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Biography of Curly Howard

Biography of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges (October 22, 1903 – January 18, 1952)

Curly Howard is the most well-known of The Three Stooges, as well as the most popular. He played a dimwitted clown character who was energetic, boyish, with a great zest for life. The actor behind the stooge was Jerome Lester Horwitz, born on October 22, 1903 in Brooklyn, New York, USA, the youngest child of Jennie and Solomon Horwitz.

Curly Howard’s early life

Jerome was well loved in a happy family atmosphere, and as the youngest was given the nickname “Babe” by his brothers. Even as early as four years old, Curly Howard was acting in comedy skits with his brothers for neighborhood children. At the age of twelve, Jerome accidentally shot himself in the foot with a rifle, which resulted in a lifelong limp. In later years, he took up ballroom dancing to help him overcome it and became an excellent dancer. Likewise, his stage character of Curly used an exaggerated walking style to cover his slight limp.

Curly had a long history of romantic problems, that began in his late teens. He married a young lady, whose name is unknown to this day. His mother did not approve due to his age, and she had the marriage annulled after only a few months.

Unlike his older brother Moe, he was not overly interested in learning, although he was athletic and excelled in sports. In many ways, he idolized his oldest brothers Moe and Shemp, and would follow them, watching them perform, hang around backstage, run errands, and so forth. Although a naturally funny person, he didn’t himself enter show business until 1928, where he was a comedic conductor for the Orville Knapp Band, performing in a breakaway suit that would fall apart as he conducted the band.

Curly Howard and the Three Stooges

In 1932, Jerome’s brother Shemp left Ted Healy and his Stooges, prompting Moe to recommend Jerome as a replacement, since he already knew the act from having seen it so often. Healy agreed, with the stipulation that Jerome had to shave his head and mustache.  Healy thought that Jerome was simply too handsome to successfully play a stooge. Jerome complied, and with his shaven head came his stage name of Curly (often spelled Curley), which is the name he made internationally famous.

Curly Howard quickly became identified as one of The Three Stooges, with a look as visually distinctive as his brother Moe‘s bowl haircut or Larry Fine’s “porcupine” hair style. In addition to his shaved head, he wore clothes that were too small, spoke in a baby voice, and often wore a derby (Disorder in the Court gives a fine example of Curly at his best). Curly also became known for several unusual quotes (“Arf! Arf! Arf!”, “RrrrARF!”, “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!”, “Woo-woo-woo!”) – many of which were used by Curly when he forgot a line (for instance, he first whooped “woo woo woo!” in the Academy Award nominated Men in Black to cover a line he forgot – it was funnier, and so it stayed).

Curly Howard’s personal life

During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, Curly’s professional life was at a high point, making one hilarious short film after another. His personal life was not nearly as happy, unfortunately. Success, as well as his shaved appearance (he felt it eliminated his sex appeal) led to heavy drinking and spendthrift ways, leaving him with virtually no savings. Fortunately, his older brother Moe insisted on investing part of Curly and Larry’s salaries.  This way, Moe ensured that they would have income once they retired. On June 7, 1937, Curly married Elaine Ackerman and celebrated the birth of his daughter Marilyn the next year.

However, the marriage did not last, and they were divorced on July 11, 1940. In January of 1945, he was diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity. He remarried on October 17, 1945, to Marion Buxbaum, which was his most unhappy marriage.  It ended in an acrimonious divorce on July 22, 1946. However, worse news was coming for Curly.

Curly suffers a stroke, leaves the Three Stooges

On May 6, 1946, while filming Half -Wits Holiday Curly suffered a stroke.  This forced Curly to retire from the Three Stooges while he recuperated.  With Curly’s blessing, his older brother Shemp rejoined the trio to fill in until Curly was able to rejoin the troupe. Unfortunately, that day never came. However, after Curly’s career-ending stroke, Larry Fine insisted that each member of The Three Stooges give $50 of their weekly salary to support Curly.

The next year came a bright spot in his life, as he met a widow named Valerie Newman while he was recuperating. Curly and Valerie were married on July 31, 1947. Unlike his previous marriages, Valerie appeared to truly love Curly for himself, not for his fame or money. Curly’s health began improving, and he was able to have a brief cameo role in Hold That Lion in 1947. The next year, his second daughter Janie was born. Sadly, in 1949 another stroke confined Curly to a wheelchair, and subsequent strokes further damaged his health.  A final stroke ended his life on January 18, 1952, in San Gabriel, California, USA.

His remains are interred at Home of Peace Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, USA, in the “Western Jewish Institute” section, row 5, grave 1.  The Three Stooges have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their contributions to Motion Pictures at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood.

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