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Classic Comedy Toppers

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin January 18, 2012 at 1:00AM

Some years ago I found a genuine vintage Sons of the Desert fez in the archives of the venerable Western Costume Company, which you can see up top. The newly-produced model from Fez-o-Rama is different, but has the approval of the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, also called Sons of the Desert. Although changes were made, they were done by Fez-o-Rama’s designer (and founder) Jason Rodgers after much careful thought.
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Here I am holding an original 1933 fez—which, after all, was a disposable piece of costuming, and isn’t as elaborate as the new design.
Here I am holding an original 1933 fez—which, after all, was a disposable piece of costuming, and isn’t as elaborate as the new design.

A movie collectible doesn’t have to be old to appeal to me: it simply has to evoke happy thoughts of a film I care about. I never dreamed anyone would reproduce the fezzes worn by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their classic 1933 comedy Sons of the Desert…but that’s just what Fez-o-Rama has done, along with a model that bears the symbol of Freedonia, the mythical kingdom depicted in the Marx Brothers comedy gem Duck Soup, also from 1933. (I don’t think anyone actually wears such a hat in the film, to the best of my recollection, but let’s not split hairs—pun intended. The fez looks great and so does the Freedonia emblem.)

Apparently, the folks at Fez-o-Rama (click HERE) also had a piece emblazoned with the logo of Tomania, where Chaplin set his Hitler spoof The Great Dictator (see image below). Alas, that one is no longer available.

Some years ago I found a genuine vintage Sons of the Desert fez in the archives of the venerable Western Costume Company, which you see up top. The newly-produced model from Fez-o-Rama is different, but has the approval of the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, also called Sons of the Desert. Although changes were made, they were done by Fez-o-Rama’s designer (and founder) Jason Rodgers after much careful thought.

As he explains on their website, “After testing out designs that closely mimicked one of the original fezzes, Jason realized that he would need to go in another direction... something that related to the artwork more than the actual fezzes used in the movie. After looking at various posters and stills from the movies debut and subsequent re-releases he's distilled the problem down to a few key thoughts.

•The initial design should represent the 1933 setting of the film. Perhaps in the future I will work on a more modern/complex design as an alternative.

•The embroidery will be done in a single color. Despite being a black and white feature, the fezzes were the traditional red with gold braiding for the logo. Many of the movie posters presented this as well.

•The design should be in a loose relaxed style as though it were hand sketched. This is closer to how the props were made and it keeps in line with Laurel's suggestion that the organization should have ‘a half-assed dignity’ about it.”

The closest I came to purchasing something of this sort was years ago on a trip to London when I saw a “smoking hat” in the window of Davidoff, the famous cigar emporium. The only person I had ever seen wearing such a headpiece (complete with tassel) was Oliver Hardy, in the 1930 comedy short Another Fine Mess. The patient salesman explained to me that the hats were devised, along with smoking jackets, to absorb unpleasant smoking odors and keep them from permeating one’s hair and clothing. Aha! I bought the smoking hat all the same—even though I don’t smoke—because it reminded me of Ollie.

My sincere thanks to Mike Fontanelli for alerting me to Fez-o-Rama.

Postscript:  In my haste to post this story I allowed my faulty memory to overtake my fact-checking skills. In the original post, as a reader notes below, I referred to Tomania as the setting of the Three Stooges’ Hitler spoofs I’ll Never Heil Again andYou Nazty Spy when in fact it’s where Chaplin set The Great Dictator. I apologize for my sloppiness. (This is the fez pictured at the end of my piece, and it’s too bad one can no longer purchase it.)

This article is related to: Journal, Laurel & Hardy, Film Memorabilia