; member birthdays; a crossword puzzle; previews of this month’s showings; and more.
“Did you know that Stan Laurel actually came to the Twin Ports several times when he was in vaudeville?” Kirwan asked. “This was before he and Ollie were partners. But he was part of a company where he was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy.”
Just a sample of the tidbits one can pick up in the monthly newsletter; “The Busy Signal,” though Kirwan is quick to point to the international society’s newsletter as a source of inspiration. There, one can find information on the society’s efforts to keep the works of Laurel and Hardy alive. Subscribing to the newsletter is one of the few requirements for a club, or “tent,” of the Sons of the Desert.
But what is it about Laurel and Hardy films that draws such a dedicated community?
For some, it’s partially about the nostalgia. Club officers Dan and Adele Krusz remember watching Laurel and Hardy movies and TV short films as children.
“It was Captain Q,” Adele said. “Jack McKenna was a local weatherman who played Captain Q in the ’60s and he’d introduce the films. So if you were born in the ’50s, you would always see Laurel and Hardy after school. And I couldn’t wait to get home.”
McKenna would also introduce the Kruszes to The Little Rascals, Casper, Popeye and Little Lulu. He played a pirate captain on a mysterious ship on WDSM. Some of these cartoons and TV shorts are also shown by the club alongside Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin shorts.
Kirwan didn’t grow up in the Twin Ports, but he also remembers catching the films and shorts on TV. What draws him to the duo is their folly and relationship.
“It’s commonly about two people who shouldn’t be together, on a practical level. It’s how you take one stupid guy and another stupid guy and then the net result is much greater than the sum of two stupid guys,” Kirwan said. “But that’s on a practical level. On a personal level, you know, of course, that these two people belong together. Nobody else would put up with each other. There’s a warmth there, even though they don’t express that sentiment directly.”
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The Kruszes find their comedy to be “timeless.”
“And pretty universal as well,” Krob said. “There are so many tents across Europe and I remember meeting a fellow from Indonesia who would come to the international convention.”
Every two years, there’s a Sons of the Desert convention anywhere from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Marquette, Michigan, to Hollywood. Krob, the Kruszes and Kirwan have been to a handful of them and had the opportunity to meet actors and actresses who starred in “The Little Rascals,” which were filmed on the same lot as Laurel and Hardy.
“I got to meet one of the Rascals who lived in Cloquet,” Krob said. “I was at a Thelma Todd convention and when he (Jerry Tucker) heard I was from Minnesota, he told me that he’d married a Cloquet girl. Apparently, he’d applied to work at the newspaper there but didn’t get hired, so they left.”
The conventions also provide a chance to meet with members from across the globe and see how they do things in their groups.
“They have all these traditions at the conventions,” Adele said. “You have to go prepared for that. They have costume contests and stuff from lines of dialogue that everyone picks up on.”
The local meetings, Adele said, are more accessible. Everyone’s welcome to come and laugh at the classics.
“I’ll say one other thing,” Adele said. “Because we show these movies to a group, they are so much funnier. You get to laugh together.”