The Three Stooges: Masters Of Slapstick

The 3 Stooges:  Masters Of Slapstick

OK, I admit it. I love the Three Stooges!  Maybe it’s a generational thing, because baby boomers like me had been inundated with the 3 Stooges shorts on TV throughout our formative years.  These were the days when there was no Nickelodeon, no Cable, and our TV had only 4 channels.  We pretty much had to watch whatever the broadcasters wanted to give us.  So for me, it was Warner Brothers Cartoons and the 3 Stooges.

I’m guessing everybody who reads this post has seen the boys in action, but do we truly know who these bizarre individuals truly were?

We know them today as Larry, Moe and Curly (or Shemp, Or Joe, or Curly Joe), but they actually began in 1922 along with Ted Healy in a vaudeville act called Ted Healy and his Stooges.

The group was made up of Ted Healy,  Samuel Howard (Shemp), Harry Moses Howard (Moe),and Larry Fine (Larry).In 1931, Shemp  and Ted Healy didn’t see eye to eye, and so he (Shemp) left the group for a career in feature films.  Moe suggested his brother Jerome as a substitution, but Healy wasn’t very impressed considering that Jerome’s long hair and beard was out of character for any Stooge.  Jerome remedied the situation by temporarily leaving the room and quickly returning having a shaved head and face. Hence, the lovable personality of Curly was born!

This ensemble lasted another 3 years until Healy’s abrasiveness (and reported alcoholism) finally brought things to a head. The boys kicked him out, and Moe became the leader of the team. He subsequently made a deal with Columbia Pictures for an undetermined number of shorts. This is when the 3 Stooges, as we now know them, began their long journey into comedy history.

For the next 25 years, the Three Stooges starred in 190 film shorts; the longest in Hollywood history. They also could be found in 12 films and entertained millions globally with their  physical routines, catch phrases, and masterful comedy.

In 1946, An apparent catastrophic event occurred: Curly suffered a stroke. He was not to be exactly the same after that, and passed away 6 years later. The boys turned to Shemp once again, as he was asked to rejoin the ensemble. The Stooges, with Shemp as Curly’s substitution, created 77 additional shorts along with a feature film called Gold Raiders (1951). Furthermore, in 1949, Moe, Larry and Shemp created a pilot for a 3 Stooges television show called ‘Jerks of All Trades’. Regrettably, the show was never purchased by the networks.  Nevertheless, the pilot is within the public domain and obtainable on home video.

The dynasty took another hit when Shemp died of a sudden heart attack in November of 1955.  A fellow named Joe Besser replaced Shemp in 1956, appearing in 16 brief films. Interestingly, Joe had a clause in his contract particularly prohibiting him from becoming hit too hard, even though it was ignored as time went on. Unfortunately, Joe was a disappointing substitution for his two predecessors, plus the marketplace for short films was dwindling. These 2 factors led towards the steady decline from the Stooges popularity. Columbia Pictures evenyually got around to firing the Three Stooges in 1957.

However, a brand new medium was about to take center stage:  TV.  In 1959, Columbia Photos syndicated the whole Three Stooges film library towards the Tv networks and also the Stooges were rediscovered by their original audience (now in middle age).  Plus, a whole new generation of buyers (Baby Boomers) had been introduced to the masters of slapstick comedy.

Stoogemania rapidly swept the entire country, which put Moe and Larry back within the spotlight again. Joe Besser, on the other hand, didn’t rejoin the group, so Moe quickly signed Joe DeRita as his replacement. DeRita shaved his head and became Curly-Joe, because he looked like the original Curly.

This final version from the Three Stooges went on to make 39 brief films and a few full-length movies within the late 1950s and into the 1960s. In 1969 they filmed a pilot for a new Tv series known as ‘Kooks Tour’, which was a show about the retired Stooges roaming the globe, with episodes filmed on location. Alas, during production, Larry sustained a stroke that ended his acting career as well as the TV series. Larry suffered another stroke in December 1974 and one more month later suffered a fatal stroke and passed away in January 1975.

It was thought that they could continue, several film ideas had been pondered, nevertheless Moe Howard passed away in May 1975, putting an end to the dream. Even though Curly-Joe (Joe DeRita) did some live work with a new group of Stooges in the early 1970s, the Three Stooges, as we knew them, were gone.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the Three Stooges.  They were really a unique ensemble, and we will probably never see their kind again.

I have numerous other comedy associated articles at my web site. Please feel free to stop by and look it over:  How To do Stand Up Comedy.

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