FILM: THE THREE STOOGES

Moe Howard: born June 19 1897, died May 4 1975
Shemp Howard: born March 17 1895, died November 23 1955
Larry Fine: born October 5 1902, died January 24 1975
Curly Howard: born October 22 1903, died January 18 1952
Joe Besser: born August 12 1907, died March 1 1988
Joe De Rita: born July 12 1909, died July 3 1993 

by Peter Tatchell (copyright 2010)

They were hugely popular stars of the golden age of television but never had a series of their own and made only a handful of guest appearances. And by the time of their greatest fame, two of them were no longer alive. A group of six men known to everyone as one of the funniest trios in show business. They were of course The Three Stooges, high masters of low comedy from the early days of the talkies to the coming of colour television.

Initially there was only one stooge … New York born Moe Howard, who joined his boyhood pal Ted Healy’s vaudeville act in 1922. Not long after, Moe’s brother Shemp was added to the roster and by 1925 violin player Larry Fine became part of the team.

Five months before the Wall Street crash, Ted Healy and His Stooges had made it to Broadway with A Night in Venice before heading to Hollywood to star in an early Fox talkie Soup to Nuts. Reaction to the film was favourable but Healy apparently wanted the studio to sign him for future projects without his partners. The Howard brothers and Fine were incensed, and went out on their own to form a new act called Three Lost Souls but it wasn’t a success.

Eventually Moe and Larry agreed to reunite with Healy but Shemp decided he’d rather work as a single, soon starring in a series of shorts and later appearing with some of Hollywood’s greatest names, from W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello to William Powell and Myrna Loy.

As a replacement, another Howard brother, Jerry, then performing as a comedy conductor, was invited to become the third stooge. Shaving his head (to contrast with Moe and Larry) and named Curly, the group hit it off immediately.

Not long after, the team signed with M.G.M., starring in a handful of 2-reelers (two in colour) and as support for Metro headliners Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery and Jimmy Durante in full length features. Whilst at the studio Moe and Curly also took part in a 2-reeler called Jailbirds of Paradise and Curly appeared solo in the short Roast Beef and Movies.

1934 saw the final parting of the ways with Healy … Moe, Larry and Curly becoming The Three Stooges when offered a contact with Columbia (then setting up a shorts department) to star in their own series of 2-reelers. After a tryout in Woman Haters (featuring rhyming dialogue), the trio hit their stride in Punch Drunks and Men in Black (which was nominated for an Academy Award as best short subject).

Studio boss Harry Cohn was a fan on the team’s rough knockabout style of comedy and the Stooges were signed to make eight shorts annually, and allowed twelve weeks off each year to earn additional income through stage appearances. It was the start of a long term association with Columbia and for the next quarter of a century, with only two exceptions, they appeared for no other movie company.

It wasn’t long before the Stooges settled into a basic format for their mayhem. It didn’t matter the occupation, they could be carpenters, plumbers, pest exterminators or even doctors, with Moe in charge and Larry and Curly his helpers it wouldn’t take long for things to disintegrate into a shambles.

The most satisfying of Stooge efforts saw them as tradesmen let loose in a refined, genteel environment. Misunderstandings quickly abounded and destruction was a close second … not only to their surroundings, but themselves as well. With cartoonlike violence they’d be pummelled, punched, poked, faces would be slapped, hair ripped out and heat applied with careless abandon. Grievous bodily harm was never so feverishly exploited.

Amid the confusion and turmoil Curly in particular would erupt with a colourful array of bodily contortions and he seemed to have a language (and a laugh) all his own.

Helping the boys unleash the craziness were behind the scenes craftsmen from the golden days of silent slapstick comedy. In 1930s Hollywood the vogue for Keystone comedy may have passed, but they were still technicians at creating belly laughs.

Though Columbia confined the Stooges to two-reelers through nearly all of their time at the studio, there were occasional supporting roles in full length features. They provided comedy relief in several B pictures (Start Cheering, Time Out for Rhythm, My Sister Eileen and Rockin’ in the Rockies) and were loaned out to Monogram to appear in Swing Parade of 1946.

