From their debut film feature Soup to Nuts in 1930, to their swan song Kook's Tour in 1970, The Three Stooges enthralled the viewing public with their unusual brand of slapstick comedic mayhem and off-the-wall verbal antics. In all, the Three Stooges as a team made over 200 appearances in short films and full-length feature films, not counting many television appearances. During their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, The Three Stooges, including the beloved Curly, were the kings of the comedy short. The Three Stooges brand of comedy is as timeless and funny now as it was when it was first shown to theater-going patrons of the Depression Era.
THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MOE
Moses Horwitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 19, 1897. "Moe" was the fourth of five sons born to Solomon and Jennie Horwitz. Growing up, Moe and his older brother Shemp spent much of their time on the beach at Coney Island performing and clowning around with their friends. Moe knew at an early age that he wanted a life in show business and got his start in 1909 running errands for actors at New York's Vitagraph Movie Company. He even recalled being cast in a few short films for Vitagraph in the early 1910s. By the end of the decade, Moe and Shemp had taken their act to vaudeville, laying the groundwork for a successful career to follow.
FINE AND DANDY
Louis Feinberg was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 5, 1902. Like Moe, he too began performing at an early age, but his first love was the violin. As he was growing up, he performed in a number of amateur night competitions and began to take an interest in comedy. Louis adopted the stage name Larry Fine and made the jump to the vaudeville stage in 1921.
THE YOUNGEST ONE IN CURLS
Jerome Lester "Curly" Horwitz was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 22, 1903. Because he was the baby of the family, Curly was actually known as "Babe" while growing up. Babe idolized his older brothers Moe and Shemp for the way they could attract attention and excitement with their jokes, gags and unparalleled humor. It seems hard to believe now, but as a youngster, Babe was actually quite shy and didn't appear to have the same yearning to live in the spotlight that his brothers did. Babe was also the Romeo of the family, as his wavy brown hair and demure personality made him the object of many a girl's attention.
THE TED HEALY DAYS
While performing at New York's Prospect Theater in 1922, Moe ran into an old friend named Ted Healy who was currently wowing audiences on the vaudeville circuit. Moe and Shemp joined Healy's act to rave reviews, and the trio continued to master their craft for the next three years. During a 1928 trip to Chicago, they caught the night-club act of a man named Larry Fine and were instantly impressed by his dancing, and most importantly, his humor. They immediately asked Larry to join the act. The foursome continued to work in vaudeville, and appeared in a 1929 musical entitled A Night in Venice. After drawing rave reviews, the group was signed by Fox Films to do their first motion picture, Soup to Nuts. The Stooges stole the show.
THE STOOGES ARE BORN
The year 1932 marked a turning point in their careers, as the Three Stooges were now down to only two. Shemp left the group due to his dislike of working with Ted Healy and would go on to appear in a number of Hollywood films and shorts in the 1930s and 1940s. The first choice to replace Shemp was their younger brother Jerome. However, Healy wasn't impressed, saying that the handsome young man with thick, brown hair wasn't visually funny. In response, Jerome went to a local barber shop and shaved every last hair off of his head. The newly named "Curly" was thus welcomed to the group, and the road to stardom suddenly became much clearer.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
The group made a number of feature films in the early-to-mid 1930's. Among them were Dancing Lady with Joan Crawford and Hollywood Party with Laurel and Hardy. However, even though the Stooges were working steadily on both stage and screen, it was evident that they were ready to break from the shadow of Ted Healy and take their place in the spotlight. Thus, in 1934 the two parties made an amicable decision to part ways, paving the way for the Three Stooges to attain headline status. Shortly afterward, the group was signed by Columbia Pictures to star in a number of two-reel comedies (approximately 16-18 minutes long). Their hard work had paid off; the Three Stooges were now the main attraction.
THE STOOGES ARRIVE ON THE SCENE
The very first Three Stooges short for Columbia was entitled Woman Haters and was shot in March of 1934. The short was one in a series of "Musical Novelties" and was not originally written specifically for the Stooges. The group's contract called for them to be signed to a long-term deal if the Columbia executives liked the first two-reeler. The Columbia executives were initially indifferent, but after making Punch Drunks the Stooges were signed to a seven year deal worth a total of $60,000 per year. Under the agreement, the group was to film 8 two-reel comedies in 40 weeks every year. During their days with Healy, each made only about $5,000 a year.
THE GOLDEN AGE
Together, Moe, Larry and Curly made 97 shorts for Columbia Pictures between the years of 1934 and 1947. During this period, the Three Stooges became one of the best loved comedy teams of all time. Among the highlights of this period are 1934's Punch Drunks, in which Curly becomes a champion prize-fighter whenever he hears the tune "Pop Goes the Weasel." Also, there's 1940's You Nazty Spy!, a takeoff on the German Third Reich that features Moe (in his all-time favorite role) as the dictator of Moronica. In addition to their film work, the group continued to work on stage during their off weeks and actually made a great deal of their income during these three months.
THE END OF AN ERA
By the mid 1940's, Curly's health began to deteriorate due to years of drinking and overeating. In early 1945, he suffered the first of a string of strokes that robbed him of his energy. Through it all, Curly continued to move ahead with filming even though he lacked the strength to perform much of the physical comedy that had been his specialty. In May 1946, during the filming of Half-Wits Holiday, Curly suffered a major stroke on the set, effectively ending his tenure with the Three Stooges. Unable to continue, Curly retired to live with his fourth wife Valerie and his daughter Janie. He lived peacefully in retirement for approx. 3 years. Late in 1949 he suffered another serious stroke, and his health progressively worsened until he passed away on January 18, 1952.
THE FINAL CURTAIN
After Curly left the group, he was replaced by his brother Shemp, an original Stooge. Shemp appeared in 77 films with the Stooges, starting with 1947's Fright Night, until his death in 1955. After losing his second brother, Moe seriously considered retiring from the act. However, several years still remained on their contract with Columbia. The group decided to enlist comedy veteran Joe Besser as the third Stooge, and he appeared with the team until their contract was abruptly terminated in December, 1957. Besser left the team the following year.
Buoyed by the 1958 television release of a number of early Three Stooges shorts, the group enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. With Joe DeRita (as "Curly-Joe") now in place as the third Stooge, the group re-signed with Columbia in 1959 and starred in six feature films through 1964 (including one on loan-out to 20th Century-Fox). The Stooges remained active with both television and personal appearances until Larry's stroke during the filming of Kook's Tour in early 1970. Moe and Larry both died in 1975. Joe Besser passed away in 1988, and Joe DeRita, the last surviving Stooge, died in 1993.
THE LEGACY LIVES ON
The popularity of the Three Stooges lives on to this day. Although they never received the critical acceptance that other comics of their day enjoyed, few images from the 1930s and 1940s have stood the test of time as well as the classic "nyuk-nyuk-nyuks" and "woob-woob-woobs" of the Three Stooges. Reruns are now seen all across the country, allowing more and more younger fans to experience the wackiness of Stoogemania. The Three Stooges will forever be remembered as one of the true pioneering groups in the field of comedy.