The Fixer Uppers - Pressbook Stories
Better than the published pressbook for THE FIXER UPPERS, in this instance the typed and hand-corrected draft survives. There are several interesting feature stories worth excerpting:
"For the past year Oliver Hardy, rotund member of Hal Roach's stellar comedy team, Laurel and Hardy, has made a hobby of compiling funny, and freakish and pathetic letters which he has received from his fan followers throughout the world. Following are excerpts from some of the unusual epistles which, apparently, were not intended to be funny but are the sincere remarks of persons of either low mentality or twisted minds:
"From a man in Atlanta: 'As a fellow-Georgian I hope you can see your way clear to send me a weekly income. I used to be a variety actor but haven't worked for several years as I don't like the way business is now being conducted under the capitalistic system.'
"From a nineteen year-old girl in Boston: 'I simply adore fat men and you specially of all. I no (sic) I would make a good wife because I've been married three times already and know all the trix.'
"From an aged man in New York: 'My name is Hardy, too, and I am sure we are related. My health has been poor and I have been advised to move to California. Please send me a ticket and about $50 for spending money on the train and I'll look you up when I arrive. I'll leave it to you to pick me out a good hotel. Or if you think it best we could get an apartment or a house together. What do you think?'"
And still they come....As Oliver Hardy himself says to Mae Busch in THE FIXER UPPERS, "That's a splendid idea. Why don't you do that?"
Another story dealt with correspondence received by Hardy's "sad-faced partner":
"So many requests for advice have been received by Stan Laurel from aspiring amateur comics during recent months that he employed his spare time during the production ... compiling a list of 'don'ts' for his ambitious pen-pals. Here they are:
"According to Stan Laurel there is a great opportunity awaiting comedians of real talent, today. He declares that an actual dearth of funsters exists and that funny men -- or women -- will encounter little difficulty in 'crashing the gates' in Hollywood providing they possess real talent and are prepared to finance themselves while seeking a studio connection."
There was a story on fans overseas:
"Foreign audiences, according to a recent press dispatch, find the popular comedy team, Laurel and Hardy, so entertaining that in several countries a number of imitators of these artists have sprung up. Many of them make no effort to conceal the fact that they are endeavoring to usurp the characterizations originated by Stan and Oliver. They employ both the unique mannerisms of these funsters and identical stage wardrobe as well. Japanese comics especially find it extremely profitable to mimic the Hal Roach stellar comedians and it is declared that there are at least six teams in the Land of the Rising Sun that are touring the empire with no little success with their impersonation act."
On other movie comedy teams:
"In a recent poll conducted by a leading motion picture weekly it was learned that Laurel and Hardy is (sic) a more popular team with fans of this country than Wheeler-Woolsey, Astaire-Rogers, the Marx Bros., Gaynor-Farrell, Loy-Powell (Bill), Keeler-Powell (Dick), Colbert-Gable, and many other of the more dramatic duos. A vote was taken by the leading motion picture critics and independent theatre owners of America with the result announced above. But as great as the popularity of Laurel and Hardy is in this country, it does not equal the great esteem in which they are held in other countries. France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Japan and China simply worship the famous comedians and to perpetuate the names of the frolicsome funsters they have erected statues in their honor and named thoroughfares after them."
A photo exists, and has been printed in the Laurel & Hardy INTRA-TENT JOURNAL, showing a street sign marking at least one intersection in America where a street named Laurel crosses one named Hardy, and vice versa. Or, as Stan says in the film, "Yes, ma'am. You can use it all the year 'round."
THE FIXER UPPERS was the second last two-reeler released starring the "frolicsome funsters." Misguided theatrical exhibition practices were forcing product manufacturing changes at all the studios. The front page headline on the March 21, 1935 issue of THE FILM DAILY declared, "Paramount Dropping Two-Reel Shorts Next Season." The curse of double bills caused live action short comedies to be phased out of production. Few saw this as a progressive or enlightened development.
Many tried to reverse the trend, and save balanced programming at movie houses. The April 12, 1935 edition of THE FILM DAILY presented a section on "Exploiting The Short Subject." One essay argued that any film, regardless of length, could attract business to a theatre and therefore merit the distinction of being a feature attraction. Even as they were graduating from the category, Laurel & Hardy were cited as the top boxoffice names in short subjects, giving "prestige value" to any theatre program. But not for long, as shorts.