In August 1939 The Three Stooges were also back on Broadway, joining two different Howard brothers (Willie and Eugene) in the new edition of George White’s Scandals, which ran for 120 performances at the Alvin Theatre.

On the eve of America’s participation of World War 2, the Stooges followed Chaplin’s Great Dictator by filming their own Hitler lampoon You Nazty Spy (and a sequel I’ll Never Heil Again) before reverting to their more traditional offerings while hostilities raged overseas.

By the end of the war, Curly’s extravagant lifestyle was taking its toll on his health and starting to affect his performances on screen. Though still in his early forties, he was losing his cherubic appearance, his movements were becoming sluggish and he had trouble remembering his lines.

Events would come to a head during filming of Half Wit’s Holiday in 1946. The short contains one of the best-orchestrated pie fights in cinema history, but Curly is seen only at the set up of the scene. Midway through filming he suffered a major stroke and Moe and Larry, though distraught at the tragedy, were forced to complete the routine without him.

Though eventually making a partial recovery, Curly was not able to continue performing and his partners were forced to come up with a replacement or disband the act. The solution was found by bringing back the original “third stooge” … Shemp Howard. After fifteen years working solo, Shemp fitted in well with Moe and Larry and had built up a solid repertoire of mannerisms and facial gestures to help enliven the shorts.

On Columbia’s back lot storylines continued sending up just about any genre Hollywood had to offer … horror films, westerns, historical tales and detective mysteries.

For Shemp’s third short Hold That Lion, Curly was well enough to join his brothers in a brief cameo appearance. Sporting a full head of hair, he can be spotted playing a snoring train passenger in one notable scene but it was the only time the three Howard brothers appeared together in a movie. Curly’s health fluctuated over the next five years and he died in early 1952, only 48 years old.

By the late 1940s the movie industry was facing its biggest challenge to date with the emergence of television. On the Columbia lot, budgets were being cut to accommodate dwindling ticket sales and to save on filming costs stock footage from previous releases was being used more and more.

Show business veterans like Ed Wynn and Milton Berle had already embraced the new medium and most of the other major names would sign contracts by the turn of the decade. The Stooges themselves filmed a TV pilot in October 1949 but Columbia claimed a series would be a breach of their contract and the project was shelved. They were, however, allowed to make guest appearances (with Berle, Wynn, Kate Smith and Eddie Cantor) and even a feature film called Gold Raiders for rival studio United Artists in 1951.

Meanwhile at Columbia each production seemed to require less and less newly shot footage to knit together a plotline. Then, in November 1955, Shemp Howard suddenly died of a heart attack. In under four years, Moe had lost two of his brothers.

Amazingly, while urgently trying to find another replacement Stooge, Moe and Larry had to complete a handful of shorts with a double standing in for the departed Shemp. Eventually, comic Joe Besser (sometime foil for Milton Berle and Abbott & Costello) was chosen as the permanent replacement and the shorts could go back into production full time.

With the coming of widescreen technicolor extravaganzas, studios were closing down their short subject departments, but Harry Cohn insisted the Stooges stay on the payroll. His death in 1958 marked the end of an era and for the first time in three decades, The Three Stooges were out of a job.

Faced with making live appearances across the country, Besser was unable to tour and it was decided to finally disband the act. But with comedy, timing is a major factor. At the very moment The Three Stooges were considered down and out, fate stepped in and made them bigger stars than they’d ever been in their three decades in front of the movie cameras.

Screen Gems, the television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures released a package of Stooges shorts from the thirties and forties to TV stations across the country and a generation of baby boomers who weren’t alive when the films were made found three new comedy heroes.

Moe and Larry soon selected Joe De Rita to become the new member of the team and (with a shaved head) he was dubbed “Curly Joe” for his likeness to the Stooge who was appearing on the television screens.

Columbia quickly re-signed the team for a feature Have Rocket, Will Travel and put together a collection of highlights from shorts featuring Curly (Stop! Look! And Laugh!). The Three Stooges were in the big time at last, starring in their own series of full length movies, making guest appearances on top rated television programmes like The Ed Sullivan Show and filming live action sequences to accompany a package of specially animated Three Stooges cartoons.

