Our Relations - In the Cast
Our Relations was right. Apt words to entitle a film featuring ...
Charley Chase's daughter, Polly
It is worth noting that Bert Hardy and Alf Laurel had additional, phantom relatives. If OUR RELATIONS could be traced to THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, so too could the subsequent PRC feature entitled HOUSE OF ERRORS (1942), as well as the Monogram film DOUBLE TROUBLE (1941). What's more both could also be, and were related to OUR RELATIONS. Both starred Roach alumni Harry Langdon teamed with Charley Rogers as the same-named "Bert" and "Alf."
Now, how did that happen? Would the two Berts and Alfs be relatives? Descendants? Borrowed characters? Charley Rogers adapted OUR RELATIONS, Harry Langdon wrote HOUSE OF ERRORS, and William Shakespeare wrote THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. In DOUBLE TROUBLE (a phrase used heavily in the OUR RELATIONS pressbook) Bert and Alf are British refugees, employed by a canned beans manufacturing plant. Somehow a priceless gem finds its way into one of their cans of beans. One can wager Sidney Toler's valuable pearl ring in OUR RELATIONS that at least these story points were not plagiarized from the writings of William Shakespeare.
Yet the coincidence of names is more than merely accidental. So in case the world may be waiting for the answer, just who did invent the characters which the inquiring Mrs. Twiddlepast (or perhaps Mrs. Addlequist) saw, and puzzled over, but never knew were actually "Bert" and "Alf"? Who? Who did that?
Who, indeed. In the immortal seafaring words of Harry Bernard speaking to Billy Gilbert in SHIVER MY TIMBERS (1931), "We don't know, Captain." We do know Hal Roach developed comedy teams both before, and after, the lean one with the great grin, and the heavier fellow with the dark bangs and courtly manner. Obviously none of those comedy pairings found the spectacular success Laurel & Hardy enjoyed, although it never deterred Roach from searching for another uniquely matched two of some kind.
By the advent of television Roach increasingly discussed plans to create a second twosome like Laurel & Hardy. It was a task he confidently, if mistakenly, harbored no doubts about accomplishing, whatsoever. Roach never knew what he could not do. He always used the same character names for the new team he imagined -- they would be called Bert and Alf.
In l968, the year after Charlie Chaplin made his A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, Roach was asked by the BBC in London to design a television series built around the kind of English music hall comedy which originally brought Chaplin and Laurel to America in l9l0. Roach wanted to work with a young writer or filmmaker to reflect the demographics which programming executives wished to reach. Harold Lloyd recommended a close friend, Rich Correll, a grown kid actor from the LEAVE IT TO BEAVER television series, and son of the co-creator and co-star of the original AMOS 'N' ANDY radio program, Charles Correll, whom Roach knew well. The great AMOS 'N' ANDY TV series was shot at Hal Roach Studios.
Rich Correll, now himself a producer and director of comedy series for television such as HAPPY DAYS, remembers that the lead characters for the pilot they developed for the BBC (but did not sell) were named -- what else? -- Bert and Alf. All they needed, to cinch the deal, was the real Stan and Ollie to play Bert and Alf. That's all.
Consistent with Roach's stated intention in l936 of turning the corner and reinventing his product and his studio's identity, OUR RELATIONS featured new principals and supporting actors not usually associated with The Lot of Fun.
The two heavies used for the climax -- Noel Madison and Ralf Harolde -- appear to have been cast during, instead of before, principal photography began. Both were veteran menaces of the vaunted pre-Code gangster cycle of pictures at Warner Bros., such as LITTLE CAESAR and SMART MONEY. Madison's last appearance in films may have been the lamentable Laurel & Hardy time-waster JITTERBUGS (l943). In addition to playing slimy thin-lipped mobsters in several important pictures, New York actor Ralf Harolde appeared as a villain, and actually the only human being, in an important, abandoned, lost film. It was Willis O'Brien's CREATION (l930-l932), the dry run, and direct -- although now, sadly missing -- link, to what was reworked and became no less than KING KONG (l933).
For an OUR RELATIONS principal supporting cast with the decidedly different look he desired, Roach recruited such other fresh faces as Alan Hale, Sidney Toler, Iris Adrian, Lona Andre and Betty Healy.
