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Hal Roach centennial to be celebrated

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Kennedy in "Leave 'Em Laughing" (1927)
Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Kennedy in "Leave 'Em Laughing" (1927)
Hal Roach

The Hollywood Museum (1660 N. Highland Avenue in Hollywood) has just announced a new exhibit celebrating “100 years of Hal Roach Studios,” the studio that gave us such comic legends as Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and Our Gang (Little Rascals), as well as Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, and other timeless movie comedians.

Opening on July 2 and running until August 31, the exhibit will feature authentic photos, costumes, and props from the rich history of the Hal Roach studios. This exhibit is co-sponsored by The Sons of the Desert, the international Laurel and Hardy fan club that was co-founded with Mr. Laurel’s blessing back in the 1960s. The Sons of the Desert will be holding their national convention July 2-6 that will include featured guests like Stan Laurel’s daughter and great granddaughter, as well as Our Gang alumni Mildred Kornman (who dates back to the silent films) and Payne Johnson.

The Hal Roach studios began in the silent era and continued into the television era. Harold Lloyd made many of his silent classics for Roach, including his iconic feature “Safety Last” (1923) for which he is probably best known. Laurel and Hardy were separate actors who happened to be placed in the same film enough times for Roach staffers to notice how well they worked together. By 1927, a team was established for all time and generations. Our Gang, known as The Little Rascals for television revivals, continue to delight people young and old with their genuine antics that reflect the innocence and creative ingenuity of childhood.

These are perhaps the best-known comedians from the Roach studios. However, Charley Chase was a writer, director, and comedy star that also began in the silent era and continued with sound films. More and more of Chase’s work is becoming available on DVD, and a new book discussing his sound films was released this year. As with Our Gang, Chase made short films rather than feature length, and the films hold up beautifully today. Thelma Todd, a fine comic actress, teamed first with Zasu Pitts, then with Patsy Kelly, to form a brilliantly funny female comedy team. Ms. Todd also sometimes graced the films of Chase and Laurel and Hardy as a supporting actress. While many silent movie performers had trouble transitioning to sound films, this was not a problem for Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, or many other Roach comedians.
Along with the leading players, the Hal Roach studios boasted such great supporting actors as James Finlayson, Edgar Kennedy, and Anita Garvin, as well as the top comedy writers, directors, and gagmen of the 1920s and 1930s.

Roach was moving away from comedy production by the end of the 1930s, producing such fare as “Topper” (1937), “Of Mice and Men” (1939), and “One Million B.C.” (1940). At the dawn of the 1950s, the studio went into television production with such shows as “My Little Margie,” “Public Defender,” and “Screen Director’s Playhouse,” while many other shows, such as “Amos N Andy,” and “The Abbott and Costello Show,” were shot at the Roach lot. By the early 1960s, the studio had ceased production and the studio was torn down in 1963.

Along with Roach studio artifacts such as original posters, stills, scrapbooks, costumes, scripts, letters, and sheet music, artifacts from films the Roach stars made away from the studio will also be on hand. The suits Laurel and Hardy wore in their 20th Century Fox film “The Bullfighters” (1945) will be displayed, as well as a prop flask Oliver Hardy carried for his solo appearance in the film “The Fighting Kentuckian” (1949) which featured John Wayne in the starring role. Some other interesting items that will be on display include a pair of Harold Lloyd’s glasses, Roach’s honorary Oscar, and a studio camera.

Hal Roach died in November of 1992 just two months shy of his 101st birthday. He lived to see his films become classics, and outlived nearly all of the stars he once produced. His legacy spanning silent movies to television production is filled with amazing triumphs and the timeless artistry of our most iconic stars.

Donelle Dadigan, Founder and President of the Hollywood Museum stated, “We are so pleased to honor the 100th anniversary of the Hal Roach studios with this exhibit.”

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