The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges, from left to right, Curly, Moe, and Larry

The Three Stooges were a slapstick comedy act that moved from American vaudeville into short movies. They originally were a part of Ted Healy’s vaudeville act, but in 1934 they signed with Columbia as The Three Stooges, consisting of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. They would remain as this lineup until 1946 when Curly suffered a stroke and was unable to continue work. [1] Their shorts are still played on TV almost 75 years after the original line-up ended.


Pre-Three Stooges

Moe Howard and his brother, Shemp Howard, began working in vaudeville together in 1916. They were not immediately successful, and eventually left the business in 1922. In the winter of 1922, Moe reunited with his childhood friend, Ted Healy, and joined his vaudeville act. In 1925, Shemp joined the act, and a short time later, they met Larry Fine, who completed the act as Ted Healy and his Three Southern Gentlemen.[2] In 1926, Shemp left the act, and in 1927, Moe left to tend to his newborn daughter. [3] The group reunited in 1928
Shemp in a Stooges short
. They made their first feature film in 1930, called Soup to Nuts. This also led to the end of the stooges' association with Healy, as he was not paying them well enough and tried to prevent them from getting a film contract without him. The act became known as ‘Howard, Fine and Howard.’ [4]

Healy and Moe reached an agreement to reunite, as Healy was struggling without his stooges. Shemp left the group as a result, and Moe brought in his younger brother, Jerry ‘Curly’ Howard in 1932. [5] Healy disliked Curly’s long brown hair and handlebar mustache, so Curly shaved it off, giving him his iconic look.[6] This iconic look would often be the source of much concern for Curly, who felt he was unattractive without his hair. This led to his heavy drinking. [7]
They made five two-reel comedies with Healy in 1933, and in 1934, they made their final parting of ways with Healy in a formal signed agreement, and renamed themselves ‘The Three Stooges.’ [8]

The Three Stooges 1934-1946

After their break with Healy, an amusing affair occurred as both Universal and Columbia tried to sign The Three Stooges. Just after their agreement, Moe was approached by an agent and taken to Columbia, where he signed an agreement to film one two-reeler, with a chance of renewal if the short succeeded. Larry, meanwhile, was approached by an agent and taken to Universal, where he too signed an agreement. The error was realized that evening when The Stooges met for dinner, and it was rectified by examining the time stamps on the agreements. The Stooges belonged to Columbia.[9]

Their name was uncertain in the newspapers, as in two articles in the Los Angeles Times where they were given two separate titles, once being referred to as "the three stooges, Howard, Fine, and Howard." [10] . Four days later they were referred to as "The Three Stooges." [11] Later, they remained nameless in a published photo, being referred to only as Stooge 1, 2, and 3. [12]
Curly, Larry, and Moe in 1940's "You Natzy Spy"

Their first film was Woman Haters, and their contract was quickly extended when Moe presented an original script for their second two-reeler, Punch Drunks. The Stooges had secured a yearly contract in which they had to make eight two-reel comedies per year. [13] They were announced as part of Columbia's two-reel plans for the year in 1935 [14] .

The Three Stooges were given down time of 12 weeks a year when they were not filming shorts to make public appearances, including a live performance at the Orpheum theater in LA. [15] Their careers were going very well, with appearances in England and Ireland in 1939, and public appearances across the US during their down time. But on May 14th, 1946, during the filming of Half Wits’ Holiday, Curly suffered a stroke. [16] He was taken to the Motion Picture Country Home by Moe, where he was able to receive the best care. Moe would call on Shemp to replace Curly, and the Three Stooges were able to continue making two-reelers.

Curly did make a brief appearance in the short Hold That Lion, the only one in which all three brothers appear on screen together. He died on January 18th, 1952, having never fully recovered from his initial stroke. [17]


Shemp’s time with The Stooges was short lived; he passed away of a heart attack on November 22nd, 1955. [18] Shemp’s sudden death left The Stooges with an unfulfilled contract with Columbia. In order to finish it, their director, Jules White hired Shemp stand-ins and edited in old Stooge footage. They also inducted a new stooge, Joe Besser, with whom The Stooges filmed 16 shorts and finished their contract with Columbia. Besser was unable to make live appearances with Moe and Larry, and thus they returned to Joe DeRita, also known as Curly Joe.

