Lord Delfont poorly treated in new film
Lord Bernard Delfont life and career
He was born in Tokmak, Russian Empire, the second son of Isaac and Olga Winogradsky. His brothers Lew Grade and Leslie Grade also entered showbusiness. His nephew Michael Grade (now Lord Grade of Yarmouth), Leslie’s son, has had a career in the television and film industries. He had a sister, Rita Grade, who wrote a book about the family called “My Fabulous Brothers”.
Delfont entered theatrical management in 1941, after a career as first a dancer, then an agent. He presented over 200 shows in London and New York City, including more than 50 musicals, such as the original productions of Little Me, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, City Of Angels and Sweet Charity.
He also presented summer variety shows in many towns across the country, mainly seaside resorts. In Blackpool, he owned all three of its piers (South Pier, Central Pier and North Pier).
He converted the London Hippodrome into the Talk of the Town nightclub, bringing in entertainers such as Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt and Judy Garland, and also securing the exclusive rights from Paul Derval to stage the Folies Bergère for the first time outside Paris. While the Chief Executive of EMI, Delfont withdrew funding for the film Life of Brian in 1978 at the last moment, due to worries over the religious implications of the screenplay.
Delfont married the actress Carole Lynne in 1946. They had one son (David) and two daughters (Susannah and Jennifer). He was knighted in 1974 and created a life peer as Baron Delfont, of Stepney in Greater London in 1976. He died from a heart attack at his Angmering home. Lord Delfont was the life president of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, while his wife served as life governor.
From Wikipedia; ‘revisiting his Music Hall days, Laurel returned to England in 1947 when he and Hardy went on a six week tour of the United Kingdom in Variety shows being mobbed wherever they went. The tour included the Royal Variety Performance. The success of the tour led them to spend the following seven years touring the U.K. and Europe. In 1952 they toured successfully and returned in 1953 for another tour of the U.K. and Europe, during this tour Stan Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for some weeks. In May 1954 Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour that year’.
My critique of the 2018 film script by Jeff Pope and Directed by Jon S. Baird, a rather dark tour presentation with unnecessary personal criticism of Lord Delfont and the Moss Empires.
Being of stage and circus I take an interest in biopics and books written on the subject and have placed a personal view for some on Artistes United. The film industry is a wonderful area for the reflection of life in art form. Unlike books it must include ‘artistic license’ and this is necessary to cover say, in two hours, a subject taking months or years. Artistic license is fine, provided the script and the direction is true to the integrity of the subject and not used to re-write history. A new film has just been released, a biopic of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy called Stan and Ollie, ‘inspired’ by the above book published in 1993. I would like a copy of that book. Like most people I know little about Stan and Ollie other than the brilliance of their slapstick partnership and that they were great Variety performers.
The film inspires many ‘why’ questions. Why would it be made might be one if not to elevate the great old period?.
I take the view that any personal comments or statement attributed to persons no longer with us may not be taken as fact unless the person is alive to verify it and also that the person spoken to is also alive to verify the conversation or letters exist making statements. So much is printed by third parties about persons deceased that one wonders what is or is not reliable. In this film portrayal of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy I feel this applies. Much of the 2018 film script is of the two talking together without a third party. Do we know they said certain sections of the script? Certain segments of the film are totally untrue and illogical but this may be referred to as artistic license. Somewhat overused in this film. It is clear that the two main actors playing the rolls Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly perform most well as the two characters.
One hopes that one day writers of books and film scripts will portray simple facts but the script for the film by Jeff Pope needs some comment. My national newspaper provided two (unfair) pre issues of large cover informing me that the new film was to be released on the 11th January called Stan and Ollie. I quote from the first press cover page; the writer says ‘Stan Laurel (the thin one) then 63, and Oliver Hardy (the fat one) then 61. The first ‘why’ question, surely the whole world knows the duos large and small dimensions? The article went on ‘They were desperate for cash. Their big screen career had ended in 1945 and were regarded as old men and old news in the U.S. where they had been replaced in the public affection by younger rivals in the art of slapstick, Abbott and Costello. (The first partnership for that famous double act was on radio in 1938. To make that duo well established in 1953 that according to the film and press releases was the year Stan and Ollie came to the United Kingdom. No mention of the Continental tour and no mention of 1947. Bud Abbott was aged 56 and Lou Costello was aged 47 that the press release referred to as younger rivals). (Further quote) ‘Unloved, broke, sick, hounded by ex-wives and forced to tour tiny UK venues.’ So the press release ignores the facts that Laurel and Hardy came to the United Kingdom in 1947 along with tours on the Continent and was ‘mobbed everywhere’ according to the published book by Marriott.
‘Tiny’ venues meaning Moss Empire theatres.