When Larry suffered a debilitating stroke in 1970 it marked the end of the team, but he and Moe lived long enough to see the Stooges given long overdue acclaim for their decades of laughter-making in Hollywood. They could never be accused of being subtle, but there was no doubting they were funny.

Films

(all 2 reel shorts, unless noted)

(Moe, Larry and Shemp, with Ted Healy)
1930
Soup to Nuts (feature) 

(Moe, Larry and Curly, with Ted Healy)
1933
Nertsery Rhymes (Technicolor)
Turn Back the Clock (feature)
Beer and Pretzels
Hello Pop! (long thought lost, but recently located)
Plane Nuts (Technicolor)
Meet the Baron (feature)
Dancing Lady (feature)
Myrt and Marge (feature)
1934
Fugitive Lovers (feature)
The Big Idea
Hollywood Party (feature) 

(Moe, Larry and Curly) 

1934
Woman Haters
Punch Drunks
Men in Black
The Captain Hates the Sea (feature)
Three Little Pigskins    

1935
Horses’ Collars
Restless Knights
Pop Goes The Easel
Uncivil Warriors
Pardon My Scotch
Hoi Polloi
Three Little Beers
1936
Ants in the Pantry
Movie Maniacs
Half-Shot Shooters
Disorder in the Court
A Pain In The Pullman
False Alarms
Whoops I’m An Indian
Slippery Silks
1937
Grips, Grunts And Groans
Dizzy Doctors
Back To The Woods
Three Dumb Clucks
Goofs And Saddles
Cash And Carry
Playing The Ponies
The Sitter-Downers
1938
Termites Of 1938
Wee, Wee, Monsieur
Start Cheering (feature)
Tassels In The Air
Flat Foot Stooges
Healthy, Wealthy And Dumb
Violent Is The Word For Curly
Three Missing Links
Mutts To You
1939
Three Little Sew And Sews
We Want Our Mummy
A-Ducking They Did Go
Yes, We Have No Bonanza
Saved By The Belle
Calling All Curs
Oily To Bed, Oily To Rise
Three Sappy People
1940
You Nazty Spy
Rockin’ Through The Rockies
A-Plumbing We Will Go
Nutty But Nice
How High Is Up?
From Nurse To Worse
No Census, No Feeling
Cookoo Cavaliers
Boobs In Arms
1941
So Long, Mr. Chumps
Dutiful But Dumb
All The World’s A Stooge
Time Out for Rhythm (feature)
I’ll Never Heil Again
An Ache In Every Stake
In The Sweet Pie And Pie
Some More Of Samoa
1942
Loco Boy Makes Good
Cactus Makes Perfect
What’s The Matador
Matri-Phony
Three Smart Saps
Even As I.O.U.
My Sister Eileen (feature)
Sock-A-Bye Baby
1943
They Stooge To Conga
Dizzy Detectives
Spook Louder
Back From The Front
Three Little Twerps
Higher Than A Kite
I Can Hardly Wait
Dizzy Pilots
Phony Express
A Gem Of A Jam

1944
Crash Goes The Hash
Busy Buddies
The Yoke’s On Me
Idle Roomers
Gents Without Cents
No Dough, Boys
1945
Three Prests In A Mess
Booby Dupes
Rockin’ in the Rockies (feature)
Idiots Deluxe
If A Body Meets A Body
Micro-Phonies 

1946
Beer Barrel Polecats
A Bird In The Head
Swing Parade of 1946 (feature)
Uncivil War Birds
Three Troubledoers
Monkey Businessmen
Three Loan Wolves
G.I. Wanna Home
Rhythm And Weep
Three Little Pirates
1947
Half-Wits’ Holiday

