Laurel & Hardy

5. Love ‘Em and Weep (1927)

As 1926 drew to a close, the executives at the Hal Roach Studio were looking forward to a more prosperous New Year. 1926 had been a good year, and yet Roach, always looking to improve his studio’s reputation and the quality of its product, was preparing to execute a plan that would take his operation to the next level.

In March, Roach had signed a new distribution agreement with Hollywood giants, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His increasing dissatisfaction with his current distributor, Pathé Exchange, had reached the point of no return. Metro, fast becoming the biggest studio in the business, was a very appealing and lucrative alternative. The promises of better quality prints and wider and more effective distribution channels were more than enough to lure Roach away from Pathé.

His long-term vision included developing the ‘All Star’ comedy series. This involved the production of lavish two-reel comedies featuring famous headliners from the silver screen. Securing the services of quality screen stars, whose popularity in feature productions had started to wane yet still had box office pulling power, became a top priority. To this end, the studio had already signed stars such as Mabel Normand, Priscilla Dean, Theda Bara, Agnes Ayres, Herbert Rawlinson, Matt Moore and Madeline Hurlock.

The inclusion of these famous personalities provided quality, excitement and attracted audiences to the pictures. However, they weren’t the only players attached to the series, as The Los Angeles Times, 22nd August 1926 reported:

“Five players of radically different types and training are under contract at the Hal Roach Studios to insure [sic] the success of the ‘star comedy’ series…The group is composed of Jimmy Finlayson…Vivien Oakland…Tyler Brooke…Oliver Hardy, veteran ‘heavyweight’ comedian of the screen, and Martha Sleeper…Although it is Roach’s policy to secure the best names from feature picture ranks for leading roles in the ‘star comedy’ series, the group of five players forms the basis of casting…”

In addition, on 17th November 1926, a telegram from Warren Doane to W.B. Frank (New York City Pathé) confirmed that another comedian was being considered for bigger things by the studio heads:

“With regard to Laurel, we may eventually make a comedy star of him. He shows a good deal of promise….” [1]

Stan Laurel had been continually employed making pictures under the Hal Roach banner throughout the past year, and his popularity with the public had been growing in leaps and bounds. But, Stan was out of contract and had been for some time.[2] On 26th November 1926, freelancing Stan commenced filming on the latest All-Star comedy, Love ‘Em and Weep. Three days later, on 29th November 1926, Stan’s popularity and promise were formally recognised. The studio signed him to a five-year contract, on a salary of $300 per week for the first year and rising in annual increments to reach $900 in year five. Mr Hardy and Mr Laurel were finally under long-term contracts at the studio that would be their home and playground for the next fourteen years.

In keeping with the All-Star series formula, a notable actress from the silver screen was brought in to headline Love ‘Em and

Moving Picture World, 18th June 1927

Weep. However, unlike Madeline Hurlock and Priscilla Dean, who had gone before, this latest acquisition would become a firm favourite with Laurel and Hardy fans. The actress in question was Mae Busch. She became a much-valued member of the Laurel and Hardy Stock Company, appearing with the boys in over a dozen pictures during her career. Moving Picture World, 18th June 1927, announced:

Mae Busch is Hal Roach’s feature star for this two reel comedy which proves to be a fast-moving and mirthful farce that should please the general public…”

This was Busch’s first picture for the Hal Roach studio, and she gives a typically excellent performance playing the role of a devious diva, a real no-nonsense dame.

