Little did I know that Oliver Hardy had a connection to nearby hometown Jacksonville, Florida until I found myself in Harlem, Georgia, his birthplace and home to the Laurel and Hardy Museum. Harlem is located just outside Augusta in fast-growing Columbia County. The museum on Main Street pays tribute to one of Hollywood’s greatest comedy teams: thin Englishman, Stan Laurel and heavyset American, Oliver Hardy. They became well known during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy.
The Laurel and Hardy Museum draw fans from all over the world. They come to see undoubtedly the world’s largest collection of Laurel and Hardy memorabilia, to reminisce about the past, and sit in a small theater to watch some of their 106 films. The “shorts” average about 20 minutes.
The idea to honor the legendary duo began in 1989 by the Mayor, who happened to be Oliver Hardy’s second cousin. The town hosted a simple festival, now an annual event, and were surprised when people arrived with a myriad of items: Oliver and Hardy cookie jars, tea sets, piggy banks, salt and pepper shakers, you name it. City Hall had no room to display these donations. However, when the post office moved, the proceeds from the Laurel and Hardy Festival helped purchase and renovate the old building, opened as a museum in July 2002. Today the Laurel and Hardy Festival has grown into a weekend event that attracts over 40,000.
Laurel and Hardy were teamed in 1927 for the short silent film Putting Pants on Philip. The act worked and moviegoers loved them. They remained together working with the Roach studio until 1940. From 1941-45, they appeared in comedies for 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After finishing their movie commitments they performed in stage shows and toured in England, Ireland and Scotland. Before retiring in 1950, they made their last film called Atoll K.
Norvell Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia on January 18, 1892. His father died when he was only ten months old. His family then moved around the state and settled in Milledgeville. As soon as Norvell turned 18 he changed his name to that of his father, “Oliver Norvell Hardy.”
Oliver worked as a projectionist in a movie house and began to perform. He left Georgia in 1913 for Jacksonville, Florida, which had become one of the newly established film colonies. He stayed here until he ventured to Hollywood in 1918. The two become famous world wide and one of their movies “The Music Box” won an Oscar for Short Films in 1932. Oliver died in August, 1957 in Hollywood, Stan in 1975.
When you enter the little museum, you are greeted by friendly volunteers who know more about these two comedians than you thought possible. You browse around cabinets and displays featuring movie relics, old movie posters, old photos, and thousands of collectibles. Most everyone poses for a picture with Stan and Ollie in their car, known from their 1929 film “A Perfect Day.”
It’s a fun place to visit and won’t take too long to tour unless you are a die hard fan. Most of those gather at the annual Festival in October, some dressed in costumes.
Admission is free, but it’s nice to leave a donation.
Laurel and Hardy Museum and Gift Shop
250 N. Louisville Street, Harlem, GA
This article first appeared on bylandersea