I thought the book was closed (pun intended) on Laurel & Hardy’s radio career after super-collector John Tefteller produced an oversized book on the subject with a CD that compiled all surviving audio featuring the beloved comedy team. I wrote about it four years ago and now I have occasion to write again.
LAUREL & HARDY: ON THE RADIO & ON THE PHONE Edited by John Tefteller; essays by Leonard Maltin, Michael Feinstein, Richard W. Bann, Randy Skretvedt, Kristina Polacek-Lang, George Mazzey (Tefteller Publishing.)
When John Tefteller discovered an original transcription disc of the duo’s pilot show for a half-hour NBC series built around their old-standby “Driver’s License” skit, L&H aficionados figured “that’s that.” Then performer and musicologist Michael Feinstein bought a collection of 16-inch discs, sight unseen, and one of them turned out to be a rehearsal for yet another NBC pilot, recorded in 1944.
Truth be told, it’s not very good; although they used their voices beautifully, Stan and Babe (Hardy’s nickname) had to be seen to be fully enjoyed. But having unearthed this rare half-hour, Tefteller got an itch to find more material to make it worthy of release to the public. He located two commercial records of “Smile When the Raindrops Fall,” a jaunty tune used instrumentally in many Hal Roach comedies, and added some other miscellany.
Several people recorded telephone calls with Stan Laurel in the 1960s, but no one built a longer, stronger relationship than Mike Polacek of Huntington, West Virginia. In a relaxed and somewhat rambling conversation drawn from 1962 and 1963 recordings, we listen in as Mike prods Stan’s memory about everything from working for Bronco Billy Anderson to making the early-talkie feature The Rogue Song for MGM.
There are no revelations here, save one when Stan would get caught up describing a gag he would burst into a high-pitched cackle. It’s delightful to hear.
The rest of this oversized hardcover book is comprised of backstories: how discs and tapes were acquired and restored, why Stan and Ollie never found success on the radio, and what fueled the relationship between Stan and his “number-one fan,” Mike Polacek. I was happy to draw on my youthful memories getting to know Mike, first as a pen-pal and then as a visitor to my family home in New Jersey. He took a liking to me and when he visited Stan in Santa Monica a short time later he had my idol sign several photos and even a postcard, which is reproduced in the book.
I can’t pretend to be objective about this endeavor: it’s clearly a labor of love intertwined with happy boyhood memories and my endless curiosity about Laurel and Hardy. If you are also a devotee, I suspect you’ll enjoy this handsome presentation.