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For those who love The Three Stooges!

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About The Three Stooges 

By Cathy Richey

The Three Stooges was a trio of slapstick movie clowns of the early and mid-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 of these were punctuated by exaggerated sound effects, sometimes quite hilariously.

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, the sheer longevity of this act forced many critics to concede that the team exhibited expert comic timing and a mastery of burlesque-style humor.

The Three Stooges became famous for their work in movies, primarily in short features that showcased their slapstick comedy, and in feature films in their later years.

The six members of the team throughout the years:

  1. Shemp Howard (original name Samuel Horwitz; b. March 17, 1895, New York, New York, U.S.—d. November 23, 1955, Los Angeles, California).

  2. Moe Howard (original name Moses Horwitz; b. June 19, 1897, New York—d. May 4, 1975, Los Angeles).

  3. Larry Fine (original name Louis Feinberg; b. October 5, 1902, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—d. January 24, 1975, Woodland Hills, California).

  4. Curly Howard (original name Jerome Horwitz; b. October 22, 1903, New York—d. January 18, 1952, San Gabriel, California).

  5. Joe Besser (b. August 12, 1907, St. Louis, Missouri—d. March 1, 1988, North Hollywood, California).

  6. 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 for Columbia.

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,"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.

At 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.


About the author: Cathy and her Doberman Trooper conduct research into all kinds of topics and produce articles like the one you see here. To contact Cathy, write to thecathyfactor@yahoo.com. Get the facts from Cathy, and let the Cathy Factor give you an edge.



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