For more than a quarter century, from before the Great Depression until after World War II, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy formed one of the world’s most famous and delightful comedy teams.
Even today, they still have devoted fans remain. Since 1964, The Sons of the Desert has celebrated Laurel and Hardy’s legacy. (The organization takes its name from a 1933 Laurel and Hardy film). Local chapters, known as tents, bring fans together for fun and frivolity. All are named in honor of Laurel and Hardy films.
The Philadelphia-area club, known as the Sons of the Desert Two Tars Tent, has operated for going on 52 years. The group, which counts its membership as somewhere between 45 and 50, is gearing up for its annual spring banquet on Sunday, April 23, at Georgine’s Restaurant in Bristol. Traditionally, the group holds two gatherings yearly, one in the spring and one in the fall.
The upcoming affair officially starts at 5:30 p.m. Elaine Madden, the Grand Sheik, or leader of the Two Tars Tent, says early arrivals are encouraged.
“Georgine’s has a full bar,” she says, “and we have a lot of early birds who like to get there at least an hour before an event.”
The evening will include a cocktail hour followed by a full dinner. Festivities will feature live music, toasts to Laurel and Hardy and their various costars, and the showing of some of their classic films, including a full-length feature, which this year will be “The Flying Deuces.” It was released in 1939 and tells the tale of two Americans in Paris who wind up in “another fine mess.”
Before the screening, Madden will offer some anecdotes about it.
“I never make it longer than a couple of minutes,” she said. “Everybody really enjoys that. They enjoy learning something new about a movie we’ve seen many times. It adds a little spice while you’re watching. That’s another fun aspect of our tent. I’m not sure every tent does what I do, but it’s something I like doing.”
The majority of members have reached retirement age, and some aren’t able to attend the semiannual banquets for reasons related to health or age. But they remain involved with the organization through its newsletter.
Madden and her husband, Stephen Wahrhaftig, who live in West Chester, got involved with the group five years ago to indulge their love of old movies.
Laurel and Hardy appeared in some 112 short and feature-length films during their partnership from 1927-55. The duo first attracted the public’s attention in silent films and successfully transitioned to ‘talkies,’ which many performers found difficult to do.
Part of Madden’s affection for Laurel and Hardy lies in the fact that their brand of slapstick comedy, which features the pair figuratively, and often literally, battling uphill against life’s day-to-day trials and tribulations, maintained certain boundaries.
“It’s very respectful humor,” Madden said. “Stan and Ollie were adamant about humor, that the humor was not caustic. It was an uplifting kind of humor.”
Madden is committed to creating additional in-person opportunities for The Sons of the Desert to interact with one another.
“Since I became the Sheik, my goal was to have more,” she said. “I wanted to have one in between each banquet. So far, we’ve done one; that was just recently, and we’re planning on having a second one in June.”
Madden has also contacted other New Jersey tents about a joint event. One actually did participate in her most recent event.
The recent “in-between” event was less formal than a banquet and was intended in part to attract younger Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts, including families with young children.
“I’m comfortable bringing my grandchildren,” Madden said. “I’m not concerned at all that they’re going to see something that I wouldn’t want them to see. That’s nice.”
If you want to learn more, contact Madden or check out the group’s Facebook page.
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