The ‘tiny’ venues were the main Moss Empire circuit with seating for two to three thousand; a few are still there including the London Palladium. The press writer Tom Leonard called them second rate provincial theatres.
The second press cover was by Brian Viner who says 1953 was the last time they worked together (not true at all, they worked together until 1955). ‘They weren’t exactly warmly embraced by a country itself in the embrace of post war austerity as they trudged from one half empty provincial theatre to another.’ This must be nonsense! In 1953 the U.K. was actually growing fast and in 1959 MacMillan said ‘you’ve never had it so good! The press release also said that TV was most negative, actually it was after 1955 when ITV started transmission.
In my view the film starts very well with the large scene within the Hal Roach studios of 1937, plenty of interplay with other actors and interesting activity, then it suddenly says ’16 years later’. No cover or explanation of the missing years so to make the first scene pointless to the next dark progress sequences apparently in 1953. Mr Viner then writes complete nonsense that the theatrical double act was (he writes or the newspaper prints ‘foundered or do they mean founded?) by 1953 (ignoring again 1947!) largely on the back of Laurel’s bust up with Hal Roach about money in 1937. (The duo had done much separate work within those sixteen years and also together for other film studios).
‘The duo must learn to work together again (!) says Mr Viner. The writer then drifts into lengthy dialogue of how the duo loved each other ‘Stan and Ollie is a love story.’ (!) (They were an excellent working partnership but ran very separate lifestyles, most unlikely a ‘love affair’ in whatever meaning).
He goes on; ‘I have seen the film twice, the first time with my 23 year old son, an aspiring comedy writer and performer himself, who brought along his writing partner. They left a little nonplussed, feeling that they have to work a whole lot harder for laughs than Laurel and Hardy did’ (I have read this passage several times and can’t quite get its meaning, does he mean comics must work harder for modern audiences who are harder to please? As for work, the actual physical effort put in by the duo was extraordinary with no stunt people. Surely his son and partner must have seen some of the duo’s comedy before this film? As for modern comedy I might agree, they do have to work much harder to get anywhere close to the great old talented stand-up comedians of the Variety era.
What routines exactly did Stan and Ollie perform on the tours?
He does admit that ‘the film’s only slight weakness is the staged hospital bed routines with the boiled eggs’. Ignoring the fact that the whole stage presentation according to this film script is totally wrong even the wrong year! What proof do we have of what routines Stan and Ollie performed on the Moss Empire circuit? There is also the logic that escapes the journalist that to emulate any comedian – especially two comedians – is asking a great deal of anyone to try and compare to the originals forty or so years of working together. This film has many weaknesses that pose many questions. Why? Why does the film include so many inaccuracies? One must assume that the book by A. J.Marriot is a first class accurate portrayal of the British tours so why not use that as a script base? The word ‘inspired’ means Mr Pope did not want to or did not want to be that accurate? So the ‘why make the film’ question must mean some odd agenda?
The press writer says that the film will be appreciated more by the older generations rather than the later ones all the more reason in my view to be honest with the script.
All the Moss Empire tours by Stan and Ollie contained a host of speciality acts, top liners all; see the example of the playbill. The duo would have occupied the second half of the show and this was the usual format of the old Variety, the top of the bill occupied the second half. It is my guess that minimum props would be used – easier to place and remove. Stage Managers do not like a lot of props! The idea of a large hospital scene would not gel to me. It is obvious that Stand and Ollie were exceptionally joyful characters, miseries would not be able to produce this fine comedy yet the whole film (why?) portrays them as miserable together and to be with, no joy at all! The script could have made it a joyful film full of happy people, some segments of drama and ‘down moments’ for balance. So many fine artistes on the bill to interact in dressing rooms and side stage – direction totally ignored. No contact with the stage manager, stage staff, hardly any contact at all with ordinary people. The few people they do talk with are either rude, indifferent ignorant or patronising. Why? The (fictional) American film musicals For Me and My Gal, and also Yankee Doodle Dandy shows how a Variety film should be made – all shades of colour drama script and characters. Plenty of artistic license that enhanced both films. They were fictional plots containing many truths!
So many odd ‘why’ questions to ask about this script; why’ was the first hotel in Newcastle so dismal? Why’ no welcome from the manager? Why’ a rather dismissive even ignorant welcome from Lord Delfont on the pavement? Why’ was the desk girl so impolite and cold? Why’ did Stan have to fall over a suitcase to make the scene look so pathetic? What evidence is there that Stan and Ollie performed to poor house numbers? If totally untrue Why? Why’ is it suggested that after much time is spent Lord Delfont approaches the duo to perform outside promotional activities for the tour when it is more than obvious this activity would be within their contract. Why; was it constantly implied that all audiences north of Watford were rather, to be polite, ‘non-theatrical’ and better days will arrive ‘once they are in London? Why’ is England shown as rather cold and unwelcoming yet their tour to Ireland is warm generous and fantastic? Why’ is the Irish ferry so small to compare to a trawler when in reality the ferries were roll-on roll-off lorry transports 400ft long?