The robust, rowdy, usually cheerful character actor Alan Hale entered the brand new picture show industry in 1911. So by 1936 he'd been in films a quarter-century. His most famous role was as brawny "Little John" in three movies, including the original ROBIN HOOD (l922) with Douglas Fairbanks, and the 1938 remake starring Errol Flynn. Hale directed seven silent features for Cecil B. DeMille when DeMille owned what later became Selznick International Studios, right next to the Hal Roach plant on Washington Boulevard in Culver City.
Hale was not only a prolific actor (especially at Warner Bros.) but also an inventor. Among the inventions of this boisterous Irishman: hand-held fire extinguishers, and the folding theater seat!
In OUR RELATIONS Hale played the proprietor of Denker's Beer Garden, a name pronounced the same as the character he enacted in Frank Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT: Danker. Two years later and more, the film that shook the Oscar tree in 1934 was still impacting cultural literacy, as well as specific gags and plot points in pictures made all over town, including Hal Roach Studios, which in turn a decade before had influenced Frank Capra.
Hale's look-alike son, Alan Hale, Jr., later made films for Hal Roach, Jr., but was best known as "the skipper" on the TV program GILLIGAN'S ISLAND in the mid-l960s. The hefty Hale's exasperated camera-looks and byplay with skinny, meek co-star Bob Denver in the title role have always been reminiscent of Laurel & Hardy. Sherman Schwartz, the show's producer, acknowledged the "influence of Stan and Ollie on my casting decisions when we created the show." Hale's role as the hearty skipper was originally planned for an actor who was less remindful of Oliver Hardy -- Carroll O'Connor. That's why O'Connor didn't get the part, although this then struggling character actor did manage to find another series on television, and it worked out fairly well.
After GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, Bob Denver's follow-up series, FAR OUT SPACE NUTS (1975), teamed him with another actor meant to suggest Oliver Hardy -- Chuck McCann. Of course McCann and his partner, Jim McGeorge have been portraying Laurel & Hardy (originally with the blessing of Stan Laurel himself) throughout the past four decades, most prominently on clever TV commercials.
Alan Hale and Sidney Toler were both paid $l,250 per week for their services in OUR RELATIONS (while Jimmie Finlayson's salary was only $500 each week). Unfortunately for Alan Hale, he didn't live as long as Sidney Toler was when he made OUR RELATIONS. In l938, at age 65, Sidney Toler took over for the deceased Warner Oland in the long running 20th Century-Fox series of popular Charlie Chan mystery films. The non-oriental Toler held the role of the famous, irascible and inscrutable Hawaiian-Chinese detective for nine years, until he died in l947.
Four superior Toler-Chan Fox entries were smoothly directed by Harry Lachman. Possibly Lachman and Toler met making OUR RELATIONS. Curiously Lachman's wife, Tai, was Chinese. Her father was the ambassador to the United States from China. The film Lachman made immediately preceding OUR RELATIONS had been one of the Warner Oland Chans, typically filled with stylish flourishes -- CHARLIE CHAN AT THE CIRCUS.
Lachman might well have continued with the Chan series at Fox, but according to "number one son" Keye Luke, he abused the film's two midget actors, George and Olive Brasno. When Luke interceded, Lachman lost his temper, and blew up. "He had the idea that he had to ramrod everybody....Oh, he was a bear!" Luke told writer Ken Hanke. Lachman couldn't return to the series until Oland died, causing Luke to leave as well. Ironically Lachman left Fox for Hal Roach Studios only to find the Brasnos were already there -- shooting an Our Gang comedy called ARBOR DAY.
The cabaret sirens in OUR RELATIONS were real life, and lifetime-long gal pals, Iris Adrian and Lona Andre, paid by Roach the sums of $225 and $300, respectively, per week.
Unlike so many of the film's other principals, the ebullient Miss Adrian had worked at the studio before, although who could possibly know? She was an extra in some of the late l920s silent two-reelers. At which time, believe it or do not, Iris Adrian was a beauty contest winner (Miss Lake Arrowhead), a Ziegfeld Follies performer, and a dancer featured on stages in London, Paris and New York as "The Girl With The Million Dollar Figure." Although as mentioned, by 1936 the figure had been downgraded and discounted to $225.
