Laurel and Hardy

Our history: Laurel and Hardy brought laughter to Shubert Theater

The last time comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were in Cincinnati was for an appearance at the Shubert Theater in 1942.

This week, Laurel and Hardy have come back in spirit as their fans congregate for the 21st International Sons of the Desert Convention at Downtown’s Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza.

Sons of the Desert is the Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, founded in 1965 and named for the lodge in their 1933 feature, “Sons of the Desert.” There are 134 “tents” across 12 countries.

The convention brings together about 200 fans from as far away as Belgium and New Zealand to share in the mutual love of the life and films of Laurel and Hardy.

“I consider us ‘buffs,’ people having a connoisseur-like affection for Laurel and Hardy, and being discriminating in that affection, with fun as our goal and operative guide,” said the late John McCabe, Laurel and Hardy biographer and co-founder of Sons of the Desert.

Disclosure: I am “grand sheik” of the Chimp Tent, the Cincinnati chapter of Sons of the Desert, and I am on the committee that is hosting the convention, which is no longer accepting registrations.

My love of Laurel and Hardy goes back to my childhood. My grandfather had some of their movies on Super 8 film reels, and I recall watching the boys mixed up in another nice mess breaking Model T’s and struggling to deliver a piano up a million steps. I even dressed up as Stan for Halloween in the fourth grade — this was in the 1980s, mind you.

Stan’s goofy grin and Ollie’s tie twiddle continue to delight as I share their films with my daughter, passing on a family tradition.

The classic comedy duo is still recognized the world over just by their profile — one fat, one skinny, in matching bowler hats.

Laurel and Hardy teamed up in 1927 and starred together in 106 films, including “Way Out West,” “Big Business” and the Oscar-winning short “The Music Box.” They were among the few acts to find success in both silent and sound pictures.

The comedians appeared “in person” at the Shubert in a revue from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, 1942, as part of their “Hell-a-Belloo” U.S. tour. They performed a sketch involving “a series of misunderstandings about an application for an auto license,” and closed with “a silly song by Laurel,” reported Enquirer critic E.B. Radcliffe.

According to newspaper reports, Laurel and Hardy stayed at the Netherland Plaza, and Laurel went bowling at Central Alleys on Eighth and Walnut streets (the current site of the Main Library). The Shubert, a block away at Seventh and Walnut streets, was torn down in 1976.

That was the comedy team’s first appearance in Cincinnati, but not Laurel’s.

Laurel had been part of Fred Karno’s Comedy Company, an English troupe that toured America starting in 1910, including three visits in 1911 and 1912 at the Empress Theater at 816 Vine St. (now also part of the Main Library site).

An Empress playbill for the week of Feb. 26, 1911, lists Karno’s troupe presenting “A Night in an English Music Hall,” starring a young Charlie Chaplin. Laurel, then known as Stan Jefferson, was listed as one of the Village Choir Singers and was also Chaplin’s understudy.

The venues may be gone and the comedians have passed away, but if you go by the Netherland this week, you’ll still hear the laughter.

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