Born in 1891 in Melbourne, Australia, to vaudevillian parents, Mae joined the family act at the age of twelve, touring the theatres of the United States before eventually landing a leading role in a show on Broadway. She enjoyed a relatively prominent career on the stage, and her reputation facilitated a successful transition to moving pictures. In 1915, Mae went to work at the Keystone studio working for Mack Sennett. However, just as she was getting close to prominent movie star status, she became caught up in a Hollywood scandal that slammed the breaks on her movie career.[3]

Mabel Normand, pictured in Pathe Yearbook 1927

Around 1916, it was reported that Mae was having an affair with the studio owner, movie producer Mack Sennett. The story goes that the illicit lovers were discovered in-fligrante-delicto by Sennett’s fiancee, screen star Mabel Normand.  It has been rumoured that a vicious fight ensued between Mabel and Mae, with Mabel sustaining severe damage to her head. These stories have never been proven, but many contemporary press articles reported Mabel fighting for her life following what was described as an ‘accident at the Keystone studio’. Whatever the truth may be, Mae Busch was left with little choice but to walk away from Sennett and the Keystone studio, and as a result, she disappeared from the public eye. She didn’t resurface again until three years later in a Paramount feature entitled The Grim Game and then again the following year in Eric Von Stroheim’s hit movie, The Devil’s Passkey.

The love-triangle scandal between Mae, Sennett and Mabel Normand wasn’t quickly forgotten either, as the following piece from the July 1925 issue of Screenland Magazine, a decade on from the events at Keystone, illustrates:

“Did you have any earthquake in New York in the merry, merry month of May? You really should have had one for even Little Old New York isn’t big enough to hold Mae Busch and Mabel Normand at the same time though they were vacationing there, but not together. Someone in New York not acquainted with Hollywood conventions might invite both to the same party and thereby precipitate at least a catastrophe. Come on, girls, bury the hatchet, but not in each other.” 

Mae began to appear more regularly in movies, hopping from studio to studio but never quite breaking through as a headliner. Eventually, Hal Roach recognised Mae’s potential, signed her to his studio, and cast her as the lead in his latest picture.[4]

Original Lobby Card, 1927

Despite Stan and Babe not taking the lead roles, there is still something satisfyingly familiar about Love ‘Em and Weep for Laurel and Hardy fans. Joining Mae Busch in the film’s second lead role was the unmistakable, larger than life presence of Scottish-born James Finlayson. James was born in August 1887 in Larbert, Scotland and began his working life as a tinsmith before deciding to turn his life in a completely different direction and pursuing a career as a stage actor. Following his parents’ deaths, James and his brother Robert emigrated to the United States in 1911.

James was able to continue his acting career in New York, where he landed several parts and finally ended up playing on Broadway in a production of Bunty Pulls the Strings. Eventually, in 1916 he left the stage behind and headed for the West Coast and the lure of Hollywood. Finlayson made films for several studios, such as L-KO and Sennett’s Keystone studio, until finally joining Hal Roach around 1922. He was immediately put to work on the Stan Laurel solo series during Stan’s first tenure at the studio. James Finlayson made nineteen shorts with Stan and five with Babe Hardy prior to Love ‘Em & Weep and was a regular and dependable player in the All-Star stable.

Another element that adds to the familiar feel of the picture is the first appearance with the boys of Birmingham-born Charlie Hall. Hall, born in 1899 and a carpenter by trade, emigrated from the UK in 1920 and found plenty of work as a carpenter and possibly as an extra at several Hollywood studios. At the Roach Lot, Charlie worked on several of Stan’s solo pictures, beginning with his cinematic debut appearance in Stan’s 1923 short, Mother’s Joy.[5] Hall appeared in forty-seven comedies with Laurel and Hardy, more than any other supporting actor.

As Glenn Mitchell points out, the main point of interest for fans today, offered by Love ‘Em and Weep, is not only its status as the blueprint for the 1931 talkie short, Chickens Come Home, but also as the prototype for an “entire Laurel & Hardy sub-genre”. Mitchell suggests that nearly all the “ingredients for their depiction of women can be traced to this film, be they wives, gossips or less respectable types”.[6]

The incriminating photo!

In Love ‘Em and Weep, Finlayson plays the part of the wealthy (and married) businessman Titus Tillsbury. Tillsbury enrols the somewhat reluctant help of employee Romaine Ricketts (Stan) to deal with an old flame (Busch), who has suddenly reappeared at Tillsbury’s office, with an incriminating photo of them both, taken years ago.