Iris Adrian toured, among other things, with George Raft and assorted gangsters. And not Our Gangsters, either. She was the person she seemed to play in virtually every film throughout her long career as a wonderful character actress. Since she shouted her way through movies well into the l980s, we usually associate Iris Adrian with braying waitresses, brassy golddiggers, shopworn molls, sassy trailer-trash floozies, wisecracking peroxide blondes, cheap chorus girls, and generally big-mouthed gum-chewing just plain dames. Not beauty queens. Dames.
In later years, she would see her old films on television and reflect, "Just love that broad I saw -- because I don't even know her anymore; she's gone from me."
In person Iris Adrian was even more colorful, if that were possible, speaking always fast and at the top of her very loud voice. Plus she dressed as loud as she spoke.
The last of her four marriages was to a former football player named "Fido" Murphy. OUR RELATIONS found her between marriages. Except in courtrooms, Oliver Hardy was separated from his wife at the time, and with the two actors thrown together on the set, he asked Iris Adrian, "Have dinner with me tonight?" She answered, "All right."
"Later," as Miss Adrian remembered it, "he called me and said, 'You don't want to go out with me. I'm an old fat fellow.' I didn't think he was so bad -- but he got home, got tired, had a couple of drinks. He said, 'I'm too fat, you wouldn't like me.'
"I don't remember much about making the picture. I don't remember much about any of my pictures. Oh, Hal Roach came on the set one day. What an impression that guy made, you know? Dressed to kill, big authority figure, great smile, solid looking I thought. He didn't want to bother anyone I guess, so I never did meet him. I think he talked to Stan for a moment then somebody got him to pose for a picture. I remember that much. I watched that.
"I got a big kick out of how well the two boys worked together and got along. You'd see them talking quietly, then get up and do their stuff -- just do it. Boy, they were swell I thought. No jealousy, no arguments, no trying to get ahead of the other guy. They seemed to be a real team.
"Not too long after (OUR RELATIONS) I was back in New York, working at a night spot on 52nd Street called Leon and Eddies, dancing. In came Stan Laurel with a bunch of showgirls. What a night he was having! I started performing and all these showgirls began yelling at me to get off the floor. They wanted to dance there with little Stan. So in place of my show, they took over with Stan. Oh God, the bill for that party must have been terrible!"
In l943 Iris Adrian played a twin herself in HIS BUTLER'S SISTER.
Prettier, but just as tough and hard-bitten was Lona Andre, born in Nashville. In some of her films she failed to conceal the trace of a charming southern accent. In l990, living in North Hollywood, she still spoke with that accent, no longer trying to conceal it. As with her friend of six decades, Iris Adrian, the "lady" before the cameras was the same person one met off-screen. Both were pretty much cast according to actual type in OUR RELATIONS. Unlike Iris Adrian, however, Lona Andre managed somehow to retain her great looks.
Her real name was Launa Andersen, pronounced "La-una." It was a treat just to watch her annunciate the distinctive appellation. In l932 she was honored as one of the select "Wampus Baby Stars of l932." None were babies, that was certain, except to "sugar daddies."
She was placed under contract to Paramount, providing spectacular decoration in both class "A" features and programmers. By l935 she was free-lancing. She appeared with Buster Keaton in ONE RUN ELMER, then she made a terrific series western with Buck Jones, BORDER BRIGANDS. The day before shooting began, she mentioned the job to her agent. He happened to be sitting in his office with his feet up on a desk -- evidently a typical pose. The agent casually criticized Lona for taking a job in a lowly "B" western. They argued. She gritted her teeth, and complained he wasn't getting her any jobs, and that she needed the money! Finally, her eyes wide with rage -- the same look seen in so many films -- she threw her cigarette case at him. Wham! A direct hit. She drew blood on the agent's forehead. As well as her own walking papers, and a complaint with the police filed by the stitched-up agent.
All her life, Lona explained, "I could be sweet, or I could be mean." Her films reflect as much. After the movies, she worked at Lockheed Aviation for decades. She managed quality control on airplanes built there and delighted in ordering men around. One of her husbands was Ed Norris, the amiable fiance in Our Gang's TEACHER'S BEAU (l935). Their marriage lasted less than it took to make the film -- four days. Norris attended the Stan Laurel centennial celebration on Catalina Island in l990, and his comment on Lona Andre, shaking his head, was "What a pistol!"
