After James Finlayson, he of the bald head, big nose, and quick temper, Charlie Hall was the best foil in the films of Laurel & Hardy. Originally trained as a carpenter, he became an entertainer in his teens as a member of the Fred Karno troupe. Hall's career was confined entirely to England and the stage until his late teens, when he chanced to visit his sister in New York City and found employment there as a stagehand. It was in this capacity that he met comic Bobby Dunn, who was under contract to movie director Mack Sennett; Dunn and Sennett convinced Hall to pursue a career as an actor and by the mid-'20s he was signed to producer Hal Roach and working with Will Rogers and Stan Laurel, among others. He and Laurel, as transplanted Englishmen with some experience in the music hall, became good friends and friendly colleagues. In contrast to Laurel's wiry, sympathetic appearance, Hall looked a tough five-foot three and was a master of the slow burn on camera. When Laurel was teamed with Oliver Hardy by chance and their screen partnership was established, Hall became a familiar bystander-victim of their antics; in contrast to Finlayson, who was the embodiment of blustery officialdom and sparred with the duo verbally as much as physically. Charlie Hall usually portrayed characters of Laurel & Hardy's class, inevitably with a short fuse and a chip on his shoulder, and their interaction was usually very physical. When sound came in, it was even better, as he made his English accent sound tough and threatening. Sometimes he played relatively innocuous parts, such as the helpful postman in their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, but usually his interaction with the pair was angry and violent, and always funny. Hall was their perfect physical foil, a pugnacious little man ready to launch a boot, bottle, or fist at the hapless pair, but usually only after a slow build up of tension, which would allow audiences to delight in anticipation of what they knew was coming at the end. Or, sometimes, he got the worst of it, as in Busy Bodies, one of the duo's best early shorts, set at a lumber yard. His greatest moment onscreen came in Them Thar Hills, a pure slapstick story of misunderstanding and mayhem that was so popular, that it yielded a sequel, Tit for Tat, which was even better. He appeared in more than 40 of their films, as well as in shorts starring Charley Chase and Thelma Todd. He also played small roles in feature films, including George Stevens's Swing Time and was busy at 20th Century Fox in the early and mid-'40s, where he appeared in The Lodger, Hangover Square, and Forever Amber, and also showed up in The Big Clock at Paramount Pictures. He played a comic foil for Abbott & Costello in one episode of their television series (as an angry roofer who runs afoul of the pair as they try to put up a television antenna) and made an appearance out of character on one broadcast of Groucho Marx's television quiz show You Bet Your Life.
by Bruce Eder biography