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Sons of the Desert at 50

nullThe founding “tent” of the international Laurel and Hardy
organization Sons of the Desert is about to celebrate its 50th
anniversary with a banquet in New York City on August 8th—but only if enough
people sign up to attend. That’s the message that Grand Sheik Jack Roth has
asked me to spread. You can learn more at www.sonsofthedesertnyc.org.

Sons of the Desert Window Card-360I’m sorry I can’t travel back East that weekend, but the
mere thought of this event makes me nostalgic, as I did attend the 2nd
banquet forty-nine years ago; it was one of the greatest nights of my life. I
still have some snapshots,  overflashed
with my parents’ Brownie camera, but they do provide some memories of having
met Stan Laurel’s widow Ida, Hal Roach’s business manager Ben Shipman, and
other people who had a profound influence on me.

One of the turning points of my young life was the
publication of John McCabe’s loving biography Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy in 1961. Having grown up watching Laurel
and Hardy on TV every day, I was eager to learn about my favorite comedy team
and I devoured the book. In fact, every time I returned it to my local library
I waited a day and checked it out again. I ultimately wrote a letter to its
author in care of New York University, where he taught drama classes, and he
was kind enough to respond. He also put me in touch with the artist who drew
the exceptional caricatures of Stan and Ollie that appeared on the end papers.
That began a close friendship with the brilliant cartoonist Al Kilgore.

Len Maltin and Ida Laurel-2

John, Al, and other friends decided to launch an
organization to celebrate L&H and took their cue from the comedy team’s
1933 movie Sons of the Desert, a
hilarious look at a fraternal society. Kilgore designed a magnificent escutcheon
patterned after the British royal crest and the scholarly McCabe translated
into Latin a slogan suggested by Stan Laurel himself: “Two minds without a
single thought,” or “Duae tabulae rasae in quibus nihil scriptum est”
(literally: "Two blank slates on which nothing has been written").

Sons of the Desert Crest-Al Kilgore

Prof. McCabe let me down gently in explaining that, as a
minor, I couldn’t be an official member of the Sons, but he did grant me
permission to start my own chapter, or “tent,” in my home town. Each branch was
named after a Laurel and Hardy film, and thus was born the Tit for Tat Tent of
Teaneck, New Jersey. I did get permission to attend the annual banquet with my
best friend Louis Black at the historic Lambs Club in Manhattan, and boy, did
we have a blast. There was a distinct show-business flavor to the evening, as
Orson Bean, Chuck McCann, and Soupy Sales were among the L&H fans who
entertained. I had many other memorable experiences in the years to follow, but
that first night remains magical in my memory.

If you’re in the New York area and you haven’t participated
in the Sons of late, I encourage you to take this opportunity to gather, enjoy
yourselves, and watch Laurel & Hardy films—still faithfully projected on
16mm film.

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