The Three Stooges, one of the most iconic comedy teams in history, now call American Movie Classics their television home. For the uninitiated, the Three Stooges were Moe Howard, younger sibling Jerome “Curly” Howard, and close friend Larry Fine, who starred in 190 two-reel shorts from 1934 to 1959 for Columbia Studios.
They are virtually the only comedy act from the early to mid-20th century still popular to this day, thanks to their brand of physical, largely improvised farce. Impeccable timing didn’t hurt, either. In addition, they made a handful of feature length films as well as a cartoon-live action color series during the early 1960s that introduced them to a new generation.
Curly has always been the most popular Stooge. The nickname started when he was forced to shave his chestnut-red hair and pristine moustache. Never properly trained as an actor, Curly was gifted with a natural acting ability that manifested itself in scene-stealing performances.
Moe and Larry both recalled that whenever Curly forgot his lines, he would simply fall down on the floor and spin until he remembered them. These spontaneous moments were thankfully preserved on film.
Curly was also the master of catch-phrases, coining such popular nuggets as “N’yuk, n’yuk, n’yuk,” “I’m a victim of soicumstance!,” “Ruff! Ruff!, “Maha, a ha!,” and “Woo, woo woo!”
Unfortunately, after suffering a series of debilitating strokes in May 1946, older brother Shemp Howard was forced to take Curly’s place. Curly never really recovered, passing away six years later in a nursing home. Shemp then tragically died of a massive heart attack in November 1955 at the age of 60, another cruel twist of fate which threatened the team’s survival.
Shemp is often rated poorly by fans when compared to his brother Curly. This isn’t fair at all. Pop culture author Steve Cox explains why Shemp is his favorite Stooge in this recent interview. Shemp’s comedy style, while not as slapstick or energetic as Curly’s, was the perfect fit for the act after Curly’s demise.
The most underrated Howard brother, Shemp could easily roll with Moe’s quick slaps and perform improvised routines, such as his attempt to iron a pair of pants on an ironing board that will not stay put from 1948’s “Sing A Song of Six Pants” or trying to open a folding table.
Shemp was also well-known for his fighting—while simultaneously dancing—routine, along with his high-pitched “Meep-meep-meep-meep!” yelp. As the weakling of the team, Shemp’s trademark long hair would often fall down over his not-too-pretty face. In one short, a cat shrieked and ran away after seeing his picture. Without question, Shemp was predestined for comedy.
With Curly’s stroke and then Shemp’s untimely passing, the line-up changed throughout the years, but Moe Howard and Larry Fine were always there.
In real life, Moe was the middle brother, and he in turn managed and took care of the team. Onscreen, his gruff, “I’m the boss” take-no-prisoners demeanor was well-honed, and his straight, bowl-cut hair became an iconic image.
Moe kept the other boys in line for over 40 years, whether via an eye-poke, slap to the face, or a pull on the ear, even though he tended to be just as silly as the rest. Moe was also perhaps the greatest pie-thrower in film, still demonstrating this talent in the early ‘70s during a Mike Douglas appearance.
Larry Fine was the middle Stooge, his frizzy, long red hair often being pulled out in clumps by an enraged Moe, who appropriately nicknamed him “Porcupine.”
A talented violin player on and off-screen, Larry usually found himself on the receiving end of Moe’s terrific, sometimes brutal slaps. It has been said that Larry developed a callous on one side of his face after years of enduring the wrath of Moe.
Larry was the glue or middle-ground in the Three Stooges, although he could just as easily slip into absurdity—witness his Tarzan yell from 1936’s “Disorder in the Court.”
Without Larry, the three Stooges would have been severely deficient, and he is vastly underrated as a performer and actor. If not for his stroke in December 1969, the team would have probably kept making personal appearances until they dropped.
So why are the three Stooges still popular over 50 years since their final short hit theater screens across America? First and foremost, they were funny, no doubt spending years perfecting their timing and comedic rhythm.
Their shorts were quick bursts of energy clocking in under 20 minutes, without extra padded scenes as witnessed in the films of proteges Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Laurel and Hardy. The team poked fun at authority and the upper class, and the Three Stooges never strayed far from their role as regular guys with little income seeking—and often causing—mischief and mayhem.
Often dismissed as juvenile by their detractors, the antics of the Three Stooges have the unique ability of making both adults and children laugh uncontrollably, thus ensuring their legacy will continue to thrive and endure.
AMC airs several shorts on most weekday mornings during the 5 a.m. hour and then again during the 9 a.m. EST hour. Use the “search” function on your DVR to make sure you don’t miss an episode. The reviled Joe Besser shorts have not been shown thus far.