(Moe, Larry and Shemp)
1947
Fright Night
Out West

Hold That Lion (with Curly)
Brideless Groom            
Sing A Song Of Six Pants    
All Gummed Up
1948
Shivering Sherlocks
Pardon My Clutch
Squareheads Of The Round Table
Fiddlers Three
Hot Scots
Heavenly Daze
I’m A Monkey’s Uncle
Mummy’s Dummies
A Crime On Their Hands
1949
The Ghost Talks
Who Done It?
Hocus Pocus
Fuelin’ Around
Malice in the Palace    
Vagabond Loafers
Dunked In The Deep   
1950
Punchy Cowpunchers
Hugs And Mugs
Dopey Dicks
Love At First Bite
Self-Made Maids
Three Hams On Rye
Studio Stoops
Slaphappy Sleuths
A Snitch In Time          
1951
Three Arabian Nuts                
Baby Sitters’ Jitters     
Don’t Throw That Knife
Scrambled Brains
Merry Mavericks
Gold Raiders (feature)
The Tooth Will Out
Hula-La-La
The Pest Man Wins
1952
A Missed Fortune                   
Listen, Judge                          
Corny Casanovas
He Cooked His Goose                       
Gents In A Jam                                  
Three Dark Horses    
Cuckoo In A Choo Choo
1953
Up In Daisy’s Penthouse                    
Booty And The Beast (footage with Curly from Hold That Lion)       
Loose Loot                 
Tricky Dicks               
Spooks
Pardon My Backfire               
Rip, Sew And Stitch                
Bubble Trouble
Goof On The Roof
1954
Income Tax Sappy
Musty Musketeers
Pals And Gals
Knutzy Knights
Shot In The Frontier
Scotched In Scotland
1955
Fling In The Ring
Of Cash And Hash
Gypped In The Penthouse
Bedlam In Paradise
Stone Age Romeos
Wham Bam Slam
Hot Ice
Blunder Boys               
1956
Husbands Beware                  
Creeps
Flagpole Jitters                      
For Crimin’ Out Loud            
Rumpus In A Harem *                       
Hot Stuff *
Scheming Schemers *
Commotion On The Ocean *
(* following Shemp’s death a double was used) 

(Moe, Larry and Joe Besser)
1957
Hoofs And Goofs
Muscle Up A Little Closer
A Merry Mix-Up
Space Ship Sappy
Guns A-Poppin’
Horsing Around
Rusty Romeos
Outer Space Jitters
1958
Quiz Whizz
Fifi Blows Her Top
Pies And Guys
Sweet And Hot
Flying Saucer Daffy
Oil’s Well That Ends Well
1959
Triple Crossed

Sappy Bullfighters 

(Moe, Larry and Joe De Rita)
(all features)
1959
Have Rocket, Will Travel
1960
Stop! Look! And Laugh (compilation feature made up of Curly shorts)
1961
Snow White and the Three Stooges
1962
The Three Stooges Meet Hercules
The Three Stooges in Orbit
1963
The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (brief cameo)
Four for Texas
1965
The Outlaws is Coming!
 

Television

On October 12 1949, Moe, Larry and Shemp appeared as inept paperhangers in a 25 minute filmed pilot called The Three Stooges. A copy survives.

The Stooges guest starred in a number of variety shows throughout the early 1950s, including:
Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater (NBC): October 19 1949, May 2 1950 and October 10 1950
The Ed Wynn Show (CBS): March 11 1950
The Kate Smith Hour (NBC): October 13 1950 and May 18 1951
The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC): December 16 1951
The Frank Sinatra Show (CBS): January 1 1952
The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater: April 29 1955

In the 1960s (with Joe De Rita as the third Stooge)
the team guested on four editions of The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS):
May 14 1961, February 10 1963, October 6 1963 and May 9 1965

The New Three Stooges
In July and August 1964, the Stooges filmed 40 live action sequences to accompany a package of 156 cartoons.

In 1970, the Stooges began filming a live action feature called Kook’s Tour but production was halted when Larry suffered a stroke.

Laser Discs

Cavalcade of M.G.M. Shorts
MGM/UA 3 disc set
contains the Three Stooges shorts:
Nertsery Rhymes, Beer and Pretzels, Plane Nuts and Roast-Beef And Movies 

The Three Stooges
RCA/Columbia
Three Little Pirates / Back to The Woods / Uncivil War Birds / Beer Barrel Polecats / Three Smart Saps / Monkey Businessmen

The Three Stooges – vol 1
RCA/Columbia
Dizzy Pilots / A Bird in The Head / Three Sappy People / Uncivil Warriors / Three Missing Links / Micro-Phonies