Using the photo to blackmail Finlayson, Mae Busch agrees to sell the image that evening over dinner at a nightclub called The Pink Pup. All is set until Finlayson’s wife unexpectedly appears at the office. Busch is forced to hide in Finlayson’s en-suite bathroom, which his wife, played by Charlotte Mineau, needs to use. It becomes very stressful for Finlayson, as his wife stands washing her hands, with his old flame turned blackmailer, standing just inches away, hidden behind a towel.

Original Lobby Card 1927

Fortunately for Finlayson, his wife is none-the-wiser, and she departs, but not before informing her husband that they are to host a dinner party that same evening for some very distinguished guests. Aware that he would be unable to get out of this engagement, Stan is instructed to take Finlayson’s place at dinner, with firm instructions to keep Busch away at all costs.

Upon arriving at The Pink Pup, Stan is naturally very nervous. He is, after all, out on the town with a formidable and conniving woman who does not appear to suffer fools gladly. To make matters worse, this is all happening behind his own wife’s back!

Whilst attempting to appease his boss’s blackmailer, Stan is spotted by none other than the neighbourhood gossip. He immediately realises that word will soon reach his wife. Busch’s patience wears thin, and Stan is powerless to prevent her from storming over to the dinner party at the Tillsbury residence.

Babe Hardy as Judge Chigger

Naturally, chaos ensues on her arrival at the party, at which a thickly moustachioed Babe Hardy, playing the part of dinner guest Judge Chigger is in attendance.

Babe’s part is restricted merely to being an amused witness to the scenes of mayhem, and sadly, there is no sign of the familiar Ollie character in this film. Stan, on the other hand, seems to be starting to hone his character, building on the previous two films. His main characteristics are the slow-witted innocence, and he displays what would become his trademark cry on several occasions.

The finale sees Finlayson introduce Mae as Mrs Ricketts (i.e. Stan’s wife). Whilst his wife is in another room, desperate Finlayson pulls a gun on Busch, causing her to faint. Then, to try to smuggle her out of the house, Stan sits the

Original Lobby Card 1927

unconscious Mae on Finlayson’s back. He covers the doubled-over Scot with a long coat, attempting to leave the house casually. However, nobody is fooled, and the game is up when the tottering Finlayson/Busch tower collapses in a heap, in full view of Finlayson’s wife, just as Stan’s wife arrives in a taxi. The film fades as the wives start to wreak all kinds of havoc on their husbands.

The original scripted ending was quite different. Following Mae passing out, Finlayson’s wife tells Stan that he must take his unconscious wife to the spare bedroom and stay the night. Once Mae is secured on the bed, Stan manages to cleverly manufacture his escape just as his real and rather angry wife turns up. The real Mr and Mrs Ricketts go off happily together, leaving Finlayson to rid himself of his blackmailer all by himself.

When Finlayson returns to the spare room, Mae is already awake and just as defiant as ever. Meanwhile, James’s wife, played by Charlotte Mineau, discovers the incriminating photo and rushes to confront the deceitful couple. Before entering the room, she stops to assault the waiter (Charlie Hall). She pushes him to the floor and steals his prosthetic leg to use as a weapon. She bursts into the room and first smacks her husband over the head with it, and then chases Busch out of the house; The End.[7]

It’s unclear whether this finale was ever filmed, but at least one posed still photograph of the bedroom scene does exist, suggesting that it probably was.

Love ‘Em and Weep is a reasonably entertaining picture, with Laurel and Finlayson working well together, and Mae Busch is characteristically brilliant and highly effective as the treacherous gold-digger. Today the film gets pretty overlooked due to being overshadowed by the later remake.

