The Three Stooges

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The Three Stooges were an American comedian troupe (trademark: body-hugging, often brutal slapstick ), which became famous in particular through their numerous short films. From 1925 the trio was active in alternating line-ups until 1970. The version from 1934 to 1946, consisting of the brothers Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine , remains the most popular. Another important stooge was Shemp Howard , predecessor and successor to his brother Curly. In the USA, the Three Stooges are still as well known and rated as Laurel and Hardy , but they have never been so well received by the critics. They are less known in German-speaking countries.


Background: Ted Healy and his Stooges (1921–1934)

The Three Stooges (stooge = stooge, stooge, whipping boy, victim, stupid ...) began as part of a vaudeville act called Ted Healy and his Stooges . Their act consisted of chief comedian Healy trying to sing or tell jokes while he was constantly interrupted by his noisy assistants, who were then verbally and physically punished by him. The Stooge brothers Moe and Shemp, who had joined Healy in 1921 and 1923 respectively, were joined by Larry Fine and Fred Sanborn in 1925.

In 1930 Ted Healy and his Stooges (still with Sanborn) made their film debut in Soup to Nuts by Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century Fox ). Overall, the film was not a critical success, only Moe, Shemp and Larry stood out so pleasantly that Fox offered them a contract as a trio. This enraged Healy, who successfully opposed it. The now also angry Stooges then started their own act before they got together again with Healy in 1932. Shemp, who could not cope with the rough manners of the alcoholic Healy, left the company in 1933 and was replaced by his younger brother Jerry. For reasons of comedy, Jerry had to sacrifice his head of red hair and his mustache and was henceforth called Curly (initially Curley).

In 1933 Healy and his Stooges signed a film deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer . In various combinations, but mostly in groups of four, they appeared in short films and appeared as comic relief in several MGM feature films, e.g. B. Next to Laurel and Hardy in Hollywood Party . In 1934 the joint contract expired and the Stooges finally parted ways with Healy.

Ted Healy died under mysterious circumstances in 1937 at the age of 41.

The Columbia Years: Moe, Larry and Curly (1934-1946)

In 1934, the trio - now officially called The Three Stooges - signed with Columbia Pictures for a two-act series. The first of these, Woman Haters , was still atypical with its text to the music and rhyming throughout, but with the two follow-up works, the self-written Punch Drunks and the Oscar- nominated Men in Black (both 1934), they were finally able to establish themselves as a fixture . Other highlights included Hoi Polloi (1935), Three Little Beers (1935), Disorder in the Court (1936), Violent Is the Word for Curly (1938), Three Sappy People (1939), the two- parter You Nazty Spy! (1940, Moe Howard's favorite) / I'll Never Heil Again (1941) with Moes Hitler parody, A Plumbing We Will Go (1940, Curly Howard's favorite), Dutiful But Dumb (1941), the very brutal They Stooge to Conga (1943) and Micro-Phonies (1945).

The leader of the Stooges in the films was Moe, who followed in Healy's footsteps and always made his two friends physically feel when something was wrong with him. This included pithy sayings like “I'll tear your tonsils out and tie it around your neck for a bowtie!” Or just “I'll moider ya!”. Larry, also called "Porcupine" (porcupine) by Moe, was characterized by restraint, was often the key word and when it came to musical interludes, the only Stooge who actually played himself (violin and piano). Outwardly, the two looked funny, not least because of their ridiculous hairstyles. The undisputed audience favorite of the trio was the completely hairless Curly, a child man with spontaneous, improvisational comedy and a comprehensive arsenal of sounds ("Woob, woob, woob!", "N'yuk, n'yuk, n'yuk!", "N 'gyahh-ahhh-ahhh! "," Shout, shout! "," Ah-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba! "etc.). Other distinguishing features were his strange gait, with which he played over a limp, which he had suffered from an accidental shot in the ankle at a young age, and a far-reaching waving of his arm.

The main directors of the Three Stooges during this period were Jules White , head of the Columbia short film department, and the former Keystone cop Del Lord, who was apprenticed to Mack Sennett . Comedian Charley Chase also directed some early works . The most important authors included Felix Adler, who previously worked for Sennett and the sound films Harold Lloyds , Elwood Ullman and Clyde Bruckman, who is known from Buster Keaton's films . The main supporting actors in the films were Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison , who have already proven themselves through countless comedy appearances . Former comedian stars such as Snub Pollard , Chester Conklin and once Max Davidson also played in smaller roles . A comical version of Listen to the Mockingbird (from 1935) and, above all, various recordings of Three Blind Mice (from 1939) were used as the theme music for the short films .

