Stan & Ollie – Bear-a-thought Illustration

I am excited about going to see the ‘Stan and Ollie’ film released in the United Kingdom today, which is based on the lives of the actors and comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  It stars actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in the respective roles.  It reminded me of a teddy bear illustration that I did of the famous black-and-white comedy duo many years ago…
stan & ollie by michael quinlyn-nixon for blogb
Whilst working on one of my teddy bear calendar themes, in 2003, I came up with the idea of famous bears and made a list of the many characters that I like, that are very recognisable by their costume or attire.  The list was very long, but some suggestions had to be scrapped and a smaller list compiled.  One of the suggestions on the list that appealed to me was Laurel and Hardy.  I had a discussion with Jennifer A. Stephenson, my friend who kindly made the outfits and other paraphernalia for the teddy bears, and she was also drawn to the idea of Laurel and Hardy too.  

In deference to the comedy duo’s fine slapstick humour, we decided to dress them in dungarees (rather than their formal black suit and ties), but, of course, we had to include the bowler hats and their distinctive neckties.  To go along with the dungarees, we created a decorating scenario with ladders, wallpaper and paint (my father, Robert, kindly made the ladders and toolbox).  Luckily one of Jennifer’s friends, the late Pat Holmes (nee Boustead – a well-known singer in the County Durham area) was decorating her home at this time, so this proved to be the ideal place in which to create our ‘Hollywood film set’. 

As it happened, shortly after the photographs were taken and the sketches were drawn, we disassembled the scene and I slipped and spilled the whole pot of banana custard coloured paint all over the floorboards.  Pat wasn’t too annoyed, as she was planning on a carpet anyway, but she could have easily used Oliver Hardy’s famous quote and stated, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into”.

I remember watching Laurel and Hardy when I was young and they always made me laugh with their funny and inoffensive humour.  Stan Laurel (b: 1890 – d:1965) was my favourite, as I loved the way he scratched his head when perplexed, but Oliver Hardy (b: 1892 – d:1957) had the most amazing face, which was full of disbelief one minute and wreathed in wonderful smiles the next.

When I was a little boy, I remember my Grandfather Lake telling me that Stan Laurel had lived in County Durham for a while, but that he had been born in Cumbria.  Both of these English counties have tributes to these two wonderful men who brought so much joy to so many people’s lives.

The illustration ‘Stan & Ollie’ was started on 18 April and completed on the 5 May 2003.

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Doris Day – A Portrait

Doris Day, Actress and Singer, b: 3 April 1924

I’ve always been a huge fan of old movies (particularly the black-and-white ones) and even at a young age knew a great many of the movie stars’ names. My parents were always clued-up to ‘who was who’ in the classic films, and I probably gained my interest from them.

Doris Day1 by Michael Quinlyn-Nixon for blog

The ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ produced some of the best actors and actresses, in my opinion and my most favourite, Doris Day. Actors and actresses at that time seemed to have style, poise and above-all mystique. Many of the modern-day stars parade every aspect of their life in the glare of the media: marriage breakdowns, personal and emotional problems etc. There is no mystery about most of them, sadly.

Quite a few years back, my Mother and younger sisters would constantly watch Doris Day movies and I would go and sulk in my room. As I grew a little older, I became a huge fan of Doris Day and in the early 1980’s I wrote a letter to this Hollywood legend, and sent it to her along with a portrait that I had done of her. To my utter delight and astonishment she wrote back! I don’t think there was anyone in that little terraced street that didn’t know my news by the end of the day.

My correspondence with Doris Day took off over the years, much to the delight of a lovely lady in Stanley Post Office, who was also a big fan. I remember her chatting to me, whilst sticking the stamps on Doris Day’s letters with pride.

The last letter I received from Miss Day was on 23 April 2012, when I had taken a day off work, to celebrate my patron saint’s day with an English ale in my English garden. After receiving this unexpected piece of mail, I could really say it was a ‘red-letter day’, as the sun was shining and all seemed well with the world.

During the last thirty years, I have done numerous drawings of Doris Day, one of which was shown in a large exhibition in Liverpool, but most of them have been for my own pleasure. Some of these have been coloured-pencil or pastel sketches, but the majority have been done with a technique, known as pointillism (if you look at some of my earlier posts on Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, you will see more examples of this technique).

I think my favourite movie of Doris Day’s has got to be ‘Pillow Talk’ (1959) in which she c0-starred, alongside her friend, Rock Hudson. The chemistry between the two characters, Brad and Jan, still amuses me to this day, along with Doris’ indignant expressions as she tries to reason about the best way of sharing a telephone party-line.  But I also have a special memory of playing at my friend, Kae McNeil’s house when I was just a young boy.  We were both heartily singing along to the Black The Hills Of Dakota, whilst her father, George, was trying to enjoy the movie ‘Calamity Jane’ (1953).

Doris Day has given me hours of laughs and I am grateful for the skill and talent that she has shared with the world. If you’re reading this Doris, I would like to applaud you and wish you a very Happy Birthday!    Michael