Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, England on this day in 1890.
The "thin" half of the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, Stan Jefferson was born into a family of British stage performers, and sought a stage career from an early age. Stan earned his first stage appearance on his own comic merits at 16; and when his father witnessed his son's talents, he arranged for young Stan to join a traveling pantomime company. By 1910, he was working with Fred Karno's Troupe, one of the best companies in England, clowning alongside (and sometimes as understudy to) Charlie Chaplin. When Chaplin left the Troupe during a tour of the U.S. to join Mack Sennett's Keystone movie studio in 1912, Stan decided to stay on in the U.S. to try American vaudeville, shortly thereafter adopting the name "Laurel" to avoid the bad luck of using the 13-lettered "Jefferson."
In 1917, Laurel began starring in short comedy films, often writing and assisting with direction; but in about 9 years he failed to make much of a mark, jumping from studio to studio. He joined the Hal Roach studio in 1926 as a gag writer, but was eventually persuaded to team with Roach contract player Oliver "Babe" Hardy in a series of short silent comedies, many directed by Leo McCarey. Together, Laurel and Hardy made more than 100 films (27 of them full-length features), bridging the gap between silent and talking pictures and becoming the most enduring comedy team in screen history.
Always a craftsman, Laurel took a special interest in writing the scenarios and was known to spend hours in the cutting room, painstakingly pacing the team's sequences. By contrast, Babe Hardy loved to play and eat and drink (and he was probably a gambling addict). In a role reversal of sorts, on-screen Hardy was the putative leader of the two derby'd man-children known as Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy. Sputtering with frustration, the on-screen Laurel could barely transfer a clue from one hand to the other, and would inevitably dig them into a precarious mess, registering his fear through blinking sobs and head-scratching. The really distinctive aspect of the team, however, was their giant hearts. There was little meanness in them on screen, either to each other or to any bystander. When things went wrong, they frequently knew it was their own fault, and when things went well, they received it as good fortune, linked arms, and frequently broke out into song. Contrasts aside, Laurel and Hardy were great friends off-screen, frequently vacationing together.
Laurel's only professional separation from Hardy from 1924 until Hardy's death in 1957 was during Laurel's contract dispute with Roach, during which Hardy starred with veteran comic Harry Langdon in Zenobia (1939). In tribute to his friend, Laurel retired from performing upon Hardy's death, but continued to ply the art of comedy as a writer. He died on February 23, 1965 in Santa Monica, California.