About The Three Stooges
By Cathy Richey
The Three Stooges were a trio of slapstick movie clowns of the 20th
century. The initial Three Stooges, and the best known, were Moe,
Larry, and Curly. Later Moe, Larry, and
Shemp, followed by Moe, Larry, and Joe, and finally
Moe, Larry and Curly Joe.
The Stooges’ comic style was brash and brazen and was characterized
by such acts as slapping, punching, eye-poking, and hair-pulling,
all punctuated by exaggerated sound effects. They often attacked one
another with hammers, saws, and a variety of sharp and blunt
objects. Derided by critics for many years for their lowbrow
anarchy, their sheer longevity forced many critics to concede that
the team exhibited expert comic timing and a mastery of
The Three Stooges became famous for their work in movies, primarily
in short features that showcased their slapstick comedy, as well as
in feature films in their later years.
The comedy team was noted for sometimes violent, anarchic slapstick
and comedy routines rooted in the burlesque tradition. The six
members of the team throughout the years:
Shemp Howard (original name Samuel Horwitz; b. March 17, 1895,
New York, New York, U.S.—d. November 23, 1955, Los Angeles,
Moe Howard (original name Moses Horwitz; b. June 19, 1897, New
York—d. May 4, 1975, Los Angeles).
Larry Fine (original name Louis Feinberg; b. October 5, 1902,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—d. January 24, 1975, Woodland Hills,
Curly Howard (original name Jerome Horwitz; b. October 22, 1903,
New York—d. January 18, 1952, San Gabriel, California).
Joe Besser (b. August 12, 1907, St. Louis, Missouri—d. March 1,
1988, North Hollywood, California).
Joe DeRita (original name Joseph Wardell; b. July 12, 1909,
Philadelphia—d. July 3, 1993, Woodland Hills, California).
Moe Howard was the first of the Three Stooges to enter show
business. He attempted a stage career during the 1910s, acting in
everything from burlesque revues to Shakespearian plays. He found
little success until 1922, when he formed a comedy act with his
older brother, Shemp, and longtime friend Ted Healy.
Larry Fine, a comedian-violinist who had performed in a vaudeville
act with his wife, joined Healy and the Howards in 1925. They
performed in vaudeville for the next few years and achieved success
on Broadway in the late 1920s as stars of Earl Carroll’s Vanities.
The act at this point was fronted by Healy, whose attempts at
singing or joke-telling were frequently interrupted by the absurd
antics of the Stooges.
The team appeared in one film, "Soup to Nuts" (1930). Shortly
thereafter, Shemp, who disliked the frequently intoxicated Healy,
quit the act. He was replaced by another Howard brother, Jerry, who
shaved his head to conform to the Stooges’ trademark of bizarre
hairstyles (a “bowl” cut for Moe; wild, frizzy curls for Larry), and
he was thereafter known to all as “Curly.”
Ted Healy and His Stooges (as they were then billed) appeared in
several features and short films during the early 1930s. The most
notable were being "Meet the Baron" (1933), "Dancing Lady" (1933),
and Hollywood Party (1934).
The Stooges became increasingly estranged from Healy—whose mood
swings ranged from warm and kindly to violently abusive, depending
on his state of sobriety. In 1934, Moe, Larry, and Curly signed a
long-term contract with Columbia Pictures and rechristened
themselves the Three Stooges. During the next 24 years, the team
appeared in nearly 200 short subjects and a handful of feature films
They never received a raise in that time from their original annual
salary of $60,000 (split three ways).But their contract allowed them
to make personal appearances for 13 weeks each year, which proved
much more lucrative.
Moe was the bully of the act. Curly, the most popular member of the
team with both audiences and critics, was the childlike patsy who
was often on the receiving end of Moe’s abuse, and who expressed
himself through a variety of squeals, grunts, physical antics, and
cries of “Woo-woo-woo!”
Larry was the somewhat passive middleman who was usually given less
to do, but who proved a good addition for both Moe and Curly. The
team made 97 short comedies during the “Curly years” (1934–46), with
the period from 1938 to 1942 the strongest.
Curly, a heavy drinker who suffered from hypertension, experienced
serious health problems around 1945. During the filming of
Half-Wits’ Holiday in 1946, Curly had a major stroke that rendered
him incapacitated, and he was forced to retire.
Shemp rejoined the act after a 15-year absence and remained with the
Stooges through 78 films until his death from a heart attack in
1955. Although not as immediately endearing as Curly, Shemp (who was
promoted as “the ugliest man in Hollywood”) was a highly skilled
comic who excelled at ad-libbing and physical comedy. By the time
Shemp rejoined the act, however, budgets for the films had been
severely cut, and many of the films from the “Shemp era” are marred
by blatantly low production values.
After Shemp’s death, he was replaced in the act by Joe Besser, a
rotund character comic with a prissy persona. He stayed with the
team through the filming of their final Columbia short in 1958,
after which he quit the act to care for his ailing wife.
Moe and Larry seriously considered retirement after Besser’s
departure, but, within a year, the Stooges underwent a massive
revival in popularity because of television showings of their old
films. They added comic Joe DeRita (nicknamed “Curly Joe”) to the
act, and starred in several popular feature-length films from 1959
to 1965. The best of these were "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules"
(1962) and," and Around the World in a Daze" (1963).
They began their last film, the low-budget comedy, "Kook's Tour" in
1970. During its filming, Larry suffered a stroke. Footage from the
never-completed film was released years later on home video.
Larry spent his last years promoting his autobiography, "Stroke of
Luck" (1973). Moe, who toured the college lecture circuit and
appeared on talk shows during the early ’70s. He also wrote an
autobiography, "Moe Howard and the Three Stooges", which was
published in 1977.
the turn of the 21st century, the Three Stooges remained as popular
as ever through television syndication and the merchandising of
their images on several commercial products.