Moe Howard, his kid brother Curly, and Larry Fine, a popular vaudeville/movie comedy team, had recently split up with their former boss, a mediocre comedian named Ted Healy. "Ted Healey and his Stooges" had made a handful of very forgettable comedy shorts for MGM in 1933. The Stooges and Healy also made a few feature films during their brief stint at MGM, most notably a musical called Dancing Lady starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Dancing Lady was also the film debut of a young dancer named Fred Astaire.
After the split with Healy, Curly and Larry were both worried, but Moe, always the group's leader, reassured them. "Look," Moe told his partners, "Let's call ourselves the Three Stooges and go out on our own."
Moe managed to wrangle a contract with Columbia Studios in March of 1934. The first verifiable Three Stooges contract called for a $1,000 fee to be paid to the threesome for one short film, with the option for eight additional shorts at the same salary. Equal partners, the Stooges split their salary in equal portions.
On May 5, 1934, the first Three Stooges short was released. It was titled Woman Haters. This short did not have the legendary opening Three Stooges banner on it at the time. The next short, Punch Drunks, was actually their first "official" short, billing Moe, Larry, and Curly as "The Three Stooges" for the first time. Woman Haters, upon its release for television, would have the Three Stooges introduction banner added to it.
Billed as a "musical novelty," not a comedy, this strange short is unlike any other film the Stooges would ever appear in. The plot involves three best friends getting together and swearing off women for life. To insure they can do this, they join a club called The Woman Haters Club. Also unlike future Stooge shorts, the boys each assume a real name: Moe is "Tommy," Larry is "Jim," and Curly plays "Jackie." In almost every other Stooges short, they go by their own names: Moe, Larry, and Curly, and play essentially themselves, just three bumbling idiots.
Strangely, the film's dialogue is recited completely in rhyme! For example, at one point, Larry sings, "Either rain or shine, I'll meet youse on the train/ and now I'll tell the lady I'll never see her again.
For the first and only time in his movie career as a Stooge, Larry Fine, the middle Stooge, takes on the starring role, a romantic lead yet! Larry (Jim) falls for a very pretty, petite, platinum blonde and agrees to marry her (albeit under duress). The marriage upsets Jackie and Tom (Curly and Moe), and they go on a train, following the couple, and try to break the marriage off.
We see a young Moe, Larry, and Curly slapping each other around, poking eyes, and getting slapped and poked themselves -a sight which would become first familliar to and then expected by movie fans the world over. Moe is already assuming the role of the boss, filling in the shoes of the erstwhile Ted Healy, the role he would unequivocally hold for the remainder of the Stooges career.
There are 60 face slaps and 11 eye pokes in Woman Haters, and Moe gets in a majority of them. Moe is slapped by Larry (in retaliation) at one point, a scene that would never happen again in the future. Curly has not yet assumed his later role as the star and central comedic figure of the act. Also, we hear Curly speak in a normal New-Yorkish masculine voice. He had not yet assumed the high-pitched feminine voice that was to become his trademark.
An awkward, slightly dated film, Woman Haters nonetheless does contain some wonderful Three Stooges moments. In one scene, as Curly tries to climb down from his upper berth on the train, Moe bites his foot, causing Curly to scream his very first soon-to-be-famous "Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!" It comes quickly, but in another scene on the train, as Curly watches Moe hit Larry, he also elicits his first ever amused "Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk."
Larry's (Jim's) wife in the film, the Stooges first ever leading lady, was played perfectly by a 30-year-old actress named Marjorie White. White, a gifted comedienne, is both funny and likeable, especially in the scenes where she slaps her husband Larry and the other Stooges around herself.
White had a bright future in films, but sadly, she was killed in a car accident a little over a year after the release of Woman Haters.
On August 20, 1935, in Santa Monica, California, White was the passenger in a car driven by Marlow Lovell. Their car struck a couple who had been married less than an hour before, and overturned. Poor Marjorie was the only person seriously injured in the mishap and was rushed to the hospital. She died the next day of internal hemorrhage at a Hollywood hospital. Marjorie White was to be one of the first in a long line of Hollywood's "tragic blonde" actresses, who sadly met death much too early.
In Woman Haters, we also catch a quick glimpse of a very young Walter Brennan playing a train porter. Brennan, a wonderful character actor, was later to garner three Academy Awards and thus became the answer to a great bar bet: "What three-time Oscar winner did a movie with the Three Stooges?"
Look very carefully at Woman Haters, too, and you will notice the first of what would be many Three Stooges real-life injuries. In one early scene, Moe (Tom) breaks a pretzel on the nose of Larry (Jim). For the remainder of the film, we can see a small cut on the bridge of Larry's nose.
Fortunately for comedy lovers the world over, Woman Haters was a huge hit with moviegoers. It was only the first of a record 190 comedy shorts the boys would make from 1934 to 1958. The Stooges 24 years together as a movie comedy team is a record that will probably never be broken.
Although Curly would succumb to an early passing and be replaced by older brother Shemp, then Joe Besser, then Joe Derita, to all true Three Stooges fans the world over, The Three Stooges would always and forever be "Moe, Larry, and Curly." Their brilliant and hilarious antics were to set a high-water mark for all slapstick movie comedians forever after.