Why’ did the Moss Empire in Glasgow have to have one main letter not functioning? Why’ did they have to do a hatchet job on the Grade theatrical agency and why was the brilliant promoter Lord Bernard Delfont called ‘oily’ by the press write up and treated totally insultingly by the script? Why’ do they say 1953 was their last tour when they toured in 1954? Why’ say that Ollie had a heart attack in 1953 when it was in 1954 and not disclose it was Stan who fell ill in 1953? Why’ invent another ‘Ollie’ to appear on stage to replace the apparently ill Ollie, prepared, seated on stage in this hospital bed fully costumed with leg in plaster for Stan to observe with disbelief from the wings for the first time? In reality anyone who knows logic and show-business that are countless including amateur dramatic groups would know that any first introduction would be in the offices of Grade or Lord Delfont or Stan Laurel would find a replacement himself. Most rehearsal would be done out of costume – (I might suggest to scriptwriter Mr Pope that the opportunity would be there for Stan to see how many people would not equal Ollie with interviews of various.)
Totally ridiculous to suggest that Stan Laurel having bad feelings about the whole idea would wait until the audience was seated to cancel the show minutes before the curtain rises. Totally unprofessional and totally insulting to Stan Laurel. My initial question was – why was the film made? Clearly it is an ‘arthouse’ venture and not for the masses, the design would not appeal to the masses in my view. The design could have been so much better. Persons under 30 would not have much draw to the film and the script is sad rather depressing and insular. The more people of vintage age would not be enough to show great interest or fill the cinemas – again they wish for cheer and not drabness. The first 15 minutes started well, if only the script writer and the director had kept it up! Personally I do feel that films that portray historical events should be educational and accurate.
One slight thought addition I might have suggested!
One good additional thought? This idea came to mind to add some joy to the constantly dull script.
Stan and Ollie are walking around the west-end enjoying the sun and the mood. They enter Trafalgar Square and Stan says let us sit on the column steps for a while. Time for numerous humours like, ‘it is so nice to be back in old London again Ollie’. ‘You are so right Stan but lucky to be here, I gave you the cash to book two tickets on the Queen Mary with cabins on the ships Broadway and you return with two tickets for the musical Mary Queen of Scots on Broadway. Now I have to work to get our luggage from Glasgow! Another fine mess! You know Ollie this is our third time at the Palladium isn’t that swell. It sure is, but Bob Hope has been there five times. He gave to me his usual parting advice when I saw him. ‘Always leave them wanting more’. He says that to everyone Ollie but not anymore here since he found out there is a top comedian called Collin Moor! Stan, we have an admirer, look there a young street-wise in cloth cap staring at us. Hello son why are you interested in us? You look like Laurel and Hardy. Are you Buskers? That is right son we are buskers. Well this is a great spot for Busking why not do a turn here I will get a crowd around for you. What do you think Ollie? Be a giggle? Sure we will do the Way Out West song. Off they go, Dooby Dooby, Dooby Dooby, a dooby dooby, a dooby dooby, a dooby dooby be do, a do a do. Into dance, already people are gathering around. Segueway into We live in Trafalgar Square with four lions to guard us there are paintings and statues all over the place and the Metropoles staring us right in the face. We know it’s a trifle drafty but we looks at it this way you see, if its good enough for Nelson its quite good enough you see! Dance time.
A policeman arrives, hello what is going on here? Doing a bit of busking officer said Ollie. Is that so, I must inform you that strict bylaws state there can be no busking anywhere within 100 yards of a monument and Nelsons Column is a monument. I want to see your license from the Lord Chamberlain. Do you think he might cast a blind eye like Nelson said Stan? I see a couple of jokers, we shall see if the Magistrate has a sense of humour! Since Laurel and Hardy arrived at the Palladium we have had a spate of unlicensed Stan and Hollie buskers that must be checked out. Leave them alone officer! They are good!, look I have raise £20 quid! Said the lad. Thank you sonny said Stan, tell you what we will do, being you are our agent and slightly better than Al Roach we will give you ten per cent and the other £18 pounds we will donate to this kind officers police fund for the needy. Tell you what I will do; said the policeman, I will give you both half, which is £4.10 shillings each. I suggest you buy a couple of tickets for the London Palladium and see the really wonderful Stan and Ollie so that you may get some ideas and advice. Thank you officer, you are so kind, that is very good advice replied Stan. (Another fine mess you got us into said Ollie as they walked away)
The last time we played the Ulverston Coronation Civic Hall with the slapstick show we took this photo of the bronze statue outside of the main entrance. Our show board is visible.