Five Interesting Facts About the Three Stooges That You Probably Didn't Know
Men love them. Women can't for the life of them understand why men love them. But the Three Stooges (actually six stooges -- primarily brothers Moe and Curly Howard plus Larry Fine, but also Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita) have become cultural icons. Beginning in vaudeville in the 1920s as part of an act called Ted Healy and His Stooges, the trio, in one combination or another, went on to make 190 short subjects and several feature films, one of which was even nominated for an Academy Award.
We know about the pie fights and seltzer squirts, the eye pokes, the slaps, and the nyuk-nyuk-nyuks. Here's some fun facts about the Three Stooges that you probably didn't know.
1. They Had Some of the Longest Marriages in Hollywood
Except for Curly, who was on his fourth wife when he died of a stroke in 1952 at age 48, the Stooges had marital track records anyone would envy and which were almost unheard of by Hollywood standards. Consider the statistics:
- Moe Howard -- married to Helen Schonberger for 50 years
- Larry Fine -- married to Mabel Haney for 41 years
- Shemp Howard -- married to Gertrude Frank for nearly 30 years
- Joe Besser -- married to Erna Kay for 56 years
- Joe DeRita -- married to Bonnie Brooks for 30 years until her death in 1965; then married to Jean Sullivan for 26 years until his death in 1993
Not only that, but Moe and Larry were also devoted family men. When not working, Moe could often be found at home gardening or barbecuing. Larry often traveled to gigs with his wife and kids. When Mabel Fine died suddenly in 1967, Larry immediately left a personal appearance in Rhode Island and flew home, leaving the other two Stooges to fend for themselves.
2. Sometimes They Flew Solo
While their claim to fame was clearly as a trio, the Stooges did show up in other film projects on occasion. While working at MGM, for example, Larry got a small part in a film called Stage Mother. Curly appeared by himself in another MGM film called Roast-Beef and Movies. Shemp, a lifelong boxing fan, had perhaps the most lucrative solo career, working for Vitagraph in New York beginning in the early 1930s and later playing prizefighter Knobby Walsh in the Joe Palooka series and a bartender in the 1940 W.C. Fields classic The Bank Dick. Joe Besser and Joe DeRita also appeared in films before joining the Stooges. Both Shemp and Joe Besser worked with Abbott and Costello, and Besser did a lot of voice work.
3. Moe Was Originally a Shakespearean Actor
Moe Howard -- or Horwitz, as he was known at the time -- caught the acting bug early. He'd done a little stage work in school, but at fifteen, he dropped out entirely, eventually working his way to Mississippi, and joining an acting troupe on a riverboat called the Sunflower. He worked there for two seasons, performing various popular shows of the day including Ten Nights in a Barroom and selected works from Shakespeare, his time being about equally divided between dramatic and comedic roles. Later, he also worked as a Shakespearean actor with a company in western Pennsylvania.
Eventually his brother Shemp caught the bug, too, but while Moe was doing dramatic roles, Shemp headed for vaudeville with its plethora of comedic gigs. When he and Moe decided to work together, it was comedy that won out and Moe dropped his dramatic ambitions.
4. Larry Was a Classically-Trained Violinist
Larry Fine at first seemed headed for a musical career, the seeds of which came about as a result of a near-tragic childhood accident. The son of a jeweler in Philadelphia, toddler Louis Feinberg, as he was then known, reached through the bars of his crib one evening and picked up a bottle of oxalic acid, which his father used in his work to determine the genuineness of gold. The elder Feinberg was quick-thinking enough to prevent the boy from swallowing the stuff but unfortunately some of the contents splashed onto the boy's arm and started eating away at it. His parents took him to the hospital, and while doctors originally suggested amputation, that ultimately proved unnecessary, and the arm was repaired by a skin graft taken from the boy's leg.
To help strengthen the appendage, Larry's parents arranged for him to take violin lessons. (He later also took up boxing, but when his father found out, he scuttled that form of therapy real quick.) Fine became quite a good violinist though, playing classical pieces, and by the time he was in his teens his parents seriously considered sending him to a musical conservatory in Europe. World War I intervened, however, and Larry decided to steer his talents toward vaudeville, playing in several acts and even writing some of his own music before ending up as one of Ted Healy's Stooges alongside Moe and Shemp Howard in 1925.
5. Curly Got His Nickname Because of a Mistake
He was born Jerome Horwitz. As a child, he was nicknamed Jerry, and because he was the youngest Horwitz, he also got the nickname Babe, which stuck despite the fact his sister-in-law, Shemp's wife Gertrude, also had the nickname Babe.
When Shemp left to go to Vitagraph, Moe was short a Stooge, and the first candidate that came to mind was his brother Babe. When Babe first auditioned, however, he was sporting a full head of hair and a mustache which Ted Healy didn't think looked all that funny. According to legend, Babe immediately went out to shave his head and when he came back twenty minutes later, Healy said "Boy, don't you look girlie," which Moe misheard as curly. Quickly picking up on the comic potential of a near-bald-headed man named Curly, everyone decided to rechristen Jerome then and there, and that nickname stuck, too.
After he took sick and could no longer work with the Stooges, Curly let his hair grow back. He returned to acting very briefly, landing an uncredited, impromptu role in the film Hold That Lion! (the only film in which all three Howard brothers appear together). Two years later he also played -- unrecognizably -- a chef in Malice in the Palace, but his footage from that film ended up on the cutting room floor.