History of the Three Stooges
The Three Stooges are a trio of the greatest slapstick movie clowns of the 20th century. Curiously, they are a trio composed of six people — the initial Three Stooges trio in the movies were Moe, Larry and Curly, later Moe, Larry and Shemp, followed by Moe, Larry and Joe, and finally Moe, Larry and Curly Joe. The Three Stooges became famous for their work in movies, primarily in short features that showcased their slapstick comedy, as well as in feature films in their later years.
Brief History of the Three Stooges
The Three Stooges got their name and their start in a vaudeville act called Ted Healy and his Stooges. Brothers Moe Howard (Moe) and Shemp Howard (Shemp) were later joined by Larry Fine. Shemp left for a career in feature movies (notably as trainer Knobby Walsh in the “Joe Palooka” movies, as well as numerous Abbott and Costello films and along side W. C. Fields in The Bank Dick ), and brother Jerome Howard (Curly) took his place. Throughout their career, Moe was the heart and soul of the troupe, acting as both their main creative force and business manager. It was through Moe’s investments and foresight that Curly and Larry were able to retire financially, as they were somewhat spendthrifts in their personal lives.
The original Three Stooges split from Healy, signing on with Columbia Pictures where they went on to star in over 190 theatrical short movies in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the longest series in history. They also made an unsuccessful TV pilot called Jerks Of All Trades in 1949. Curly suffered a stroke in 1946 and Shemp left his own successful career to return to the trio. Shemp himself died of a heart attack in 1955. Outtakes and Stooge short regular Joe Palma (filmed from behind) were used to finish Shemp’s contract — this gave rise to the use of stand-ins, known as “shemping”.
Joe Besser was the fifth (third) Stooge from 1956-1958. Joe Besser was probably the least popular stooge, relying more on verbal than slapstick humor – in fact, he had a clause in his contract specifically prohibiting him from being hit too hard. But the “shorts” genre had become unprofitable over the years, partly due to television, so Columbia, the last studio still doing shorts, gave up and ended the series in 1958. When Joe Besser’s wife had a heart attack, he was unwilling to travel, and withdrew from the act. Moe signed Joe DeRita as the sixth (third) Stooge. DeRita quickly shaved his head and became “Curly Joe“. But without a film contract, and with vaudeville pretty much dead, their known venues were closed to them. They tried night clubs, and personal appearances, but it appeared that their movie career was over.
However, television, which was partly responsible for the demise of their movie career, was now to rescue their careers. Columbia Pictures started releasing the Three Stooges series to TV syndication that year and suddenly a whole new generation of children discovered them, becoming instant fans. The Stooges performed live on stage, they appeared at supermarket openings, and they were hot television guest stars on various variety shows. Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe formed Comedy III Productions, Inc. in 1959, which owns all of the Three Stooges trademarks, copyrights, and merchandising to this day. They went on to make a number of successful full-length feature movies over the next decade and a short lived TV series, The New Three Stooges, that was part live action and part animation before age finally caught up with them. Their final project, Kook’s Tour (1970), was a sort of travelogue made for TV, but Larry Fine suffered a stroke during the production, and was unable to complete the project. Kook’s Tour was not released at the time, although it is available today on video. Moe also had a minor career as a non-Stooge, appearing in a few movies during the 1960s.
Larry died in early 1975. After his death, it was decided that long time Stooge film regular actor Emil Sitka would replace him as Larry’s brother, and be dubbed “The Middle Stooge”. Several movie ideas were considered, including one called “Blazing Stewardesses” according to Leonard Maltin, who also uncovered a pre-production photo. However, Moe passed on a few months later, and it was inconceivable that the Three Stooges continue without him, although Curly Joe did do some live performances with a new group of Stooges in the early 1970s.
The Three Stooges in Feature motion pictures
The Three Stooges also made appearances in many feature length movies in the course of their careers:
- Soup to Nuts (1930)
- Turn Back the Clock (1933)
- Meet the Baron (1933)
- Dancing Lady (1933)
- Myrt and Marge (1933)
- Hollywood Party (1934)
- The Captain Hates the Sea (1934)
- Start Cheering (1938)
- Time out for Rhythm (1941)
- My Sister Eileen (1942) (Cameo)
- Rockin’ in the Rockies (1945)
- Swing Parade of 1946 (1946)
- Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959)
- Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961)
- The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962)
- The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962)
- The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963)
- It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) (Cameo)
- 4 for Texas (1963) (Cameo)
- The Outlaws Is Coming (1965)
The Stooges appeared in a short-lived television show called The New Three Stooges which ran from 1965 to 1966 and featured animated Stooges shorts sandwiched between live action segments with Moe, Larry and Curly Joe. In addition, in 1977, there was a short-lived CBS animated series called The Three Robonic Stooges featuring Moe, Larry, and Curly as bionic cartoon superheroes with extendable limbs, similar to Inspector Gadget – though with none of the actual stooges involved.
There are four Three Stooges shorts that are in the public domain, and which can be downloaded at no charge from the Prelinger Archive:
- Disorder in the Court (1936)
- Malice in the Palace (1949)
- Sing A Song of Six Pants (1947)
- Brideless Groom (1947)
The same four shorts are available on the DVD “The Three Stooges in Color” — including the shorts cleaned up (vastly superior picture quality) in both color & black and white.
Members of The Three Stooges
- Moe Howard
Stooge years: 1922, 1926, 1929-1971
- Larry Fine
Stooge years: 1925-1926, 1929-1971
- Curly Howard
Stooge years: 1934-1946
- Shemp Howard
Stooge years: 1922-1925, 1929-1932, 1947-1956
- Joe Besser
Stooge years: 1955-1958
- Curly Joe DeRita
Stooge years: 1958-1971
Tributes to the Three Stooges
- The 1985 film, Stoogemania tells the story of an obsessed Three Stooges fan, and includes clips of their classic Shorts.
- The 1994 Song, “Two Reelers” by Frank Black tells the story of the four “original” stooges and Jules White, and protests the dismissal of The Three Stooges as mere low-brow slapstick: “If all you see is violence/Well then I make a plea in their defense/Don’t you know they speak vaudevillian?”
- A 1987 computer game by Cinemaware, The Three Stooges, has the stooges trying to save an orphanage where they engage in wacky adventures and engage in some of their classic comic scenes.
- In the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, the main character Shinji Ikari and his friends Toji and Kensuke are often mocking called the Three Stooges, primarily by Asuka.
- In the 1995 computer game Space Quest 6, there was a minigame called Stooge Fighter, which was a humorous tribute to the Stooges.
- In an episode of the cartoon Pinky and the Brain entitled “Pinky & The Brain And… Larry”, Pinky and The Brain are inexplicably joined by a third wheel Larry in their plan to get into the White House posing as wallpaperers, who’s unwelcome addition to the team causes Stooge-style antics to ensue.
- The King of the Hill episode “A-Fire Fighting We Will Go” contains several references to the Stooges.
- The song “The Curly Shuffle” is about Curly, and mentions the other Stooges as well.
- Larry Fine’s home town of Philadelphia has honored him with a mural