The Three Stooges Show
The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970, best remembered for their 190 short subject films by Columbia Pictures. Their hallmark styles were physical farce and slapstick. Six Stooges appeared over the act's run (with only three active at any given time): Moe Howard (born Moses Horwitz) and Larry Fine (born Louis Feinberg) were mainstays throughout the ensemble's nearly 50-year run; the pivotal "third stooge" was played by (in order of appearance) Shemp Howard (born Samuel Horwitz), Curly Howard (born Jerome Horwitz), Shemp Howard again, Joe Besser, and "Curly Joe" DeRita.
The Three Stooges Show
The Three Stooges began in 1922 as part of a raucous vaudeville act called "Ted Healy and His Stooges" ("stooges" being show-business slang for on-stage assistants). The act was also known as "Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen" and "Ted Healy and His Racketeers". Moe Howard (born Moses Harry Horwitz) joined Healy's act in 1922, and his brother Shemp Howard (Samuel Horwitz) came aboard a few months later. After several shifts and changes in the Stooges membership, violinist-comedian Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg) also joined the group sometime between 1925 and 1928. In the act, lead comedian Healy would attempt to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants would keep interrupting him, causing Healy to retaliate with verbal and physical abuse.
Healy tried to save his act by hiring replacement stooges, but they were inexperienced and not as well-received as their predecessors. Healy reached a new agreement with his former Stooges in 1932, with Moe now acting as business manager, and they were booked in a production of Jacob J. Shubert's The Passing Show of 1932. During rehearsals, Healy received a more lucrative offer and found a loophole in his contract allowing him to leave the production. Shemp, fed up with Healy's abrasiveness, bad temper, and heavy drinking, decided to quit the act and toured in his own comedy revue for several months.
With Shemp gone, Healy and the two remaining stooges (Moe and Larry) needed a replacement, so Moe suggested his younger brother Jerry Howard. Healy reportedly took one look at Jerry, who had long chestnut-red hair and a handlebar mustache, and remarked that Jerry didn't look like he was funny. Jerry left the room and returned a few minutes later with his head shaved (although his mustache remained for a time), saying: "Boy, do I look girly." Healy heard "Curly", and the name stuck. Other accounts have been given for how the Curly character actually came about.
The Stooges' release schedule was eight short subjects per year, filmed within a 40-week period; for the remaining 12 weeks, they were free to pursue other employment, time that was either spent with their families or touring the country with their live act. The Stooges appeared in 190 film shorts and five features while at Columbia, outlasting every one of their contemporaries employed in the short-film genre. Del Lord directed more than three dozen Stooge films, Jules White directed dozens more and his brother Jack White directed several under the pseudonym "Preston Black". Silent-comedy star Charley Chase also shared directorial responsibilities with Lord and White.
During a five-month hiatus from August 1945 through January 1946, the trio committed themselves to making a feature film at Monogram, followed by a two-month-long live appearance gig in New York City, with performances seven days a week. Curly also entered a disastrous third marriage in October 1945, leading to a separation in January 1946 and divorce in July 1946. That unhappy union wrecked his already fragile health. Upon the Stooges' return to Los Angeles in late November 1945, Curly was a shell of his former self. They had two months to rest before reporting back to Columbia in late January 1946, but Curly's condition was irreversible. They had only 24 days of work over the next three months, but eight weeks of time off could not help the situation. In those last six shorts, ranging from Monkey Businessmen (1946) through Half-Wits Holiday (1947), Curly was seriously ill, struggling to get through even the most basic scenes.
During the final day of filming Half-Wits Holiday (1947) on May 6, 1946, Curly suffered a debilitating stroke on the set, ending his 14-year career. They hoped for a full recovery, but Curly never appeared in a film again except for a single cameo appearance in the third film after Shemp returned to the trio, Hold That Lion! (1947). It was the only film that contained all four of the original Stooges (the three Howard brothers and Larry) on screen simultaneously. According to Jules White, this anomaly came about when Curly visited the set one day, and White had him do this bit for fun. Curly's cameo appearance was recycled in the remake Booty and the Beast, 1953.
In 1952, the Stooges lost some key players at Columbia Pictures. The studio decided to downsize its short-subject division, resulting in producer Hugh McCollum being discharged and director Edward Bernds resigning out of loyalty to McCollum. Screenwriter Elwood Ullman, who had worked closely with Bernds, also resigned. Bernds had been contemplating his resignation for some time, as he and Jules White were often at odds. Bernds's departure left only White to direct the Stooges' remaining Columbia comedies. Not long after, the quality of the team's output markedly declined, with producer-director White now assuming complete control over production. DVD Talk critic Stuart Galbraith IV commented that "the Stooges' shorts became increasingly mechanical...and frequently substituted violent sight gags for story and characterization." Production was also significantly faster, with the former four-day filming schedules now tightened to two or three days. In another cost-cutting measure, White would create a "new" Stooge short by borrowing footage from old ones, setting it in a slightly different storyline and filming a few new scenes, often with the same actors in the same costumes. White was initially very subtle when recycling older footage: he would reuse only a single sequence of old film, re-edited so cleverly that it was not easy to detect. The later shorts were cheaper and the recycling more obvious, with as much as 75% of the running time consisting of old footage. White came to rely so much on older material that he could film the "new" shorts in a single day. New footage filmed in order to link older material suffered from White's heavy-handed directing style and penchant for telling his actors how to act. Shemp, in particular, disliked working with White after 1952.
