Lucille Ball and Adam West were among those boosted by their films
Curly wasn’t an original Stooge
In 1934, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy starred in a successful movie, “Men in White,” based on a play written by Sidney Kingsley. Although the play won the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the film didn’t win any awards. However, a spoof of the movie that year was nominated for an Academy Award.
“Men in Black,” a Columbia Pictures release starring Moses Harry Horwitz, Jerome Horwitz and Louis Feinberg, was one of several “Best Short Subject-Comedy” up for the Oscar. They lost to “La Cucaracha,” produced by Kenneth Macgowan.
Years later, in 1997, Columbia would win an Oscar for another “Men in Black” movie: the one starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Although nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup, they won the latter award.
The 1934 “Men in Black” can arguably be considered a more significant influence in movie history than the 1997 film. The world would come to know the stars, Louis, Jerome and Moses as “Larry,” “Curly” and “Moe,” the “Three Stooges.” In the first movies, the three split a weekly $1,000 check. After the success of Men in Black, their pay was increased to $7,500 a week (the equivalent of over $140,000, or $46,666 each, in 2018).
Just before “Men in Black,” in 1934, they filmed Three Little Pigskins. In one scene they were to be attacked by some professional football players. Because of so many injuries and pains from previous slapstick routines, they were adamant they wanted nothing to do with the scene. Stuntmen took their place. The film required an actress to play the role of Daisy Simms. They selected an unknown, Lucille Ball for the part. The Three Stooges are often credited for giving the actress her big break.
Their Men in Black was the third of what turned out to be 190 short films for Columbia from 1934 through 1959. It was a perfect time for The Three Stooges to enter the entertainment industry as Vaudeville was beginning to decline.
Moe and Curly
Originally the trio were a live Vaudeville act before they ultimately evolved to film. Moe Howard, born Moses Harry Horwitz, started in acting by working as an errand boy for Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, New York. The studio began giving him acting work and he later joined a Mississippi River showboat’s acting troupe.
One of Moe’s most noticeable features was his bowl cut hairstyle. As a child, his mother would not allow him to cut his hair. At one point it was shoulder length which triggered teasing and bullying from classmates. After constantly being badgered from other students, Moe hid in a shed in the back and cut his own hair.
Moe’s brother, Jerome Lester Horwitz, known as “Jerry,” became “Curly.” From 1932 through 1946, Curly Howard was the most popular of the Stooges. One of the most unforgettable manners about Curly was his peculiar walk. When he was 12 years old, he was cleaning a shotgun before accidentally shooting himself in the left ankle. Because he didn’t get surgery, he was left with a limp. His on-screen walk was intended to hide the injury.
Before becoming a part of “The Three Stooges,” Curly had a great head of hair. But, Ted Healy, who was the architect behind the group’s triumphs, thought that he wasn’t funny enough with so much hair. Minutes later, Curly went to the back and had his head shaved for the part he was auditioning for.
In the early 1940s, Moe was concerned for Curly’s deteriorating health and heavy drinking. He encouraged his brother to marry a woman named Marion Buxbaum, hoping this would help Curly to change his self-destructive demeanor. The marriage ended up being a calamity, with Curly lavishly spending a fortune on Marion. They were divorced after two months of marriage.
Other than Curly, the Three Stooges actors were in long and enduring marriages. Joe Besser was married for 56 years, Moe Howard was married fifty years, Larry Fine was married forty-one years, Shemp was married for close to 30 years, and Joe DeRita was married to Bonnie Brooks for 30 years until she passed, and then to Jean Sullivan for 26 years until her death.
Curly’s drinking increased and health diminished. He suffered a series of strokes. Harry Cohn, president and chief of Columbia Pictures, insisted on Curly continuing his role in the films. While filming the movie Half-Wits Holiday, Curly suffered a stroke that prematurely ended his time with “The Three Stooges.”
After the last stroke, the producers started a search for a Curly’s replacement. One of the actors asked to be a Stooge was comedian Buddy Hackett, who is best known for his work in the films “The Music Man” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” He turned down the role due to his family commitments.
Another brother, Samuel Horwitz, known as Shemp Howard was one of the original Three Stooges from 1930 to 1932. He came back as the third Stooges after Curly couldn’t act anymore beginning in 1946 and continued until 1955.
In 1947’s Hold That Lion! Curly appeared as a sleeping train passenger. His hair had regrown by this time. This was the only film to include all three of the Howard brothers and Larry Fine in the same scene. Curly also shot another cameo appearance in 1949 but that part was cut.
