It was over fifty years ago; 1964 when The King Of Late Night television, Johnny Carson was in Los Angeles onone of his semi frequent visits filming The Tonight Show, years before he would make the west coast his permanent home. On this particular trip, one of his mentors, a childhood hero was in the hospital. On a whim, he decided to make a phone call to say hello and to wish him well on his recovery. To his delight, he was able to get through and speak to this genuine comedy legend. For one brief conversation in time, Johnny Carson got to speak to Stan Laurel.
During the phone call, Stan assured Johnny that he was indeed on the mend and there was no need to worry. Stan had been admitted to undergo tests for his diabetic condition. In a letter to a fan, Stan noted that he hopes he won't be in hospital for too long as they charge thirty five dollars per day for the room. Within a week, Stan was out of the hospital and back home at his beloved Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica.
It was while The Tonight Show was on the west coast that some of the crew visited the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Ave. A long established venue for screening films from the silent era, the crew visited on the night that some early one and two reel comedies were being shown. One of them particularly caught the eyes of the Tonight Show personnel. It was Stan Laurel's one reel comedy, "Kill Or Cure" which he made in 1923 for Hal Roach. The screening made quite an impression on the staff.
Back in New York, life went happily along. At some point, mention was made about Johnny's phone call to Stan which started a discussion about the screening the staff attended when they were in Los Angeles. It was decided that a tribute to Stan would be fun to do on The Tonight Show by showing a portion of the film screened at the theater.
On August 18th. 1964, after a commercial break, Johnny Carson related to his audience his conversation with the thin half of Laurel & Hardy while in California. When Johnny told the audience what Stan had said to him on the phone, he did it with his impression of Stan's voice. He had
impersonated both Stan and Babe on previous broadcasts, clearly demonstrating his unabashed admiration for The Boys. Had circumstances been different, he would have loved to have booked Stan as a guest on his late night talk show while on the west coast. At the time of this episode,
Stan had just over six months left on earth. Even if he had been in better health when Carson was in town, it is highly doubtful Stan would have agreed to appear. Short of that feat, what followed next was to be the closest thing to actually having Stan on the program.
After the recounting of their telephone call, he told the audience that they were going to be treated to a sequence from the film that enchanted his staff at the Silent Movie Theater. Further, he let the audience know that Stan had been notified of the broadcast so he may be watching. Johnny introduced a sequence from "Kill Or Cure" that began with Stan trying to sell his cure all mixture as a car cleaner to Noah Young. To Johnny's delight (he laughed throughout the sequence) and the studio audience, the silent clip was well received. The film ran for several minutes. Curiously, no musical accompaniment was provided which was confusing as band leader Skitch Henderson was seated at the piano. Still, the film provided many laughs.
In a letter to one of his many fans, Mike Polacek, Stan made mention of the broadcast:
"The short silent film on the Carson show was titled: KILL OR CURE a Hal E. Roach (One Reeler). I did get a telegram from Carson to watch the show — wish they had chosen a better one out of the 12 I made in 1923."
This may be the first time that KILL OR CURE played on national television. It is a tribute to Johnny that he took the time on his popular program to salute Stan Laurel. Knowing that his health was fragile, it would become a sweet and loving "thank you" to one half of the team that brought him such joy throughout his life. And in a way, it can be said that Stan Laurel made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Most video tapes of the first ten years of The Tonight Show were erased. One of the "survivors" in the archive is the Stan Laurel Tribute and it survives
in color. Possibly it was saved at Mr. Carson's insistence or simply the fates intervened.
Our Hollywood Party banner hangs proudly in the Lasky-DeMille Barn at the Hollywood Heritage Museum where we hold our meetings.
Stan presides over every HP meeting along with the official moniker of the Sons.