The Origin of The Three Stooges

The following is reprinted from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.


There are so many different stories about the Stooges' origin that it's hard to know which is correct. Probably none of them. Anyway, here's one that sounds good:

There was a vaudevillian named Ted Healy, a boyhood friend of Moe and Shemp Horwitz. One night in 1922, some acrobats working for him walked out just before a show. Desperate, he asked Moe to fill in temporarily, as a favor. Moe, in turn, got his brother Shemp out of the audience, and the three of them did an impromptu routine that had the audience in stitches.

Moe and Shemp loved the stage, so they changed their name from Horwitz to Howard and hit the road with their friend as "Ted Healy and the Gang" (or "Ted Healy and His Stooges," depending on who tells the story.) In 1925, the trio was on the lookout for another member and spotted Larry Fine (real name: Louis Feinberg) playing violin with an act called the "Haney Sisters and Fine." Why they thought he'd be a good Stooge isn't clear, since he's never done comedy before. But he joined as the third Stooge, anyway.

They traveled the vaudeville circuit for years under a variety of names, including Ted Healy and His Racketeers ... His Southern Gentlemen ... His Stooges, etc. Then they wound up in a Broadway revue in 1929, which led to a movie contract.

In 1931, Shemp quit and was replaced by his younger brother, Jerry. Jerry had a full head of hair and a handsome mustache - but Healy insisted he shave them both off ... hence the name "Curly." Three years later, after a bitter dispute, the boys broke up with Healy. They quickly got a Columbia film contract on their own, and the Three Stooges were born.

Here's the very first Three Stooges short film, "Woman Haters" (1934) [YouTube Link Part I | Part II], about 10 min. each. Over the next 23 years, they made 190 short films - but no features. For some reason, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, wouldn't allow it (despite the Stooges' popularity and the fact that they were once nominated for an Oscar.)

From the '30s to the '50s, the Stooges had four personnel changes: In 1946, Curly suffered a stroke and retired; Shemp then returned to the Stooges until his death in 1955; he, in turn, was replaced by Joe Besser (Joe) and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe).


Two-Fingered Poker One day backstage in the '30s, Larry, Shemp, and Moe were playing cards. Shemp accused Larry of cheating. After a heated argument, Shemp reached over and stuck his fingers in Larry's eyes. Moe, watching, thought it was hilarious ... and that's how the famous poke-in-the-eyes routine was born.

Profitable Experience By the mid-'50s, the average budget for a Three Stooges' episode - including the stars' salaries - was about $16,000. Depending on the time slot, Columbia Pictures can now earn more than that with one showing of the same film ... in one city.

So What If He's Dead? By the mid-'50s the demand for short films had petered out. So, in 1957, Columbia unceremoniously announced they weren't renewing the Stooges' contracts. Moe and Larry were devastated. After 23 years, what else would they do? Moe was rich from real estate investments, but Larry was broke - which made it even harder. They decided to get a third Stooge (Curly and Shemp were dead) and go back on tour. Joe DeRita, "Curly Joe," was selected.

They started making appearances in third-rate clubs, just to have work. Meanwhile, Columbia, hoping to get a few bucks out of its old Stooge films, released them to TV at bargain prices. They had no expectations, so everyone (particularly Moe and Larry) was shocked when, in 1959, the Stooges emerged as the hottest kids' program in America. Suddenly the Stooges had offers to make big-time personal appearances and new films. And they've been American cult heroes ever since.

The article above is reprinted with permission from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Its not just a guy thing, I'm a girl and I loved to watch the very early Three Stooges, The Knutzy Knights, The Woman Haters Club, They were so funny I could'nt stop laughing. I think there early stuff like Dr Howard Dr Find Dr Howard was another great one, I know that was'nt the name but its a great one.There is no other like Curly & Larry. The people that were so lucky to act with them were quite funny themselfs huh huh huh.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I always loved the Stooges (except Joe and Curly Joe) like most folks. Those were like watching Andy Griffith in color. :o)

Anyway an interesting fact I saw in a TV biography, was that the old man, who they used in many of the shorts, was once asked to be a stooge too.

In the biograhpy, the actor said that after everyone else had died, Moe wanted to keep it going and asked him to be a Stooge. He was delighted, but Moe unfortunately died soon after, so he never got the chance.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I have always thought the Stooges were way ahead of thier time. There was a made for TV movie about them a while back and it portrayed Moe in the later years as being a gopher for Harry Cohn (who was portrayed as a genuine A$$hole). Moe was actually bringing Cohn's lunch to him on a daily basis. I don't really remember too much about the movie as I was arguing with my ex at the time. Does anyone remember this movie?
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Nope, it's not a guy thing! I have always loved the Stooges (except Joe and Curly Joe) and continue to watch them. A local station runs 2 hours of them on Saturday nights here in Chicago and I never miss it. Have seen all the shorts and my best friend (also female) and I are always quoting from them and doing the routines.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
There is another UJBR piece about the stooges which I recommend everyone read. It compares different peoples personality types to the three stooges, the Moe, the Larry and the Curly. Friggen Hillarious.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The Origin of The Three Stooges"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More