Recently I was in Augusta, Georgia, promoting A Carnival Of Destruction. There I heard a fascinating tale that I thought I would share.
As half of the legendary comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) is a Hollywood icon, having appeared in 114 short and feature films between 1914 and 1951, including such classics as Way Out West and Sons of the Desert. But did you know that is father was a Confederate soldier?
We do not know a lot about the elder Oliver Hardy. He was born to a Georgia planter on December 5, 1844, the third of eight children. In the 1860 census he is listed as the “overseer” of his father’s farm. When the Civil War started Hardy enlisted as a private in Company K of the 16th Georgia Infantry.
The 16th Georgia became part of the Army of Northern Virginia and saw extensive action during the war, fighting in 16 major battles before surrendering with Lee at Appomattox. Of the 102 men who enlisted in Company K, 21 were killed in action, 22 others died from injuries or illness. In addition, 21 other men were captured and four had limbs amputated.
However, little is known about Hardy’s military career. He was wounded at the Battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg, Maryland. When the war ended he was a recruiting officer in Georgia with the rank of sergeant. After the war, he returned to farming at first, but may have later worked for a railroad and been part owner of a retail establishment. By 1877 he was a tax collector. Towards the end of his life, Hardy bought a hotel.
The veteran Hardy married three times. Sometime after the war, he married Sarah Olive, who died in childbirth. He remarried in 1870 to Cornelia Magruder, whose brothers Hardy fought with in the war, and a member of a wealthy and prominent family. They prospered and had three children together. Sadly their happiness came to an end in 1888, when Cornelia also died in childbirth.
Though in declining health, Hardy married for the third time in 1890 to Emily Norvell Tant, a young widow with four children of her own. On January 18, 1892 in Harlem, Ga., they welcomed a son, Norvell. Sadly, Norvell would never get to know his father as the old Confederate died shortly before Thanksgiving that year. When Norvell turned eighteen, he changed his name to Oliver to honor his father.
Interestingly, even though many of the Laurel and Hardy comedies had historic and/or had military themes, Hardy never appeared in a Civil War themed movie. Also, though Hardy was eligible for membership, he never joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans, though that organization recently gave him a posthumous Honorary Membership.
On October 6, 2012 the 24th Annual Oliver Hardy Festival will be held in the actor’s birthplace of Harlem, Ga. Visit: http://www.harlemga.org/ohfest.htm for more information.