Norvell Hardy – The Early Years

BY Eric Willoughby

Based on original research by Prof. Bob Wilson and Marshall Williams.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Norvell Hardy was the real name of the child who became Oliver – or Babe – Hardy as half of the greatest comedy double-act of all time, Laurel and Hardy.

This is the story of a highly complex character, shaped by a difficult, insecure and unsettled childhood. A sensitive boy, growing up without a father except for a short-term replacement. A fat boy, bullied by his peers and self-conscious about his size and weight. A troubled young man, with guilt feelings regarding the death of his older half-brother and perplexity that his heroic father had grown up on the prosperity of slave labour.

But it is also the story of a well-mannered, courteous and over-polite Southern boy, with a fine natural singing voice and the courage to produce it before an audience. A boy who – despite his size and weight – enjoyed sport, particularly baseball, and who loved to go swimming. A boy for whom the smiles and approval of others relieved the dark realities of his life and made it worth living.

The bloodlines of Norvell Hardy are clearly traceable back to Great Britain. The first glimpse we have of the family is with Richard, born in 1577 in Richmond, Yorkshire, and researcher Leo Brooks has traced the American line from Norvell back to 1733, with Jesse Hardy. Jesse sailed on the Anne from Gravesend to Charles Town (Charleston) in South Carolina, with James Oglethorpe, bringing the charter from George II to colonise the New World.

Both the Hardy generations after Jesse were named John, the second siring Samuel, Norvell’s grandfather. None of this lineage has any correlation with Horatio Nelson, whose first officer, Capt. Thomas Hardy, came from the south of England, and who lived out his days in Greenwich, London. No Hardy in Norvell’s bloodline was named Thomas.

The Hardy family from Yorkshire was among the early settlers in the New World, and by the end of the 18th century had become established as an important farming clan. In the South at that time, cotton and tobacco meant plantations that depended upon slave labour. Norvell’s grandfather Samuel Hardy, who was born in 1807, became a prosperous plantation owner with 13 acres and nine slaves. He married Catherine, a Georgia girl born in 1812, producing eight children – five boys and three girls (See Appendix I.)