Curly was a paradoxical personality in his private life: on the one hand, he was seen as a not very sociable loner, on the other hand, he maintained a dissolute lifestyle including wet and happy nights. From 1945 he had to pay the receipt for it and his performance dropped sharply. In his last short films (from about Idiots Deluxe ) he was seriously ill and often had problems coping with even the simplest scenes. On May 6, 1946, the last day of Half-Wits Holiday shooting , he suffered a severe stroke on the set. This ended his 14-year career after 97 Columbia short films, the feature- length film Rockin 'in the Rockies and various guest appearances. He had a cameo in Hold That Lion! (1947), the only film in which all three Howard brothers (Moe, Curly and Shemp) appeared.

The Return of Shemp (1947-1956)

Although Shemp Howard had now made it to a successful solo career, he was persuaded by Moe to replace Curly with the Stooges. However, he originally only wanted to participate until Curly was over the mountain. However, his condition continued to deteriorate. From 1947 Shemp appeared with the Stooges in 77 short films for Columbia and the full-length western comedy Gold Raiders for United Artists . Although he never reached the popularity of his younger brother, but still knew how to convince as an independent Stooge with his wrinkled face. Other trademarks were his crazy prizefighter dance, which was usually ended by a hook from the respective opponent, his hearty, rustic laugh and a nervous "Eeb-eeb-eeb-eeb-eeb-eeb!".

After Curly's last appearances, sometimes more oppressive than comical, the quality of the short films has now increased again. Larry, who had occasionally gone under in Curly's time, now came more to the fore. The able director and author Edward Bernds as well as Emil Sitka and Christine McIntyre , the most striking newcomers to the supporting cast ensemble (the latter had already appeared in half a dozen Curly films) , also contributed to the successful transition . The outstanding films of this phase included Fright Night (1947, Shemp Howard's favorite), Brideless Groom (1947), Squareheads of the Round Table (1948), Who Done It? (1949), Punchy Cowpunchers (1950), Three Dark Horses (1952) and Blunder Boys (1955, a spoof of the television series Police Report ). In 1949, Moe, Larry, and Shemp made a pilot for an unrealized Three Stooges television series called Jerks of All Trades .

The quality of the short films could be kept at a fairly constant level until 1951, after which it declined noticeably due to austerity measures. Too many remakes and warmed-up gags, the use of material unsuitable for the Stooges and a more modest, sometimes television-like setting for the films were bad developments, plus the loss of some capable employees. It got grotesque from 1953, when most of the films were incorporated into large parts of old material in order to save costs: of the 31 short films from 1953 to 1956, only eight had a more or less original plot, all the others consisted of around 50 to 75 percent reused scenes from older films.

After several strokes, Curly Howard died at the age of 48 on January 18, 1952.

On November 22, 1955, Shemp Howard died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 60. He had nothing more to do with “his” last four films: To fulfill the contract, old Shemp material was simply combined with shots of stuntman Joe Palma, who could be seen from behind or with his face covered.

The last short films with Joe Besser (1957-1959)

In 1956 Shemp was replaced by Joe Besser , who had known the Stooges since the Ted Healy days. Like Shemp, at whose side he appeared in the Abbott and Costello film Crazy Africa in 1949 , Besser brought along some mannerisms that had previously been tried and tested in solo appearances. The bald headed comedian specialized in the portrayal of whimpering and somewhat humorous -looking mothers' boys , which ultimately was rather detrimental to the trio's typical comedy. With his excited chatter, his constant grin and his wide-open eyes, he was characterized in the Stooges films on the one hand more childishly than Curly, but on the other hand he was far less liked by Moe ("Not so hard / loud!"). In fact, Besser's contract contained a clause that forbade Moe from harming him physically while filming.

In total, he appeared in 16 short films, nine of which have an original plot. Highly controversial among fans, it is tellingly that the less typical works of this phase are among the more entertaining: Hoofs and Goofs (1957), which became a sequel , Space Ship Sappy (1957), the trio's first foray into space, and Flying Saucer Daffy (1958, Joe Besser's favorite), the last Stooges short film to be made. The musical Sweet And Hot (1958), in which the talented vocalist Muriel Landers played the actual leading role and Moe offered a very comical portrayal of a psychiatrist with German-Austrian roots, was the most out of the ordinary.

During their many years at Columbia, the Three Stooges had always been paid far below their value by studio president Harry Cohn : He left the comedians in the dark about their huge success and every year under the pretext that the market for short films was actually at an end A new contract was drawn up “at the last minute”. When the market was ready, the trio was fired at the end of 1957. Since Columbia still had a few short films in reserve, the 190th and last ( Sappy Bull Fighters ) was not released until mid-1959.

