How Oliver Hardy Launched His Career in Jacksonville
Comic actor Oliver Hardy starred in hundreds of silent films, both by himself and as half of the iconic Laurel and Hardy comedic duo.
But before he’d meet Stan Laurel and take his career to new heights, Hardy launched his film career right here in Jacksonville.
Hardy was born in Harlem, GA, in 1892 and grew up in Georgia with aspirations for a singing career – that is, until he took a job at a movie theater and fell in love with film.
Seeking to pursue his new passion, Hardy moved to Jacksonville in 1913. Jacksonville, at the time, was viewed as the “winter film capital of the world” – it was more or less Hollywood before Hollywood existed.
Hardy took a job at Lubin Manufacturing Company’s local studio in Riverside while also working part-time as a singer. Despite not originally being hired as an actor, Oliver Hardy scored his film debut within a year, appearing in Lubin’s 1914 comedy, “Outwitting Dad,” directed by Arthur Hotaling. He’d go on to film more than 100 silent movies in Jacksonville alone over the course of the next three years – almost all of which were produced by Lubin, later known as Vim Comedy Company and then King Bee – as he split his time between Jax and New York to maximize his output.
Hardy became known for his portly appearance and for often playing the role of heel or villain. In 1916, he and Billy Ruge began appearing together in Vim Comedy films as Plump and Runt, a slapstick duo that would somewhat resemble his later Laurel and Hardy act.
By 1917, as the film industry’s presence in Jax waned, Oliver Hardy left Jacksonville for Hollywood. Ironically, some of the wackier stunt scenes from Hardy’s films may have helped contribute to the local revolt against the film industry that ultimately chased it out of Jax.
After that, Hardy teamed with Stan Laurel and embarked on a decades-long comedic partnership that remains influential more than sixty years after the duo retired.
Today, you’d be forgiven for not realizing that Oliver Hardy ever lived in Jacksonville. The studio where Hardy worked was demolished long ago for the construction of the original Fuller Warren Bridge, and no other remnants of his brief time here remain.
But sure enough, in an era where our streets were packed with movie stars, Oliver Hardy chose Jacksonville as the launching spot for his legendary film career.