Laurel & Hardy

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy

See Where Oliver Hardy Grew Up in Georgia

Explore the towns where Oliver Hardy was born, went to school and became inspired to be an actor.

Oliver Norvell Hardy was a successful American comedic actor and one half of the Academy Award-winning comic duo Laurel and Hardy, the act that began in the era of silent films and lasted from 1927 to 1951. In the 2018 film "Stan & Ollie," John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan portray the performers during their final tour in Britain and Ireland.

Born in Harlem, Georgia, on Jan. 18, 1892, Oliver Hardy was named Norvell Hardy. His father Oliver was a Confederate veteran and married his mother Emily Norvell in 1890. The couple lived in Madison, Georgia, and after his father’s death, Emily settled for sometime in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Within these three Georgia communities -- Harlem, Madison and Milledgeville -- are points of interest and family stories that perhaps gave Hardy his comic inspiration.

Turnell-Butler Hotel in Madison, Georgia

Turnell-Butler Hotel, Madison

Norvell's father, Oliver, was manager of the the Turnell-Butler Hotel, which once stood on the corner of Hancock and E. Jefferson streets in Madison, encompassing an entire city block. Oliver and Emily had moved to Madison in 1891, and in January 1892, Emily returned to Harlem and her family to give birth to Norvell, returning to Madison afterward. On Nov. 22, 1892, Oliver died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Norvell, only 10 months old and the youngest of five children, moved with his mom to a boarding house that she opened just a few blocks away.

Oliver Hardy historical marker in Madison, Georgia

The Hardy House, Madison

Emily opened a boarding house in Madison named The Hardy House, and it was located in the current site of Madison's Town Park. Oliver Norvell Hardy, who took his father's name by age 18, once reported that he had picked up the habit of “lobby watching” as a child – sitting in the lobby of his mother’s boarding house in Madison observing the mannerisms of the travelers who passed that way. He used these observations in later life to influence his acting. Oliver began his education at age 6 at the Madison Grammar School, now known as the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center.

1908 Postcard of the Baldwin Hotel in Milledgeville

Hotel Milledgeville

At the intersection of Milledgeville's South Wayne and West Greene streets once stood the Hotel Milledgeville, built in 1858. In 1903, Hardy’s mother moved into the hotel with her two youngest children, including 11-year-old Norvell "Oliver" Hardy, and oversaw renovating it back to its original importance and grandeur, ultimately changing its name to the Hotel Baldwin in 1908. The hotel closed in 1970, the building was razed and Magnolia Bank was built on the site. Today, there is a historical marker documenting Hardy’s time in Milledgeville.

Old Capital Building in Milledgeville

Statehouse Square, Milledgeville

Hardy attended grade school in Milledgeville at Georgia Military College. His experiences there seemed to have been full of peaks and valleys. While it was there that he met many of his closest childhood friends, he also suffered unmerciful teasing. The large 14-year-old boy weighed close to 250 pounds and was called "Fatty Hardy" throughout town. During this time, he developed a love for singing through theatrical events at Georgia Military College, and in 1909 the local paper considered Hardy “a sweet singer.”

Downtown Milledgeville

Downtown Milledgeville

Hardy often stopped in at 122 S. Wayne St. in Milledgeville at the once-popular City Bakery. The bakery supplied his favorite macaroons and muffins, which aided the meager rations at school.

As a young teenager, Hardy saw vaudeville acts, orchestras, singers, magicians and drama companies on the second-floor auditorium of Milledgeville's grandly named Opera House, once located at 124 W. Hancock St.

In 1910, the Palace Theater relocated into the old Chandler Brothers Grocery at 133 S. Wayne St. Hardy was hired as the manager, which included often being the projectionist, ticket taker and janitor. Working at the Palace sparked Hardy’s interest in the movies, and as he became more absorbed with what he was projecting on the screen, he resolved to become an actor in motion pictures.

Read this blog to learn more about Oliver Hardy's time in Milledgeville.

Oconee River in Milledgeville, Georgia

Oconee River

As a boy, Oliver and his older brother Bardy spent hours fishing and swimming in the cool water of the Oconee River. Then, tragedy struck this location. In 1909, when Oliver’s oldest brother Sam Tant was visiting and fishing just above the old mill dam on the Oconee River, the group decided to go swimming. Sam dove into the water from the limb of an overhanging tree and misjudged the depth. Oliver carried Sam to the shore and managed to get him back to the hotel, but the injury was fatal.

Campus Theatre in Milledgeville. Photo credit: Georgia College

Campus Theatre, Milledgeville

In 1909, after the renovations of the Hotel Baldwin were complete, Hardy’s mother rented the Old Central Hotel on Hancock Street in Milledgeville opposite the then-courthouse and re-named it the Hendrix House. After extensive renovations, she opened it as a boarding house only for a fire to break out a week after the grand opening, destroying all but the main part of the house.

Today, the building, Campus Theatre, reflects its c. 1935 ownership. It is a typical Art Deco site built by the Martin (now Carmike) theater chain that once dominated the movie business in small towns throughout the southeastern United States. The movie ads from that era show that the Campus Theatre regularly hosted the films of the famous former Milledgeville resident.

Laurel and Hardy Museum in Harlem, Georgia

Laurel & Hardy Museum, Harlem

Want to know more about Oliver Hardy’s life and comic duo Laurel and Hardy? Visit the Laurel & Hardy Museum in Hardy’s birthplace, Harlem, Georgia, which contains artifacts, memorabilia and a theater room to watch any of the 106 movies they made together. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. It is located an hour and 20 minute drive from Milledgeville at 250 N. Louisville St., Harlem, Georgia.

Published: January 2019
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