Another related story carried the headline "Fresh Ideas And Novel Angles Needed To Give Shorts A Lift." The illustration accompanying this piece showed the 27-by-41 inches one-sheet poster for THE FIXER UPPERS, an example of "M-G-M Junior Features with fine exploitation possibilities."
Here are two more such exploitation ideas offered in the pressbook:
"Shop Tie-Ups: Supply your local repair shops with signs reading:
See us for all kinds of repair work,
LAUREL & HARDY
THE FIXER UPPERS
COMING TO THE
"The above sign is appropriate for key making shops, garages, electrical stores and other similar establishments. They should be distributed several days prior to the showing of the picture."
Also suggested was this classified ad stunt:
"An effective teaser campaign can be conducted through the classified ad sections of your newspapers at little cost and with surprising results. Each day, for the period of one week before the opening date of THE FIXER UPPERS run an ad similar to the following under the personal classification:
And one for the kids, a contest:
"Offer passes to see THE FIXER UPPERS to the youngsters who compile the best biographies on the lives of both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Although it will mean a little work for them, they can dig up the facts through various channels such as the motion picture department of newspapers and studio almanacs at public libraries. Limit their compositions to 500 words and in judging the merit of the various entries consider accuracy, penmanship, grammar and originality. Display the winning entries in a frame in your lobby and also offer it to your local newspaper for publication."
Or, maybe not.
"Here's one fat man who does not object to the sobriquet of 'Babe.' As a general rule such a nickname riles the usually placid temperament of a stout fellow but to Oliver Hardy, rotund member of the Hal Roach-M-G-M comedy team, Laurel and Hardy, 'Babe' is a term of endearment. As a matter of fact, he is the first one to inform new associates on his home 'lot' that they should call him 'Babe' and not Mr. Hardy. Weighing upward of 250 pounds, the hefty comic, like most gentlemen of his weight, is always good natured and considerate. He is not sensitive about his superfluous poundage nor does he mind gentle jibes that his intimates poke at him on the golf course, occasionally, when he fails to see his golf ball when it reposes at his feet."
There was another celebrity at the time, pretty good athlete too, and also overweight, who used the same nickname of "Babe." He was three years younger than Babe Hardy, and during the 1920s and 1930s he was the most popular and best known figure in America, George Herman "Babe" Ruth of the New York Yankees. He was named "Babe" in 1914 by a scout and coach in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system. A friendly barber had given Oliver Hardy his nickname of Babe the year previously. Babe Ruth, who appeared in several silent and sound features and shorts himself, retired as an active baseball player while THE FIXER UPPERS was still running in movie theatres during the summer of 1935.
Babe Ruth's series of shorts (one featuring Our Gang's "Farina" Hoskins) was issued by Universal Pictures. In concurrent release with THE FIXER UPPERS was a Universal one-reel, two-color cartoon called TOYLAND PREMIERE. It was produced by a graduate of the Roach studios fun factory named Walter Lantz. The following review appeared in the January 19, 1935 issue of THE MOTION PICTURE HERALD: "Highly entertaining and in Technicolor, this number of the Cartune Classics series is a shade late for the Christmas material it offers, but it still should be found enjoyable, especially by the youngsters, and is appearing closely enough to the holiday season to reduce that factor to a negligible obstacle. Santa Claus visits the big city on the invitation of Oswald, and at the toyland bazaar he is the guest at a dinner, where various film stars, in caricature, perform. Most of the fun is supplied by the characters of Laurel and Hardy."
Which were used by Mr. Lantz courtesy of permission granted by the Hal Roach Studios.
Finally, the pressbook offered a human interest story:
"At last Stan Laurel has acquired a hobby. For years the sad-faced member of the famous comedy team, Laurel and Hardy, was one of the few Hollywood stars sans a pet diversion. But now that's all changed. Since he moved into his new estate, which he purchased several months ago, Stan has taken up agricultural experimentation. He maintains a small hothouse as his garden laboratory and at the present time is attempting to graft together a mint plant with an onion setting in the hope of producing a delectable vegetable that will not bring tears to the eyes of the housewife every time she prepares it. As an amateur Burbank, the star, whose latest fun film, THE FIXER UPPERS, comes to the ------------- theatre next -------------, is having a lot of fun and also finds complete relaxation from his studio worries while nurturing experimental plants."