Comeback: Larry, Moe and Curly Joe (1959–1970)

Plans by the unemployed Three Stooges to go back to their roots and touring the country initially came to nothing, as Joe Besser refused to travel due to his wife's health. He said goodbye, whereupon Moe Howard and Larry Fine seriously considered retiring. The remaining Stooges were ultimately helped out of their crisis by television, which now broadcast their old short films with great success. There was a demand for new material, so that in 1958 the comedian Joe DeRita was hired as the new third Stooge. It had been the first choice two years earlier, but had other responsibilities at the time. Together they founded the company Comedy III Productions, Inc., which still manages the trademark rights of the Three Stooges to this day.

After the two earlier full-length Three Stooges vehicles Rockin 'in the Rockies (1945, with Curly) and Gold Raiders (1951, with Shemp), Joe DeRita made a total of six further feature -length films between 1959 and 1965. The target group were now mainly children, which resulted in a lessening of the violent slapstick, also due to the advanced age of the actors. Due to his physical resemblance to Curly and to differentiate him from his predecessor Joe (Besser), DeRita heard the first name Curly Joe in the films. Actually, he offered a child-friendly, less crazy and far less dynamic copy of Curly.

Again, the films were produced by Columbia, only Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961) was commissioned by 20th Century Fox . This most elaborate, only color film of the trio was also the least successful and was later referred to by Moe Howard as "our Technicolor fault". In stark contrast to this, the successor The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962), directed by Stooges veteran Edward Bernds, became the trio's most successful feature-length film, according to the opening credits “in glorious black and white” . The Stooges cameo as firefighters in A Totally, Totally Crazy World (an allusion to her very first film appearance in Soup to Nuts ) also falls into this phase .

The last Stooges feature-length film was followed by the animated series The New Three Stooges on television in 1965/66 with 156 episodes of five minutes each, in which the originals also appeared in real scenes. In the 1960s, the Three Stooges were also one of the most popular and highest-paid live acts in America. In 1969 they made a pilot for a new TV series called Kook's Tour , in which the "pensioners" -Stooges should go on a world tour in a combination of travel documentary and comedy. However, on January 9, 1970, Larry suffered a debilitating stroke that ended his comedian career and the plans for the TV series. That was the end of the Three Stooges.

Larry Fine died of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 24, 1975. Moe Howard died of lung cancer on May 4, 1975. Joe Besser died of heart failure in 1988, Curly Joe DeRita of pneumonia in 1993.


Most, more precisely 78 of 97 short films from the Curly era, were dubbed into German on behalf of ARD . Moe was voiced by Wolfgang Hess , Larry by Peter Thom and Curly by Joachim Kemmer . The episodes ran around 1984 in the children's program in the series Fun on Tuesday , where the trio infernale was alternately announced as The Three Crazy or The Three Stooges . The following 100 or so short films without Curly were not shown in Germany.

In the spring of 2000, long-time Stooge fan Mel Gibson produced the TV film The Three Stooges as executive producer about the life and career of the comedian troupe. Paul Ben-Victor played Moe, Evan Handler played Larry, John Kassir played Shemp, and Michael Chiklis played Curly. The film was made for the ABC and was based on Michael Fleming's authorized biography of the Stooges, The Three Stooges: From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons .

2012 movie was released in theaters The Three Stooges ( The Stooges - Three Vollpfosten turn off ) the brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly . It wasn't a film biography, but a pure fantasy project: in three loosely connected sequences, the well-known Stooge characters experience new adventures in the present. Will Sasso can be seen as Curly, Sean Hayes as Larry and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. When selecting the voice actors for the German-language version, no value was placed on finding voices similar to those of the original Stooges.


Ted Healy
Real Name: Clarence Ernst Lee Nash
Born: October 1, 1896
Died: December 21, 1937 (age 41)
Stooge Phases: 1921–1931, 1932–1934

Moe Howard
Real name: Moses Harry Horwitz
Born: June 19, 1897
Died: May 4, 1975 (age 77)
Stooge phases: 1921–1970

Larry Fine
Real name: Louis Feinberg
Born: October 5, 1902
Died: January 24, 1975 (age 72)
Stooge Phases: 1925–1970

Curly Howard
Real name: Jerome Lester Horwitz
Born: October 22, 1903
Died: January 18, 1952 (age 48)
Stooge phase: 1932–1946

Shemp Howard
Real name: Samuel Horwitz
Born: March 4, 1895
Died: November 22, 1955 (age 60)
Stooge phases: 1923–1932, 1946–1955

Joe Besser
Real Name: Joseph Besser
Born: August 12, 1907
Died: March 1, 1988 (age 80)
Stooge Phase: 1956–1958

Curly Joe DeRita Real
Name: Joseph Wardell
Born: July 12, 1909
Died: July 3, 1993 (age 83)
Stooge Phase: 1958–1970

Individual evidence

  1. Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward: The Columbia Comedy Shorts, McFarland & Company, Inc. 1986.
  2. ^ Forrester, Jeff: The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time, Donaldson Books 2004, p. 135.

Web links

Commons : Three Stooges  - collection of images, videos and audio files