Interestingly, the principal players, Busch, Finlayson, Laurel and Hardy, all return in Chickens Come Home, but the balance of power had notably shifted by 1931. Laurel and Hardy were then the featured stars, with Babe taking over from Finlayson as the blackmailed businessman. Mae Busch and Stan retain their roles, whilst the squinting Scot was demoted to the part of Babe’s butler, originally and somewhat unnoticeably played by Charlie Hall.  Following its domestic release on 12th June 1927, Love ‘Em and Weep was received relatively warmly:

From The Great Falls Tribune, 1st September 1927

“Another of the Hal Roach Star series which shouldn’t miss fire with the fans…The story has been given good production and the cast is made up of some of the best in the Roach roster of players, with Mae Busch, who ordinarily graces feature length pictures, as star.” Motion Picture News, 24th June 1927

“The screen offers another comedy bit in “Love ‘Em and Weep,” Hal Roach’s short subject. Jimmy Finlayson, Stan Laurel and Mae Busch are the trio whose comicalities have an almost hilarious effect upon spectators”. The Evening Journal, 15th June 1927

“Mae Busch…is Hal Roach’s feature star for this two reel comedy which proves to be a fast-moving and mirthful farce that should please the general public.” Moving Picture World, 18th June 1927

“‘Love ‘Em and Weep’ a big Hal Roach comedy with a clever array of screen comedians will furnish the comedy of the program and it is one of the best that this comedy king has produced in some time.” The Meriden Daily Journal, 9th June 1928

“Other big attractions on the same program include a big two reel Hal Roach comedy ‘Love ‘Em and Weep’ which is a big laughing hit that will bring every chuckle out of your system.”  The Meriden Daily Journal, 11th June 1928

This was an incredibly busy time for Stan Laurel, whose energy for work appeared boundless. Prior to co-writing and starring in Love ‘Em and Weep, he’d written a story entitled A Close Shave, the rights to which he sold to the Hal Roach Studios for $10, as he was still freelancing at the time. Stan was slated to star in the film, but the project was scrapped before shooting commenced.

Then, immediately following the completion of Love ‘Em and Weep, and now under a new contract, Stan immediately set to work co-writing another All-Star comedy, Eve’s Love Letters. This time the story did make it in front of the cameras and, under the direction of Leo McCarey, Stan starred in the picture alongside falling stars Agnes Ayres and Forrest Stanley.

Stan played the part of Anatole the butler, whose employer, played by falling star Agnes Ayres, is being blackmailed by an old flame named – wait for it – Sir Oliver Hardy! Babe Hardy doesn’t appear in the film, but the inclusion of his name in the list of characters arguably suggests that it was intended he would. Film historian Rob Stone suggests that the lengthy production delays during filming Hardy’s picture No Man’s Law prevented Babe from playing any role in Eve’s Love Letters.[8]

The bad weather delays on the location shoot in Moapa, Nevada, robbed Stan and Babe of the opportunity of working together. Still, it was only a short few weeks before they would meet up again, at the end of January 1927, when filming began on the next All-Stars outing, Why Girls Love Sailors.

[1] Calman, Craig, 100 Years of Brodies with Hal Roach: The Jaunty Journeys of a Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Pioneer. BearManor Media, Albany, 2014

[2] Stan Laurel on Roach Contract; Pathe Release, Moving Picture World, May 14th 1927

[3] Bochenek, Dr. Annette, Hometowns to Hollywood: Mae Bush in The Laurel & Hardy Magazine, Vol 11. No. 4

[4] Brooks, Leo M., The Laurel & Hardy Stock Company, Blotto Press, Hilversum, 1997

[5] Ullah, John, This is More Than I Can Stand: A Biography of Charlie Hall, Brewin Books, Studley, 2012

[6] Mitchell, Glenn, The Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia, Batsford, London, 1996

[7] Skretvedt, Randy, The Laurel & Hardy Movie Scripts, Bonaventure Press, Irvine, 2018

[8] Stone, Rob, Laurel or Hardy: The Solo Films of Stan Laurel and Oliver “Babe” Hardy, Split Reel, Temecula, 1996

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