Laurel & Hardy Classic

Over the holidays, WPIX-TV, channel 11 in New York, will continue a decades-long tradition – the airing of Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers.

WPIX’s first Thanksgiving airing of the L&H classic was on November 28, 1963, six days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If you live in the New York tri-state region, you can catch it this Thanksgiving, November 22, at 9 am and 3 pm ET.

If you don’t live in the New York area and March of the Wooden Soldiers is not airing in your local market, you have numerous paid streaming options.

For example, there’s a glorious black and white version, complete with its original 1934 MGM opening title and name — Babes in Toyland — is available with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Here’s a colorized version of the film:

In addition to Stan Laurel (Stannie Dum) and Oliver Hardy (Ollie Dee), the cast includes Charlotte Henry as Bo- Peep, Felix Knight as Tom-Tom and a 21 year-old Henry Brandon as Barnaby, “the meanest man in town.” Charlotte Henry was Alice in 1933’s Alice in Wonderland, and Knight later spent four years with the Metropolitan Opera Company.

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Laurel and Hardy, of course, were Roach stars for many years, producing 79 silent and sound shorts (The Music Box won an Academy Award in 1932), as well as numerous features including Sons of the Desert, Way Out West and Blockheads.  Hal Roach Studios, a ‘mom-and-pop’ operation which also produced the Our Gang series, aka The Little Rascals, as well as Harold Lloyd comedies, was known affectionately both as Hollywood’s “Laugh-Factory to the World” and the “Lot of Fun.”

Roach allowed Laurel and Hardy, and other performers, considerable freedom to craft movies as they saw fit. Ironically, according to Randy Skretvedt’s book, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, Babes in Toyland marked a decided turn for the worse in the relationship between Roach, a former gag writer, and Laurel, the brains behind the Laurel and Hardy films. Roach, who saw blockbuster potential in Babes in Toyland, inserted himself into the script-writing process, leading to friction with Laurel. The final product, which entailed a lot of on-the-set improvising, was considered a Laurel, not a Roach, story.  Despite the internal conflict, the film “earned the team the best reviews of their career” and “excellent business in its initial release,” and has won the affection of generations of fans.

Roach, who passed away in 1992 at 100, didn’t remember Babes in Toyland so fondly. In 1981, he said, “The film was a flop. It didn’t even get the cost back…. I knew that after Babes in Toyland, I was through making Laurel and Hardy pictures.”  Roach continued to make films with Laurel and Hardy until 1940.

(The preceding is an updated version of a previously published article.)

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About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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