Despite their lukewarm reception, the Besser shorts did have their moments. In general, the remakes had the traditional Stooges knockabout, such as 1958's Pies and Guys (a scene-for-scene remake of Half-Wits Holiday, which itself was a reworking of the earlier Hoi Polloi), Guns a Poppin (1957), Rusty Romeos (1957), and Triple Crossed (1959). In contrast, Hoofs and Goofs, Horsing Around, and Muscle Up a Little Closer (all 1957) mostly resembled the sitcoms of the era. A Merry Mix Up (also 1957) and Oil's Well That Ends Well (1958) are also amusing, while the musical Sweet and Hot (1958) deserves some credit for straying from the norm. The American science-fiction craze also led to three entries focusing on space travel: Space Ship Sappy, Outer Space Jitters (both 1957), and Flying Saucer Daffy (1958).
The Stooges also tried their hand at another weekly television series in 1960 titled The Three Stooges Scrapbook, filmed in color and with a laugh track. The first episode, "Home Cooking", featured the boys rehearsing for a new television show. Like Jerks of All Trades in 1949, the pilot did not sell. However, Norman Maurer was able to reuse the footage (reprocessed in black and white) for the first ten minutes of The Three Stooges in Orbit.
During this period, The Stooges appeared on numerous television shows including The Steve Allen Show, Here's Hollywood, Masquerade Party, The Ed Sullivan Show, Danny Thomas Meets the Comics, The Joey Bishop Show, Off to See the Wizard and Truth or Consequences.
Also in 1970, Joe DeRita recruited vaudeville veterans Frank Mitchell and Mousie Garner to tour as The New Three Stooges. Garner had worked with Ted Healy as one of his "replacement stooges" decades earlier and was briefly considered as Joe Besser's replacement in 1958. Mitchell had also replaced Shemp as the "third stooge" in a 1929 Broadway play, A Night in Venice, and appeared in two of the Stooges' short subjects in 1953. The act fared poorly, with minimal bookings. By this time, Moe's wife had prevailed on him to retire from performing slapstick due to his age. For the next several years, Moe appeared regularly on talk shows and did speaking engagements at colleges, while DeRita quietly retired.
As for the remaining original replacement stooges, Joe Besser died of heart failure on March 1, 1988, followed by Joe DeRita of pneumonia on July 3, 1993. Emil Sitka was announced as a Stooge but never performed as such; he died on January 16, 1998, six months after being disabled by a stroke.
A handful of Three Stooges shorts first aired on television in 1949, on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network. It was not until 1958 that Screen Gems packaged 78 shorts for national syndication; the package was gradually enlarged to encompass the entire library of 190 shorts. In 1959, KTTV in Los Angeles purchased the Three Stooges films for air, but by the early 1970s, rival station KTLA began airing the Stooges films, keeping them in the schedule until early 1994. The Family Channel ran the shorts as part of their Stooge TV block from February 19, 1996, to January 2, 1998. In the late 1990s, AMC had held the rights to the Three Stooges shorts, originally airing them under a programming block called "Stooges Playhouse". In 1999, it was replaced with a program called N.Y.U.K. (New Yuk University of Knuckleheads), which starred actor/comedian Leslie Nielsen. The program would show three random Stooge shorts. Nielsen hosts the program as a college instructor, known as the Professor of Stoogelogy, who teaches to the students lectures on the Three Stooges before the Stooges' shorts air. The block aired several shorts often grouped by a theme, such as similar schtick used in different films. Although the block was discontinued after AMC revamped their format in 2002, the network still ran Stooges shorts occasionally. The AMC run ended when Spike TV (now Paramount Network) picked them up in 2004, airing them in their Stooges Slap-Happy Hour every Saturday and Sunday mornings. On June 6, 2005, the network began running the Stooges Slap-Happy as a one-hour summer comedy block which ended on September 2, 2005. By 2007, the network had discontinued the block. Although Spike did air Stooges shorts for a brief period of time after the block was canceled, as of late April 2008, the Stooges had disappeared from the network's schedule entirely. The Three Stooges returned on December 31, 2009, on AMC, starting with the "Countdown with the Stooges" New Year's Eve marathon. AMC planned to put several episodes on their website in 2010. The "Stooges" shorts were best known in Chicago as a part of a half-hour, late-afternoon show on WGN-TV hosted by Bob Bell as "Andy Starr" in the 1960s. In the 1990s Stooges films were aired as part of The Koz Zone movie segment on Chicago television. 041b061a72