The lady never did see OUR RELATIONS. Looking through some of the still photographs that same year, 1990, she screamed with derision at the outfit she wore, and did not seem to know the names of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or at least which was which. "This one," she said, pointing to Hardy, "was always doing something cute that made the other one laugh, and I mean really laugh. Those two had a lot of fun."
If Babe Hardy asked Iris Adrian out, did Stan Laurel flirt with Lona Andre? "No," she said, "but others did. Actually I had a good time on that picture. It was a small studio, pretty informal, nice people. I was invited to some of the big parties at the home of the boss, Hal Roach. He had a big home and they wanted a lot of girls around to doll up the place."
Betty Healy was married for a decade to Ted Healy. He originated the now-bigger-than-ever Three Stooges, the four of whom can be seen with Laurel & Hardy in HOLLYWOOD PARTY (l934). The Healys divorced in l932.
Betty Healy had been a dancer and worked in vaudeville with her husband, and his Stooges, but OUR RELATIONS was the only film she ever made. Stan Laurel knew her before, and got her the part, but the hot studio lights, combined with heavy movie makeup produced an irritating skin condition. She could not continue in movies.
Betty Healy did, however, meet a "grip," or stagehand, on the set named Wayne Murray, one of three Murray brothers (more nepotism) who worked behind the scenes on OUR RELATIONS. As researcher Bill Cappello has determined, they married and moved to Victorville, a California desert community where the couple operated a dude ranch and restaurant near where Roy Rogers and Dale Evans established their museum.
As years passed, Betty Healy and Stan Laurel remained regular correspondents. On February l7, 1959, in response to a note from Betty Healy that Daphne Pollard's spouse had just died, Stan Laurel wrote, "Yes, I imagine (her) husband must have been in his seventies, and I think she is in her sixties. She was in the business for many, many years. She was a child star in the Pollard Juvenile Opera Company in Australia and toured the world. I remember you didn't care too much for her personally, but you did make a wonderful combination in the picture -- a great contrast."
There was a big difference in their compensation, too. Daphne Pollard was paid $600 each week for OUR RELATIONS, while the newcomer, Betty Healy, earned $250.
Also in the cast: Jim Pierce, a former "Tarzan" and the star of TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION (1927), made for the father of President John F. Kennedy, Joeseph Kennedy. In OUR RELATIONS Pierce played a doorman at the swanky Pirate Club, most of whose high class patrons arrived dressed in formal attire. Although how elite could this place have been? As the doorman, Pierce admitted the perpetually inebriated Arthur Housman, who inside was able to order and munch on a hot dog, a gag so underplayed it could have been an inside joke.
Hal Roach comedies may well be broad, low comedy slapstick affairs -- as if there were something disagreeable about that -- but always, always there are subtle, at first unnoticed delights waiting to be discovered in these films, no matter how many times one may have seen them. Repeated screenings are rewarded with deeper appreciation of gags and meaning which are there for us to find, all stratified beneath the layers by comedy craftsmen having a marvelous time amusing themselves as well as us, provided we are willing to look. To look and to see that hot dog in its context, among other things, to say the least! The very least.
Not in the cast: Neither the Mills Brothers nor the Boswell Sisters nor other singing relations. Hal Roach thought of adding these or other related singers as entertainment during the Pirate Club scenes. Whether he couldn't get them, or using them so late in the picture upset the pacing, or Stan Laurel or Harry Lachman objected, or ultimately Roach decided they were not a big enough draw, is not clear. No such acts were actually signed, only contemplated.
"We just figured out a plan. You'll like this."
Or, maybe not.
Roach would consider a similar idea to broaden the boxoffice appeal of the next Laurel & Hardy film as well. Later in the year, at the end of this chronology, on Christmas Eve, l936, Roach wrote Si Seadler of Loew's in New York on a delay in sending the film's final, approved cast listing. He apologized, "I alone am to blame. WAY OUT WEST is one of the best Laurel & Hardy comedies we have ever made, but it is almost 100% Laurel & Hardy. For that reason I have been looking around for an important singer or group that would sing two or three numbers. However, I doubt if we will do this now, so will probably ship the picture the way it is....We felt there was no great hurry to ship the picture to New York because OUR RELATIONS is just beginning to get a general release at this time."
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Hooray, for the Fourth of July.
-- by Richard W. Bann --