Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Here’s another nice mess she’s gotten me into…

Apologies for not posting anything yesterday, but I was sort of caught up in the throes of the sixth anniversary of my 39th birthday yesterday. Sister Kat and the ‘rents really pulled out all the stops for this one: a sumptuous banquet of steak and shrimp, Caesar salad, corn on the cob and Garlic bread…with the pizza de resistance, birthday cake for dessert. When I got home, I took just enough time out to glance at my e-mail and a few scattered blogs and web pages (that’s where I found out about Jerry Reed’s passing, see below) before hitting the hay and sleeping like a rock.

You might remember the other day that I mentioned sister Kat coaxing me out of the house to make a trip to Augusta to pick up some books for a gal pal of hers. Clever little minx that she is, as it turns out it was all an elaborate ruse to take me to the one of the most sacred of classic movie Meccas: (warning: sound) the Laurel & Hardy Museum, located in picturesque Harlem, GA (which is about an hour-and-a-half from Athens), the birthplace of Oliver Norvell Hardy. It’s the only one of its kind in the United States; the other L&H museum is located in Ulverston, England (birthplace of Stan Laurel, of course).

The Museum is a magnificent place to visit: they charge no admission (they do have a donation box up at the front, though) and it's fun to browse through the memorabilia that includes autographed stills, L&H statues, children's toys, comic books and books written about the pair. The lady who greeted us was named Nancy, and she showed us her favorite bit of memorabilia: an autographed railroad station diner menu (by Stan & Ollie) from a small town in Michigan where the boys spent a few hours since their train was delayed due to heavy snow. They have a gift shop (I got a baseball cap, but they also sell derbies) and as I was leaving Nancy gave me one of their coffee mugs 1) because it was my birthday, and 2) because I identified four men in a photograph as Stan, Ollie, Hal Roach and Walt Disney—something apparently very few visitors are able to do, according to the Nance. (Oh, and Kat had asked Nancy if she wanted us to bring her back something from the restaurant we ate in...another first in the history of the museum.)

What’s really cool about the place is in the back they have a makeshift theater set up where you can watch an L&H feature or short on request; when we got there Nancy told us she had just started Sons of the Desert (1933) and that we could take a look if we wanted. I didn’t know how long we would be there so I told her we’d wait until it was over and Kat mentioned going off somewhere for a bite to eat. She recommended a Mexican place to us where the food was good and reasonable (the tortilla chips were a tad overdone, however) and during lunch, I told Kat that if she asked us about lunch I was going to tell her we had some hard-boiled eggs and nuts (c.f. County Hospital) just to see if she would get the joke. Well, I responded with the joke when we returned to be greeted with the blankest of stares…fortunately there was another employee on hand who started laughing, having apparently seen the short. This gal then mentioned they had been thinking about having a hard-boiled egg-eating contest at this year’s anniversary festival (October 4, 2008—the 20th year celebration) and I got a little nauseous, thinking of Cool Hand Luke (1967).

So we talked Nancy into running Way Out West (1937) for us, and inside the theater there are lobby cards, posters, sketches and paintings, etc. In one corner was the exhibit that I thought was the most incredible—the original prop piano crate from the team’s Oscar-winning short, The Music Box (1932). Simply incredible. The copy of West that they had was, I’m sorry to report, the crappy DVD issued by Lions Gate who is sitting on a literal treasure mine of entertainment with their acquisition of the Hal Roach Library. I explained to Nancy the irony of how other countries revere Stan and Ollie and take time to release their shorts and feature films properly, whereas in the country where they achieved their greatest fame companies like Lions Gate simply don’t give a rip. (I mentioned to Kat that I thought I had a better copy here at the house and if I can lay my hands on it I’ll drop it in the mail for Nancy to peruse.)

The festival I mentioned previously will be held in Harlem about a month from now, and one or two festivals ago they had a crowd of about 40,000 in attendance for showings of L&H films, games and contests, a look-a-like contest…and apparently a Civil War re-enactment, which can only be explained by the fact that this is the South, and I think it might be a state law or something. I have a postcard that I bought at the museum that shows some of the individuals in attendance, and to be honest the city of Harlem is so tiny (about the size of Mayberry, more or less) I’m not sure how they fit 40,000 people in it. I also received from Nancy an application form for membership in (warning: more sound) Augusta, GA’s “Berth Marks” tent of the international Laurel & Hardy organization, the Sons of the Desert.

What else can I say? Best. Birthday. Present. Ever. Thanks, Kat.


Bill Crider said...

Happy belated birthday!

Pam said...

Well... yet another 39th. Sounds like a wonderful day. Happy Birthday, Shempington.

Linda said...

A belated happy birthday. What a tremendous day for a L&H lover!

Margo said...

Happy birthday, dahling! I just recently became an L&H fan, after a lifetime of finding them tedious. What was I thinking?! One morning a few months ago, I saw a vase come rocketing into the frame and smash Ollie in the back on the head, and laughed for a full 20 minutes. I was hooked! Now I'm knee-deep in L&H books, and watching everything I can.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, gang.