The Three Stooges – vol 2
RCA/Columbia
An Ache in Every Stake / Calling All Curs / Pop Goes the Easel / Woman Haters / Three Little Beers / Tassels in the Air

The Three Stooges – vol 3
RCA/Columbia
An Ache in Every Stake / Calling All Curs / Pop Goes the Easel

The Three Stooges – vol 4
RCA/Columbia
details unknown

The Three Stooges – vol 5
RCA/Columbia
Pardon My Scotch / Disorder in The Court / Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb

The Three Stooges – vol 6
RCA/Columbia
Violent Is the Word For Curly / Punch Drunks / A-Plumbing We Will Go

The Three Stooges – vol 7
RCA/Columbia
Dutiful But Dumb / Movie Maniacs / Oily To Bed, Oily To Rise

The Three Stooges – vol 8
RCA/Columbia
Cash and Carry / No Census, No Feeling / Some More of Samoa

The Three Stooges – vol 9
RCA/Columbia
We Want Our Mummy / Restless Knights / Yes We Have No Bonanza

The Three Stooges – vol 27/29
RCA/Columbia
Three Little Pirates / Back To The Woods / Uncivil War-Birds / Beer Barrel Polecats / Three Smart Saps / Monkey Businessmen

The Three Stooges – vol 26/28
RCA/Columbia
Fright Night / Hold That Lion / Who Done It? / The Hot Scots / Fuelin’ Around / Hula-La-La           

The Three Stooges
RCA/Columbia
Box set  contains 18 shorts

DVDs

Soup to Nuts
20th Century Fox DVD

The Three Stooges – 4 Hilarious Episodes
Platinum DVD 08149
Nertsery Rhymes
His First Flame (Shemp Howard short)
Gagster Dragster (1965 cartoon)
Last Gun in the West (1965 cartoon)

The Three Stooges – 4 Hilarious Episodes
Platinum DVD 08159
Beer and Pretzels
Corn on the Cop (Shemp Howard short)
Roast Beef and Movies (Curly Howard short)
The Noisy Silent Movie (1965 cartoon)
Get That Snack Shack (1965 cartoon)

The Three Stooges – 4 Hilarious Episodes
Platinum DVD 08169
Plane Nuts
The Big Idea
Dinopoodi (1965 cartoon)
Mummy’s Boys (1965 cartoon)

Gold Raiders / Meet the Baron
Warner Bros. DVD 83781

All the World’s a Stooge
Columbia DVD
Grips, Grunts And Groans
Three Dumb Clucks
Uncivil War Birds
+ four more

Cops and Robbers
Columbia DVD
Calling All Curs
Disorder In The Court
Dizzy Detectives
Flat Foot Stooges
Crime On Their Hands
Who Done It?

Curly Classics
Columbia DVD
A-Plumbing We Will Go
Men In Black
Micro-Phonies
Punch Drunks
Three Little Pigskins
Woman Haters

Dizzy Doctors
Columbia DVD
Dizzy Doctors
Termites Of 1938
Brideless Groom
Listen Judge
Bubble Trouble
The Tooth Will Out

G.I. Stooge
Columbia DVD
Boobs In Arms
Back From The Front
G.I. Wanna Home
Wee Wee Monsieur
No Dough Boys
Dizzy Pilots

Goofs on the Loose
Columbia DVD
Men In Black
The Sitter Downers
Punch Drunks
Playing The Ponies
(shorts are colorized and in their original black and white)

Merry Mavericks
Columbia DVD
Cactus Makes Perfect
Out West
Vagabond Loafers
Dopey Dicks
Punch Cowpunchers
Merry Mavericks

Nutty But Nice
Columbia DVD
A-Ducking They Did Go
Hoi Polloi
Halfwit’s Holiday
Higher Than A Kite
False Alarms
Nutty But Nice

Spook Louder
Columbia DVD
Spook Louder
Mummy’s Dummies
Shivering Sherlocks
The Ghost Talks
Hokus Pokus
Fright Night

Stooged and Confused
Columbia DVD
Violent Is The Word For Curly
You Nazty Spy
No Census, No Feeling
An Ache In Every Stake
(shorts are colorized and in their original black and white)

