BOOTLEG FILES 468: “Laurel and Hardy” (1966-67 animated Hanna-Barbera series).
LAST SEEN: Some episodes are on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None, although there was a British VHS and French DVD release.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is hard to say why this is missing.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It could happen.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began to achieve a new degree of popular appreciation. Television stations reran the duo’s 1930s film shorts, while archivist Robert Youngson presented their 1920s silent films in a series of popular theatrical anthology films.
Hardy died in 1957 and only saw the very beginnings of this new wave of adulation. Laurel lived until 1965 and was honored by the new attention to his work, which included a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award and the friendship of high-profile Hollywood stars including Jerry Lewis and Dick Van D**e.
However, the belated fame did not come with long-overdue fortune – neither Laurel nor Hardy’s widow, Lucille, received any residuals for the re-release of the duo’s films. In 1961, Laurel and Mrs. Hardy were approached with a business venture that was envisioned to help bring a new revenue stream based on the licensing of the Laurel and Hardy film characters.
The man behind this proposal was Larry Harmon, an entertainer and businessman who made a considerable fortune in the successful marketing of the Bozo the Clown character. Harmon believed that the Laurel and Hardy characters could be reinvented in a new series of animate films, and he convinced Laurel and Mrs. Hardy to sign on to this endeavor. Harmon had the right concept, but time it took some time before the idea clicked. Indeed, it was until after Laurel’s death that he was able to secure a deal with the Hanna-Barbera animation studio to create a series of made-for-television cartoons based on Laurel and Hardy.
Hanna-Barbera churned out 156 five-minute cartoons under the “Laurel and Hardy” banner for release in the 1966-1967 season. Harmon provided the voice of Stan Laurel’s character, while Jim MacGeorge played Oliver Hardy. Veteran cartoon voice actors including Janet Waldo, Don Messick and Paul Frees were brought in for supporting characters.
“Laurel and Hardy” faced an impossible task of trying to match the brilliance of the live-action films starring the celebrated funnymen. To its credit, the cartoon series managed to stay close to the spirit of its material. The characters kept some of the duo’s trademark behavior: Laurel’s scratching of his unruly hair and his whimpering cry when confronted with the results of his idiocy, and Hardy’s nervous tie-twiddle and impatient stare at the audience when burdened with the lunatic wreckage created by his dim-witted partner. MacGeorge captured Hardy’s voice beautifully, though Harmon took some time before he nailed Laurel (the character’s voice changes noticeably throughout the series). And at least one of the cartoons – “Love Me, Love My Puppy” – is an unofficial remake of the 1931 Laurel and Hardy short “Laughing Gravy,” with the men trying to conceal a happy puppy from an irritable landlord seeking to enforce a no-pets rent clause.
Unfortunately, “Laurel and Hardy” was hampered by the too-tight running time of the cartoons (each clocked in under five minutes) and the limited budgets that were typical of the Hanna-Barbera output during the 1960s. And being a Hanna-Barbera production, there was also a surplus of dialogue that ultimately burdened whatever slapstick mayhem was being generated. As a result, the series was a hit-and-miss affair. When the cartoons clicked, they were often very amusing and, on occasion, inspired.
One of the better efforts was “The Genie Was Meanie,” in which the duo clean a tarnished lamp that releases a genie from its interior. But rather than serve as a benevolent wish provider, the genie forces Laurel and Hardy to become his servants – and the duo are miniaturized when they try to rebel. In the cartoon’s eerie denouement, Laurel and Hardy try to subdue their magical dominator but wind up trapped with the genie inside the lamp. “At least now I have company for the next 500 years,” exclaims the genie as the cartoon’s startling final shot focuses on the lamp sitting on a table in Laurel and Hardy’s now-empty house, with no one to rescue the pair from their impossible imprisonment.
Also worth noting is “How Green Was My Lawn Mower,” in which Laurel and Hardy purchase the eponymous machine for a spell of garden upkeeping. Naturally, things go from bad to worse – Laurel drives the lawn mower through their house, and the pair ride the out-of-control machine in a wild chase with an unamused motorcycle cop.
In “No Moose is Good Moose,” Laurel and Hardy’s rabbit hunting efforts are frustrated by the repeated presence of a bellicose moose. The cartoon’s is full of weird gags, with Laurel picking up the moose and dropping it off a cliff on to Hardy and a closing shot with Laurel and Hardy’s heads pilloried as wall trophies in the moose’s home!
But, for the most part, “Laurel and Hardy” trafficked in tiresome comedy. “Can’t Keep a Secret Agent” trampled over well-worn James Bond territory, with the boys as secret agents working for “Triple Zero” in the fight against the evil Double X and his monster clones. “Tee Pee TV” indulged in egregious American Indian stereotypes, with a diminutive warrior named Chief Blackeye as the nemesis. And “Hillbilly Bully” finds the duo as inept eviction servers trying to oust a rambunctious rural character and his Hardy-chomping bloodhound from a lonely mountaintop cabin.
“Laurel and Hardy” was syndicated to local U.S. television stations for the 1966-67 season. Neither Harmon nor Hanna-Barbera saw the value in pursuing the series, although the Laurel and Hardy characters were brought back for a one-time appearance in Hanna-Barbera’s 1972 series “The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries.” “Laurel and Hardy” remained in syndication for a number of years, and was later sold to international markets. A few comic books featuring these characters were also produced in limited runs, and they are now considered to be collector’s items.
To date, there has been no U.S. home entertainment release of the series. It appears that Larry Harmon Productions fully owns the rights to the series; the company’s website has announced the series was “digitized and reformatted with new music,” and the series has a new theme song with some rather dumb lyrics (“One’s slim and dumb, one weighs a ton, it’s time for Laurel and Hardy…”). There has been a British VHS video and a French DVD release of some of the cartoons, and one could imagine an American version is not far away. For the curious, some episodes are on YouTube, and one collector-to-collector site has gathered up about one-third of the cartoons for a DVD set.
“Laurel and Hardy” represents a very minor post-script in the careers of the beloved comedy team. And if the cartoons often disappoint, at least deserve the proverbial A for effort in trying to keep the spirit of Stan and Ollie alive.
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