Curly died young, of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 48 and is buried at the Home of Peace Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was responsible for coining many of the Stooges’ trademark phrases such as “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,” “a wise guy, eh?” and “soitenly!”
“Personally, I thought Curly was the greatest because he was a natural comedian who had no formal training,” Stooge Larry Fine. “Whatever he did, he made up on the spur of the moment. When we lost Curly, we took a hit.”
Larry Fine was born Louis Feinberg and was one of “The Three Stooges” for its entire run. Many fans know him for sometimes playing the violin. As a child, he grabbed a bottle of what he thought was something to drink, but it was acid. His father smacked the bottle out of his hand, and the acid landed on his arm. In order to toughen his muscles, he decided to take violin lessons.
As The Three Stooges stopped filming, Larry dabbled in many ways to make money. One project he spent heavily on was Stoogeburgers, a chain of themed restaurants around LA. The restaurants didn’t make it but in 2014, C3 Entertainment Inc., the company that owns “The Three Stooges” brand, announced they were opening a Three Stooges Burger House.
While filming their comeback series “Kook’s Tour” in 1970, Larry suffered a stroke and became paralyzed on the left side of his body. The TV show was canceled, and the taped footage was turned into a film. On January 24, 1975, he died from a stroke at the age of 72.
Besides Lucille Ball getting a big boost from The Three Stooges, another television legend was tremendously helped by appearing in one of their films. Adam West, who later became Batman in the iconic series, starred as Sheriff Kenneth Cabot in “The Outlaws is Coming,” the Stooges’ final feature-length film, as released in 1965.
Moe was madly in love with the cousin of the legendary magician Harry Houdini, Helen Schonberger. They were married on June 7, 1925 and had two children, Joan and Paul Howard. To this day, daughter Joan continues to write about the Stooges and attends “Three Stooges” conventions around the U.S. On June 19, 2017, Joan Howard Maurer paid tribute to the actor on what would have been his 120th birthday. On the Stooges’ official website, Maurer shared a love poem her father had written to his wife along with this commentary: “In addition to his love, Moe had a drive to share his good luck with others. His poem “My Wish,” written to my mother in the 1920’s, is a perfect example of the lesser known side of my father.”
Moe’s wife Helen described him as a lifelong romantic, and described this story about their 10th wedding anniversary in book, “The Three Stooges Scrapbook.” When the “phone rang and a strange voice on the other end asked me if I would take Moe Horwitz for my lawful wedded husband. The voice then proceeded to perform the entire wedding ceremony, with me on one end and Moe (the mystery voice) on the other… at the end of the ceremony, in a beautiful baritone voice, he sang ‘Oh Promise Me,’ the song sung at our wedding.”
After retiring from acting, Moe bean selling real estate. On May 4, 1975, he died from lung cancer at the age of 77. His last movie appearance was in the 1973 film “Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls.” Moe’s wife died of a heart attack just a few months after he passed away.
Moe was originally hired by Ted Healy to work in a vaudeville act in 1921. During an on stage performance two years later, he spotted his brother Shemp in the audience. Moe cried out to Shemp from the stage, and their interaction was an instant hit. Healy hired Shemp on the spot.
Shemp suffered from a number of phobias. He was terrified of planes, cars, dogs, and even water. His car phobia was spurred on by being in a car accident when he was young. During filming, in scenes where he’s behind the wheel, the cars are being towed rather than driven by him.
Sadly ended up dying in a car. On November 22, 1955, he attended a boxing match with a friend. After the bout, they were riding home together. As Shemp told a joke and lit a cigar, he suddenly slumped over. The friend thought he was joking, but unfortunately he was. He had died. Larry Fine was initially brought into the vaudeville mix in 1925, when Shemp decided to leave the act he’d been doing with Moe. Larry gave a performance that Shemp, Moe and Ted Healy attended, when Shemp announced his departure. Healy offered Larry the position, for $90 a week. Larry accepted, and of course, Shemp returned later.
Joe DeRita is known by many as Curly Joe, and was on the show from 1958 to 1969. Before becoming a part of the Stooges, the Philadelphia native had roles in “People Are Funny,” “The Sailor Takes a Wife,” and “High School Hero.” DeRita died from pneumonia at the age of 83. Here is Curly Joe, along with Moe and Larry in cameo performances of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and “4 for Texas.”