Stooges and the Law
Columbia DVD
Idiots Deluxe
Pop Goes The Easel
Three Troubledoers
Yes We Have No Bonanza
In The Sweet Pie And Pie

Stooges at Work
Columbia DVD
Booby Dupes
Crash Goes The Hash
Dutiful But Dumb
How High Is Up?
Three Missing Links

Three Stooges in History
Columbia DVD
Squareheads Of The Round Table
I’m A Monkey’s Uncle
Restless Knights
Matri-Phony
Fiddlers Three

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 1 (1934-1936)
Sony 2-DVD 21104
19 shorts (in chronological order) from Woman Haters to Slippery Silks

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 2 (1937-1939)
Sony 2-DVD
24 shorts (in chronological order) from Grips Grunts and Groans to Three Sappy People

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 3 (1940-1942)
Sony 2-DVD
23 shorts (in chronological order) from You Nazty Spy to Sock-a-Bye Baby

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 4 (1943-1945)
Sony 2-DVD
21 shorts (in chronological order) from They Stooge to Conga to Micro-Phonies

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 5 (1946-1948)
Sony 2-DVD
25 shorts (in chronological order) from Beer Barrel Polecats to Crime on Their Hands

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 6 (1949-1951)
Sony 2-DVD
24 shorts (in chronological order) from The Ghost Talks to Pest Man Wins

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 7 (1952-1954)
Sony 2-DVD
22 shorts (in chronological order) from A Missed Fortune to Scotched in Scotland
(plus additional 3-D versions of Spooks and Pardon My Backfire) 

The Three Stooges Collection – volume 8 (1955-1959)
Sony 3-DVD
32 shorts (in chronological order) from Fling in the Ring to Sappy Bullfighters 

Dancing Lady
contains 2 bonus shorts: Plane Nuts and Roast-Beef And Movies

Flying Down to Rio
contains bonus short: Beer And Pretzels

In addition, the shorts Disorder in the Court, Brideless Groom, Sing a Song of Six Pants and Malice in the Palace appear on numerous budget releases indicating they no longer enjoy any copyright protection

 

Recordings

Have Rocket, Will Travel
Colpix 45rpm

Madcap Musical Nonsense at Your House
Golden LP

The Three Stooges Sing Six Happy Yuletide Songs
Golden EP

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth/I Gotta Cold for Christmas
Golden 45rpm

We’re coming to Your House/We’re Cutting A Record
Golden 78rpm

Snow White and The Three Stooges
Columbia LP

Sinking of the Robert E. Lee/You Are My Girl
Epic 45rpm

The Three Stooges Happy Birthday Record
R.C.A. EP

The Three Stooges Nonsense Songbook
Coral LP,
reissued minus two tracks as The Three Stooges Sing for Kids Vocalion LP

The Three Stooges in Storyland
reissued as Six Funny Bone Stories
Peter Pan LP

The Three Stooges Meet The Princess And The Pea
Peter Pan 45rpm/78rpm

The Three Stooges and The Magic Lamp
Peter Pan 45rpm/78rpm

Yogi Bear and The Three Stooges Meet The Mad, Mad, Mad, Dr. No-No
Hanna-Barbera LP

 

Books

A STROKE OF LUCK
by Larry Fine

MOE HOWARD & THE THREE STOOGES
by Moe Howard (Citadel Press, New Jersey. 1977)

THE STOOGE CHRONICLES
by Forrester (1981)

THE THREE STOOGES SCRAPBOOK
by Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer and Greg Lenburg (Citadel Press, New Jersey. 1982)

MY BROTHER LARRY, THE STOOGE IN THE MIDDLE
by Feinberg (1984)

CURLY – AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY OF THE SUPERSTOOGE
by Joan Howard Maurer (Citadel Press, New Jersey. 1985)

THE STOOGES LOST EPISODES
by Tom Forrester, with Jeff Forrester (Contemparary Books, Chicago. 1988)

ONCE A STOOGE, ALWAYS A STOOGE
by Joe Besser, Jeff Lenburg and Greg Lenburg (Roundtable Publishing, 1988)

FROM AMALGAMATED MORONS TO AMERICAN ICONS – THE THREE STOOGES AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY
by Michael Fleming (Doubleday, New York. 1999)

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: