Little did I know that Oliver Hardy had a connection to nearby Jacksonville, Florida until I found myself in Harlem, Georgia, his birthplace and home of the Laurel and Hardy Museum. Harlem is located just outside Augusta in fast-growing Columbia County. The former post office building on Main Street pays tribute to one of Hollywood’s greatest comedy teams: thin Englishman, Stan Laurel and heavyset American, Oliver Hardy. They became well known during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy.
The Laurel and Hardy Museum draws fans from all over the world. They come to see Laurel and Hardy memorabilia, often to reminisce about the past, and sit in a small theater to watch some of their 106 films. The “shorts” average about 20 minutes.
The idea to honor the legendary duo began in 1989 by the Mayor, who happened to be Oliver Hardy’s second cousin. The town hosted a simple Laurel and Hardy Festival, now an annual event, and were surprised when people arrived with a myriad of items: Laurel and Hardy cookie jars, tea sets, piggy banks, salt and pepper shakers, statuettes, you name it. City Hall had no room to display these donations. However, when the post office moved, the proceeds from the Festival helped purchase and renovate the old building, opened as a museum in July 2002. Today the October Festival has grown into a weekend event that attracts over 40,000.
Laurel and Hardy were teamed in 1927 for the short silent film Putting Pants on Philip. The act worked and moviegoers loved them. The film stars continued to work together with the Roach studio until 1940. From 1941-45, they appeared in comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After finishing their movie commitments they performed in stage shows and toured in England, Ireland and Scotland. Before retiring in 1950, they made their last film called Atoll K.
Norvell Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia on January 18, 1892. His father died when he was only ten months old. His family then moved around the state and settled in Milledgeville. As soon as Norvell turned 18 he changed his name to that of his father, “Oliver Norvell Hardy”.
Oliver Hardy worked as a projectionist in a movie house and soon began to perform. He left Georgia in 1913 for Jacksonville, Florida, which had become one of the newly established film colonies. He stayed there until he ventured to Hollywood in 1918. Together Laurel and Hardy gained world wide fame and one of their movies “The Music Box” won an Oscar for Short Films in 1932. Oliver died in August, 1957 in Hollywood, Stan Laurel died in 1975.
When you enter the little Museum, you are greeted by friendly volunteers who know more about these two comedians than you thought possible. You browse around cabinets and displays featuring movie relics, old movie posters, old photos, and thousands of collectibles. Most everyone poses for a picture with Stan and Ollie in their car, known from their 1929 film “A Perfect Day.”
It’s a fun place to visit and won’t take too long to tour unless you are a die hard fan. Most of those gather at the annual Festival on the first Saturday in October. Some come dressed in costumes.
Laurel and Hardy Museum and Gift Shop
250 N. Louisville Street, Harlem, Georgia 30814
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Admission is free. Donations accepted.
To watch a film clip of Laurel and Hardy, visit their official website: www.laurel-and-hardy.com.