The two-reel shorts and feature films of this raucous, knockabout--some might say violent--slapstick comedy trio have endured with a cult following despite the ongoing disdain of the critics and the horror of parents, educators and religious leaders who consider the Three Stooges the lowest of low-brow. Still, thanks to broadcasts on TV and cable, The Three Stooges play somewhere in America and the world everyday. In actuality, The Stooges in some form had a more than 60-year performance history with seven individuals who can lay some claim to having been a "Stooge." Moe Howard (born Moses Horwitz), who would later become the leader of the group, met vaudevillian Ted Healy in 1909 and the two formed an act. Howard worked with Healy on and off, but also concentrated on a song-and-dance act with his older brother Shemp (born Samuel Horwitz).
In 1922, the Howard brothers joined Healy in a slapstick act which centered around the latter with the former bearing the brunt of his barbs and physicality as his "stooges." The act, Ted Healy and His Stooges, was born. Shemp bowed out in 1925 and was replaced by Larry Fine (born Louis Feinberg), another vaudevillian. Shemp eventually returned and there were now three 'stooges', although Moe Howard also "retired" for a time in the late 1920s. By 1929, however, Ted Healy and His Three Stooges were performing on Broadway in "A Night in Venice" when they were signed to appear (billed as 'The Racketeers') in "Soup to Nuts," a 1930 feature that attempted to revive the slapstick comedy of the silent era. While the film was uneven, the high point was the vaudeville antics of 'The Racketeers'. Nevertheless, the group headed back to Broadway for "The Passing Show of 1932" but a contract dispute led to a rupture with Shemp Howard opting to remain on stage while Healy, Moe Howard and Fine left. Replacing Shemp with Howard's younger brother Jerome who shaved his head and created the persona of 'Curly', a somewhat child-like bumbler. Healy took the new trio west and in 1933 they were all in the MGM Joan Crawford vehicle "The Dancing Lady," billed as 'The Three Stooges'. When MGM decided to sign Healy to a solo contract, the other three were hired by Poverty Row studio Columbia Pictures to headline a series of two-reel shorts.
While the Three Stooges did few full-length features (until the 60s), and did not reach the pinnacles of The Marx Brothers and the Ritz Brothers, they did carve a niche for themselves in 190 two-reelers, commencing with "Men in Black" (1934). Their style was rambunctious and animated: Indeed, many of the stunts and "gags" (nose bonking, fingers-in-the-eye, ear-twisting) were not dissimilar to what eventually appeared in numerous American cartoons as well and few "real-life" performers have been able to duplicate the Stooges' roustabout style. Besides the shorts, The Three Stooges aided the war effort by making two anti-Nazi propaganda films, "You Nazty Spy" (1940) and "I'll Never Heil Again" (1942). When their Columbia contract ended in 1958 (after 24 years, a record for any comedy group), they made numerous feature films, including "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" (1962) and their last, "The Outlaws Is Coming!" (1965).
Over the course of their long run, there were changes in the composition of the group. Curly Howard suffered a stroke in 1946 while filming "Half-Wits' Holiday" and was forced to retire, replaced by brother Shemp. After Shemp's 1955 death, vaudevillian Joe Besser joined the Stooges and appeared in the final 16 featurettes. But Besser's whiny character didn't catch on with Stooges fans and he was succeeded by 'Curly' Joe DeRita when the trio began to work exclusively in full-length features in 1959. (Some see DeRita as a slightly more hollow-faced version of the original Curly) After they disbanded as an on-camera group, the remaining last Stooges provided the voices for the syndicated animated series "The New Three Stooges Series" (1966).
While the Stooges never established themselves on the small screen, they did perform on the variety shows of Ed Wynn and Eddie Cantor and played the Three Men in the Tub in "Off to See the Wizard" (ABC, 1967). Ironically though, The Three Stooges perhaps owe their longevity to the medium of television. Numerous local children's shows would buy their shorts in syndication and play them as an alternative to cartoons while some independent stations ran half-hour or hour-long blocks of The Three Stooges shorts and features on weekends. Like the Bowery Boys and The Little Rascals, The Three Stooges endured as a favorite of children and have become cult favorites among college students, baby-boomers, yuppies and even 'generation X-ers'. The Stooges were in the news in 1995 when a lawsuit among their various descendants was settled allowing for the dispersion of the millions (upwards of $30 million some say) in merchandising and likeness licensing dollars amongst the sometimes warring clans.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Moe Howard meets Ted Healy at Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn
Moe Howard and brother Shemp join Healy in act touring the vaudeville circuit
Shemp Howard goes solo; Larry Fine replaces him
Shemp returns; act evolves into Ted Healy and His Three Stooges
Appeared on Broadway in "A Night in Venice"
Featured in "Soup to Nuts", billed as Ted Healy and The Racketeers
Shemp and Healy both leave act again; Moe Howard's younger brother Jerome, nicknamed Curly, joins the act
Billed as 'The Three Stooges' for the first time in "The Dancing Lady" (MGM)
Put under contract by Poverty Row studio Columbia Pictures to star in two-reel comedies
Curly Howard suffered stroke and was forced to leave act
Shemp Howard replaces brother Curly as a Stooge; remained with act until his death in 1955
Joe Besser hired as third Stooge
After 24 years, The Three Stooges part with Columbia
Curly Joe DeRita replaces Besser as third Stooge
Release of final Stooge feature film, "The Outlaws Is Coming!"
Premiere of "The New Three Stooges" animated series