Around 1958, Columbia began airing The Stooges original shorts on television, and a new craze for The Three Stooges was created, leading to numerous live shows and TV appearances with Curly Joe filling in as the third stooge. [19] In 1959, they succeeded in convincing Columbia to make a feature length film, Have Rocket, Will Travel, which met with great success. The Stooges made several other feature length films, including some out of their own independent production house. They also made animated cartoon shorts with Heritage Productions.

The Three Stooges came to a definitive end in 1970 when Larry suffered a stroke. He died five years later on January 24th, 1975. Moe would continue making personal appearances, speaking at colleges towards the end of his life. [20] He passed away on May 4th, 1975.
Joe Besser, the 5th stooge

Agreement with Columbia

When The Three Stooges signed their original agreement with Columbia, it was on a yearly renewal basis, meaning that they never knew if their contract would be renewed. Every year, Columbia would leave them in limbo until the last moment, when they would renew the contract. This kept The Stooges from asking for raises, as Columbia would always say that their comedic shorts were getting harder and harder to sell. In reality, when a Three Stooges two-reel was sold to a theater, the theater was forced to take a B movie by Columbia in order to get the short.[21]


The Three Stooges were with Columbia for 24 years and filmed 194 shorts and 5 feature length films.[22] One of their shorts, Men in Black (1934) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject-Comedy. This would be their only Academy nomination.

The fact that their shorts have been on air since 1958 and have not stopped running attests to the timeless appeal of The Three Stooges. Where other slapstick acts are barely seen on television, The Three Stooges are frequently found. With their shorts being shown on TV, they were able to reach a new generation that had never met them before. [23]

In 2000, a TV movie was released about The Stooges. Mel Gibson was the executive producer. [24]

There is also a film that has been in development for sometime written by the Farrelly brothers. It will place Moe, Larry and Curly in a modern setting in an attempt to save the orphanage they grew up in, with all of their usual slapstick humor. [25]

Further Viewing

Men In Black (1934)
Half-Wits Holiday (1947) Curly's last film
Hold That Lion! (1947) (Part 1)
Hold That Lion! (1947) (Part 2) The only time all three Howard brothers were on screen.
Full Stooges Filmography This is a listing of all Stooges' shorts and longer works.


Fleming, Michael (1999). The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. Broadway Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 0767905567.
Howard, Moe (1977, rev. 1979). Moe Howard and the Three Stooges. Broadway Publishing. pp. 54, 73, 101. ISBN 978-0806507231.

Lenburg, Jeff, Joan Howard. Maurer, and Greg Lenburg. The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1982. Print.
Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 0899501818.

External Links


Internet Movie Database:

  1. ^ Howard 1977 p 145.
  2. ^ Howard 1977, p 35.
  3. ^ Howard 1977, p 38
  4. ^ Howard 1977 p 45.
  5. ^ Howard 1977, p 58
  6. ^ Flemming 1999 p 25
  7. ^ Lenburg 1982, p. 34
  8. ^ Howard 1977 p 64.
  9. ^ Howard 1977, p 65-67.
  10. ^ Triple Romance Points Plot of Howard Picture." Los Angeles Times 24 July 1934: 11. Print.
  11. ^ "Talented Girl Will Appear at Million Dollar." Los Angeles Times 28 July 1934, sec. A: 9. Print.
  12. ^ "Just Before the Three Stooges Became a Pair." Los Angeles Times 9 Dec. 1934: 29. Print.
  13. ^ Howard 1977 p. 71
  14. ^ "Columbia Pictures plans 52 Features." New York Times 2 July 1935: 24. Print.
  15. ^ "Three Stooges to Headline Orpheum Show." Los Angeles Times 26 Dec. 1936: 15. Print.
  16. ^ Howard 1977 p 145.
  17. ^ Howard 1977 p 149.
  18. ^ "Comic Shemp Howard of 3 Stooges Dies." Los Angeles Times 24 Nov. 1955. Print.
  19. ^ Page, Don. "Slapstick Stooge Trio Revived by TV." Los Angeles Times 10 May 1959: G3+. Print.
  20. ^ Howard 1977, p 188
  21. ^ Okuda 1986
  22. ^ Howard, 1977.
  23. ^ Page, Don. "Slapstick Stooge Trio Revived by TV." Los Angeles Times 10 May 1959: G3+. Print.
  24. ^ The Three Stooges (2000). Retrieved 10/25/2010
  25. ^ Script Review. Retrieved 10/25/2010.