So, if you’re having a bad day or in need of a hearty chuckle, tune into the Three Stooges on AMC. And in case you don’t have AMC, check out complete episodes on YouTube or head on over to Amazon.com, where you can purchase most anything Stooge-related.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Moe’s only son, Paul Howard, is a still-active caricaturist with intrinsic knowledge of the legendary comedians away from the spotlight. A rare three-part interview, also available in “Jeremy’s Three Stooges Menagerie” column, is required reading for Stooge fanatics. When asked to sum up Larry in a nutshell, Howard astutely revealed, “Like Curly, Larry was a devil-may-care kind of personality. Very easy-going. Unlike Curly, he was more of a family man. But both of them didn’t watch their finances. The most inspiring aspect of Larry was that after he had a stroke, he learned to draw (quite well) with his ‘other hand,’ and he welcomed sharing his memories with visiting fans during his final years.”
Exclusive Interview: The Three Stooges will never win an armload of awards from the critical elite. So then why does the trio’s brilliantly timed comedy routines continue to age like vintage red wine? Moe Howard, with his jet black hair styled as a bowl cut, was always the forceful, bossy leader. Younger brother Curly possessed improvisational genius and uttered numerous catchphrases with abandon (e.g. “Nyuk, nyuk” and “I’m a victim of coicumstance!”). The frizzy-haired Larry Fine was caught somewhere in-between, often receiving the brunt of Moe’s slaps and eye pokes. Much like his character on-screen, Larry was a happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t worry about keeping money for very long and always found time to meet with his fans. Biographer Steve Cox usually maintains an extremely low online profile but fortunately agreed to speak at length about his fascination for the Three Stooges in “Paging Larry Fine: Author Steve Cox Recalls the Lovable Three Stooges Numbskull.”
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Innovative comedy artist Ray Stevens has scored hit singles on both the country and pop charts in his 50-year recording career. The versatile pianist has a knack for seemingly flipping the switch between laugh out loud and serious recordings. “Ahab the Arab,” “Gitarzan,” “Bridget the Midget (The Queen of the Blues),” The Streak,” “Shriner’s Convention,” “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” and the Grammy-winning “Everything Is Beautiful” are a sampling of his greatest hits. In a wide-ranging three-part interview [“Ray Stevens: Still Trying To Figure Out What He’s Gonna Do When He Grows Up”], Stevens recalls seeing Louis Armstrong in concert, playing trumpet on an Elvis Presley recording session, hearing himself on the radio for the first time, and offers a spirited behind the scenes commentary on the aforementioned singles and much more.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: “Dad taught me to keep going and learn it all. He was capable of doing everything—the epitome of a true entertainer.” Dean Martin’s lovely daughter, Deana, keeps the limelight planted firmly on her family, performing and recording her dad’s material all around the world. Deana recently agreed to explore a side of the crooner rarely discussed in modern literature: a man of simple country music tastes versus the cliché-ridden, glitzy Vegas image. In “Deana Martin Can’t Help Remembering the Swingin’ King of Cool,” Dino’s daughter shares heretofore unheard memories regarding John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, family vacations, guitars, horses, watching old Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., golf, and their poignant, final Christmas spent together.
- Exclusive Interview No. 4: Marshall Terrill, author of five critically acclaimed tomes examining the fascinating life and career of Steve McQueen, has a no-holds-barred approach when unmasking the quintessential King of Cool, who had a tendency to play mind games when questioned by the press. In a wide-ranging two-part feature, the dogged researcher dissects how Bullitt shattered his expectations as an 11-year-old military brat, the star’s tragic relationship with his mother and orneriness reputation on movie sets, gives props to early career stepping stones including Wanted: Dead or Alive and The Blob, why McQueen chose to receive controversial alternative cancer treatment in Mexico, debunks five individuals who claim they’re related to the intense actor, and what he might have said if he had crossed paths with the legend.
Further Reading: Like their alter egos, comedy duo Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were seemingly joined at the hip. Griffith played his role with supreme confidence, often acting the straight-man to Knotts’ outlandish antics. Lost for nearly 50 years, a video clip has recently been unearthed from a CBS variety special entitled The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabors Show. It features the actors in living color reprising Sheriff Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on a vast soundstage. Released in October 1965, mere months after Knotts controversially departed The Andy Griffith Show for a short-lived career on the big screen, the video proves that the actors were masters of comedic timing and relished performing together in front of a live audience. The comedy team later collaborated in a funny yet touching 1967 episode, “Barney Comes to Mayberry”, that landed Knotts his fifth and final Emmy. Both features are only a click away.
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