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Laurel and Hardy A PAIR OF TIGHTS

dick und doof


In his 1967 book The Films of Laurel & Hardy, William K. Everson made passing reference to a silent Hal Roach comedy called A Pair of Tights, speculating that the film might have been intended for L&H but given to others owing to its similarity to You’re Darn Tootin’.

The film was actually part of Roach’s first attempt to create a female equivalent to Laurel & Hardy (as he would do again with Thelma Todd and partners in the 1930s) by pairing Anita Garvin with Marion Byron. The series proved to be short-lived but A Pair of Tights is, as Everson stated, a minor classic.

The slender plot involves the girls being taken out by two stingy boyfriends (the `tights’ or tightwads suggested in the title) played by Edgar Kennedy and Stuart Erwin. One can easily see how L&H – in their `on a budget’ mode, as per Should Married Men Go Home?, Men O’War or Our Relations – might have fitted in,  albeit with the emphasis on them rather than the female leads. The final scene, with numerous passers-by drawn into a street battle in which everyone is knocked down (by a blow to the calf) and left sitting on the pavement, has strong echoes of Tootin’ and equivalent scenes in Hats Off and The Battle of the Century. Both Hats Off and A Pair of Tights were directed by Hal Yates (who later reworked the former as a sound short for Edgar Kennedy at RKO).

A Pair of Tights has long been familiar to aficionados, thanks to its partial inclusion in Robert Youngson’s 1960 anthology When Comedy Was King, the 8 and 16mm prints sold to collectors by Blackhawk Films and, most recently, in the excellent Female Comedy Teams DVD set from the Munich Film Museum.

What nobody has suspected for all these years is how close Everson’s guess turned out to be. On the morning of Friday 13th January, 2012 – not feeling very lucky! – I received an e-mail from Trevor Dorman alerting me to an item being sold on Ebay, specifically a Roach studio call sheet – i.e. a list of cast and crew – for the shooting of a Laurel & Hardy film on 26th September, 1928. The combination of date, director, production number (`S-16’, denoting the `All Star’ series) cast and location (the `NY street’ on Roach’s backlot) did not match any of the L&H films but was instead obviously from the filming of A Pair of Tights ... but also listed Stan Laurel and Babe Hardy among the actors.

Other production records state that shooting had begun seven days earlier and would continue only for another two. Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel are, respectively, 7th and 8th down the cast list, after the principal and supporting players, and appear on the call sheet for that day alone. This confirms that L&H were contributing no more than a guest appearance, as they had done previously in Max Davidson’s Call of the Cuckoo and would again in other Roach comedies over the next several years.

At the film’s conclusion, the car conveying the principal characters rounds a corner, leaving a pursuing cop holding the vehicle’s folding roof, which he has grabbed in an attempt to stop them. I had wondered initially if L&H might have provided a closing gag in which the car ploughs into theirs, as it does earlier into one driven by Charlie Hall. A few late 1928 stills exist of L&H in the same street set, seated in the parallelogram-shaped Model T from Two Tars, only with the team in civilian clothes rather than the Navy uniforms they wear in that film. Since it is known that stills representing deleted scenes from at least one other film (Flying Elephants) saw service as generic publicity material, this seemed another possible example; however, the call sheet mentions only one prop car in use on the day, the Chrysler `65’ Roadster driven by Stuart Erwin. The studio seems in any case to have avoided taking production stills of cameo appearances such as these, presumably to retain the element of surprise. The call sheet also mentions 25 extras for `atmosphere’, further indicating that they were filming the climactic street battle rather than a finale taking place elsewhere. An unnamed `girl clerk’ would presumably be the hardly-visible figure at the counter inside the ice cream parlour around which much of the action is centred.

When the first version of this article appeared on the L&H website in January, it prompted a response from Chris Seguin in Canada, offering some clue as to the nature of the team’s contribution. Chris recalled Randy Skretvedt having told him of a proposed (but never shot) L&H cameo in this film, on the lines of them walking into the ongoing battle rather as other people would walk into those created by Stan and Ollie in their own films.

The original copy of the call sheet has since been acquired by historian Peter Mikkelsen, who has continued his enquiries into the film. Peter’s research has turned up a copy of the original script, which confirms that the film was never intended for Laurel & Hardy (Edgar Kennedy is named, whereas Stuart Erwin’s eventual role is described only as `the boy’) and makes clear that very little improvisation went on during filming, outside of some minor tweaking and a few specific bits of business. Most importantly for present purposes, it describes in detail how L&H were to approach from around a corner, then were seen at leg-level before being knocked to the ground by Kennedy. (In a cute in-house reference reminiscent of H.M. Walker’s gag titles, the script says `They take it’, adding mischievously in brackets, `They would’!) Another pair of feet appears between Stan and Ollie; Stan goes to knock their owner to the ground, but Ollie insists on doing it. The feet belong to a cop and, instead of those who had genuinely started the fight, it is Laurel & Hardy who, for the finale, are led by their collars into a patrol wagon.

It’s possible that such a guest contribution was designed to generate interest in a recently-launched series that wasn’t doing as well as had been hoped. Equally possible is that their scene was dropped because their personas drew attention away from, or at least might have prompted comparisons with, Kennedy and Erwin in what were essentially L&H-like roles. Coupled with the inevitably isolated effect of such a cameo appearance after a carefully built-up sequence, the scene as scripted would then have had L&H effectively stealing the finale from the leads, so perhaps its deletion was in the film’s best interests.

So, what are we to make of this `phantom’ L&H appearance? It doesn’t bring the total of their films to 107, but it’s the closest we’ve seen for some while.

Glenn Mitchell


A pair of tights script


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