When I Was a Son of the Desert


Here’s something I found recently while looking for other things, it’s my membership card to the Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy appreciation society founded in 1964. Original members/founders included John McCabe, author of a biography of the pair, “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy,” actors Orson Bean and Chuck McCann, and artist/cartoonist Al Kilgore, who designed the handsome crest on the card.


Here’s a better look at the crest, a charming piece with great lettering and the perfect motto in latin, which in translation is “two blank slates on which nothing has been written.” Kilgore was the artist of the Bullwinkle comic strip and several “Rocky and Bullwinkle” comics from Dell and Gold Key, among many other things.

The club took its name from a Laurel and Hardy feature film where they join a fraternal organization of the same name, a silly one of course. I had two good friends in high school, Michael McGrath and Randy Tobey, who were fans of old films and particularly old comedy films. Somehow Randy contacted the recently formed club and was able to get permission to start a chapter, I think around 1968. Each chapter was a “Tent,” and each tent took the name of a L&H film. Surprisingly, Randy was granted permission to use the name “The Music Box Tent.” Surprising because, it’s considered one of the best of their short films, probably THE best. The tent consisted of about 10 high school friends, and as I recall only met a handful of times. The main activity of the meetings was to watch rented L&H films on 16mm film, though Randy owned a copy of “The Music Box,” a requirement. I did the lettering on my own name for the card, and might have done it for the other members. It’s an early form of the style I now use for my signature.

When our club went dormant, the name was taken by another group, which I see is located in Arizona. The club was an activity perhaps too ambitious for a group of kids, and we moved on to other things, but of course we all loved the films. I’ve only seen one L&H film recently, a chance encounter with their fine feature “Way Out West” while filpping channels on TV. Randy, the “Grand Shiek” who signed the card in 1971 passed away in 1989. I’ve lost touch with Michael, and hear rarely from one another club member, Paul, but those were fun times and great friends. I’ve since learned (as of 2020) that now all three of my old friends have passed, and I miss them.

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