The residence referred to was located at 10353 Glenbar in Cheviot Hills, only a few blocks from the actual home the comedy team called on trying to selling Christmas trees in BIG BUSINESS (1929). Only a couple months ago this home was on the real estate market again, this time offered at $2,450,000. It was described as "spacious and elegant," with three bedrooms, three fireplaces, and three and one-half bathrooms. There was a also a pool and a guest house, but no mention in the listing of any big or small hothouse. Driving by there today, in a still beautiful neighborhood, one can see it's not exactly a "fixer-upper."
(Incidentally, driving Stan Laurel's 1947 Chrysler New Yorker sedan will soon be the privilege of a bidder in Austria, who just purchased this vehicle only weeks ago through an Internet auction for the gavel price -- before overseas transportation costs! -- of $24,000.)
Lois Laurel remembers that Christmas at her house in the 1930s always featured a real tree, decorated on Christmas Eve with real tinsel. "My father would get quiet and serious around Christmas time," Lois explains. "It was always a wonderful time. We opened presents both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. After my parents separated, I'd get presents from Dad Christmas Eve, and from Mom on Christmas day.
"Dad discouraged receiving gifts, but got enjoyment going out with Ernest Murphy and shopping for other people. All his life he loved visiting stationary stores, inspecting them, assessing how they were doing, and buying things. He just loved it. One year for Christmas I received a custom made desk, a real typewriter, a Parker pen and pencil set, a bottle of ink, and a diamond ring. My father thought it was so funny the gift I liked best. His friends would stop by the house and he'd say to me, 'Tell them what you got for Christmas.'
"I'd look up and say, 'I got a bottle of ink.'"
For the holiday season record, and as a source of glad tidings upon one and all, these are the other verses not already quoted, which were recited from the boys' Christmas cards as offered in THE FIXER UPPERS:
This last, generally gets 'em.... Both, beautiful thoughts.
Concurrent with the preparation of THE FIXER UPPERS -- which was perhaps not coincidental -- the company sent out its 1934 Christmas card. Through the years, and for both the studio and for Hal and Marguerite Roach personally, specially commissioned illustrations were provided. Sometimes the Christmas cards were designed by professionals, other times by amateurs just having fun. Well, everyone had fun. Artists included Hap Hadley, Will Rogers, Lou McManus (see the preservation section), Norman McLeod, Harry Langdon, and most prolific of all, George Herriman, who drew the Krazy Kat syndicated comic strip and maintained an office at the Hal Roach Studios.
In 1934 and 1935 the artist called upon for this service was Frank Tashlin, then a gag writer who contributed material to THE FIXER UPPERS. His concept featured caricatures of all the contract players on the studio roster. Tashlin signed these illustrations "Tish-Tash." He would soon leave to direct cartoons for Warner Bros., including some of the best Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies entries such as PORKY'S ROMANCE (1937), PLANE DAFFY (1944), and UNRULY HARE (1945).
As a source of inspiration while crafting gags for Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny, Tashlin never missed a new Laurel & Hardy comedy, and attended screenings with a pen and notebook. Just as did his colleague, Bob Clampett, who tried to catch all the Our Gang comedies when they came out, which he's conceded were a wonderful source of material for his great Warner Bros. cartoons.
Tashlin eventually became the only important cartoon director to graduate to live action feature films, and succeed at them. His work was characterized by outlandish, cartoon style sight gags. Tashlin wrote and/or directed many outstanding Hollywood comedies including THE PALEFACE (1948), LOVE HAPPY (1949), SON OF PALEFACE (1952), THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (1956), WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957), and eight outrageous films starring Stan Laurel's disciple, Jerry Lewis.
Lewis has stated in several interviews that Frank Tashlin was his mentor, and that it was Tashlin's constant praise of, and devotion to, Stan Laurel that gave Lewis the incentive to phone Laurel for their initial meeting when the retired comedian was living at the Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica. In his 1971 book, THE TOTAL FILMMAKER, Jerry Lewis hailed Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel as the two top comedy giants of all time.
"Stan was probably a near genius as a comic and as an authority on what makes people laugh," Lewis wrote. "He was also a total filmmaker. Toward the end of his career, after great self-schooling, he had become one of the finest technicians in Hollywood, in comedy or drama. I learned much from him, particularly in the last three or four years of his life....
"The directors who worked with Laurel and Hardy were confined to their ground rules, especially Stan's. Stan was the brains. Ollie was a tremendous exponent, possibly equaled only by Harold Lloyd. He could do anything with Stan when the material was given to him....There was some bit of comedic genius in each film they did, and Stan contributed many of them."
-- by Richard W. Bann --