How Movies Changed My Life

movies changed my life

Guess blogger Jeff Heise writes:

Back in 1971, when I was 13, I was wandering around the library in my small Ohio town looking for books to check out. I usually ended up in the history or humor section and took home a bicycle basketful where I could escape into the past or get a chuckle. I wasn’t terribly social and, being an overweight kid with glasses who really was not into sports (I HATED gym class), books were my truest friends. I also did not know what I wanted to do with my life-living in a small Midwestern town in those days one hoped for something to inspire and neither of my parents’ professions (father-a machinist; mother-a civil engineer) interested me, although for a while being a weatherman intrigued me. The local on-the-air guy from Cleveland named Dick Goddard whetted my appetite for a while until a science teacher discouraged me from that career.

Then I found myself in the “Q” books-the oversize section–and, particularly, the section on movies. I found both my eye and my hand drawn to a book entitled The Films of Laurel & Hardy by William K. Everson, published by Citadel Books. As I looked at it, I remembered seeing one of their films-Helpmates-on TV in Los Angeles when I was seven. We were visiting relatives out there at Christmas and I laughed quite heartily, especially at the sight of Oliver Hardy sitting in the burned-out shell of his house (after Stan Laurel accidentally burned it down) as the rain started to fall. Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law-”If anything can go wrong it will go wrong, at the worst possible moment,” which my father impressed on me-I sympathized with this poor guy and filed it away in my memory.

Finding that film in that book brought it all back to me, and I began reading about other films by Stan and Ollie while standing there. The Music Box, their Oscar-winning classic that is pretty much a retelling of the Sysyphus legend of pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll down and have to do it again, fascinated me, so I checked the book out and took it home.

Laurel & Hardy in The Music Box (1932)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in The Music Box (1932)

I took it to school one day and my Social Studies teacher pointed out their short film Big Business, where they are Christmas tree salesmen who trigger an apocalyptic showdown with a homeowner. That teacher had a film collection, and he said that was their greatest film and that one of the Robert Youngson compilations featuring that comedy would be on late-night TV that week. I made a point of watching it (When Comedy Was King) and never laughed so hard in my life. I ended up renewing that book time and again, and made a point of looking at other books on movies and media and falling in love with other movies and stars. W.C. Fields and Cary Grant became and still remain favorites through those tomes and late-night TV viewings.

I decided right then to see if I could make my mark in the entertainment field, and while my attempts at working in the creative part may have struck out (you can’t just walk into the Director’s Guild and ask for a union card, dammit), I did find my niche as a researcher and historian and over the past 20+ years have assisted a few writers and organizations by digging for facts and presenting them to the world as a way for them to know more about their favorite movies and movie stars. Seeing both my name in print and the little nuggets I found in texts and quoted by others has given me both a thrill and a sense of purpose, and now I hope to make my mark with some historical projects of my own…and perhaps inspire some other youngster to watch a movie or TV show with a somewhat more focused eye.

Michigan-based researcher Jeff Heise is currently working on a book about the blockbuster films of the 1970s and ’80s.


  • Gordon S. Jackson

    Jeff, a most enjoyable and I hope an inspiring piece for others who may find themselves in the same position that you once experienced. Good stuff!


    I grew up watching L&H on local TV in Minneapolis. Later I started collecting on 16mm film the movies I liked. I especially collected the Laurel & Hardy shorts and features. I was proud to say that I’ve been a member of the Sons of the Desert for over 45 years and I was one of the 2 film people who supplied the movies to our local tent (Blockheads–tent #3) as well as when they had a convention here in Minneapolis in 1988. They were and still are the greatest comedians ever.

  • Carolyn Ferrante

    Hardy was my father and Laurel was my Uncle Herbie. (in looks, anyway) How I wish some miracle would bring back these two heartwarming entertainers. They just don’t make them like that anymore!

  • Patricia Nolan-Hall

    I have more pictures of Laurel and Hardy about the house than of actual relatives.

    Nothing pleases me more than when my daughter, in a bonding mood, says “Let’s order a pizza and watch Stan and Ollie”.

    I remember those books well, and how the library led me to a world I wanted to be a part of. Congratulations on finding your niche and passing it on.

  • OpalGirl

    I, too, enjoy the films of Laurel and Hardy. I particularly loved learning about their personal warm relationship with each other. BTW, Dick Goddard is now over 80 years old and is still giving the most accurate weather forecasts in Cleveland.

  • Dolly

    Jeff, I’ve no doubt that Stan and Ollie would have been happy to know of the key influence they had in your career journey.
    Their films were the best therapy for me a a terrible experience I had and during it’s aftermath (I’m now fully recovered). I love those guys. I grew up in England, where they were hugely popular.

  • fbusch

    I think the magic of Stan and Ollie was that they “fit” together perfectly. It makes sense that they were great friends in real life. Many years later, in a spy thriller on TV, Robert Culp and Bill Cosby played off each other so well that you could even accept the show. Later, the ensemble cast of WKRP in Cinncinati Just fit in the same fashion. leaving us again gasping for air from laughing. Too bad most comedy has deteriated so badly.


    L & H are now and forever my all time FAVORITE!!

  • Constantine Santas

    I am old enough to remember Laurel and Hardy were ON the big screen. I had to wait some 50 years (!) before I could get them on video and DVD. now I own nearly all their shorts (the best in my opinion) and feature films. I think they are vastly underestimated by critics, though audiences love them. Laugh for laugh, they are the two funniest men that ever lived. And they survived (and thrived) in the sound era, while Keaton (who was also great) and others were left behind with the silents. All my kids and grandkids have their best therapy with these two comedians, whose sense of timing, predictable disaters, and real love for each other (on the screen and off) set an example, and give us much needed lighter moments….

  • Randy Skretvedt

    Great article, Jeff! I feel blessed to have discovered L&H at five, back in 1964. I was allowed to join the Los Angeles tent of Sons of the Desert at twelve (you were supposed to be sixteen, but they bent the rules for me!) and because of that I was able to meet many of the folks who worked with the boys. No matter when you discover Stan and Ollie, they stay with you for life.

  • Alan Herman

    great article, i have always loved the classics slapstick. I bought the new collection of shorts that came out last year. Also i found on Amazon all of Youngson films he made when i remembered seeing one on TCM. they are my favorites to watch.

  • Bruce Reber

    Laurel & Hardy were the best movie comedy team ever, no question! My two favorite L&H movies are “The Music Box” (1932) and “Sons of The Desert” (1934).