Whether or not you’re excited for it, you’re almost certainly aware that there’s a new Three Stooges movie coming out today thanks to the non-stop ads for the new Farrelly brothers film. For those of you too young to remember the original Three Stooges or for those who want nothing to do with the new version, here’s some history on the men that made stooging legendary.
From Stage to Screen to Drama
In 1925, The Stooges started as a vaudeville act with comedian Ted Healy (that's him to the left). During this period, they were never actually called “Three Stooges,” instead they were known as “Ted Healy and His Stooges, “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen,” “Ted Healy and His Three Lost Souls” and “Ted Healy and His Racketeers.” On stage, Healy would perform jokes and songs, but the Stooges would constantly find new ways to interrupt him. In response, Healy would insult them and beat them. The original Stooges during this period were Moe and Shemp Howard, but they were later joined by Larry Fine and actor Fred Sanborn.
Five years after their formation, Ted Healy and His Stooges appeared in their first feature film, Soup to Nuts. The film wasn’t a big hit, but The Stooges were popular with those who saw the movie, so Fox offered them a contract to perform without Healy. Unsurprisingly, Healy wasn’t too happy about this, so he threatened Fox with legal action, claiming the Stooges were his employees. Fox backed down and cancelled their offer, so Moe, Shemp, and Larry all went on tour on their own. Healy claimed they used his copyrighted material and not only threatened legal action, but also called theaters claiming that he would bomb them if they let the three actors perform there! His actions intimidated Shemp enough that he almost left the act, but he stayed on after receiving a bump in pay.
Healy tried to restart his Stooges act by hiring new actors, but they didn’t do as well as the original lineup. In 1932, Moe and Healy finally reached an agreement and the group got back together to work on a new production, but Healy received a better offer for another project and found a loophole to get him out of his new contract. By this point, Shemp was so sick of Healy that he left the group and found work Vitagraph Movie Studios in New York.
Moe suggested they replace his older brother with his younger brother, Jerry, but when Jerry auditioned, Healy complained that he just didn’t look funny with his long red hair and handlebar mustache. So, Jerry left the room, shaved his head and then returned saying, “Boy, do I look girly.” Healy thought he said “Curly” and Jerry immediately had a new name to go with his new look.
(Secret) Success At Last
After breaking from Healy, the gang was officially named their now-famous moniker, “The Three Stooges.” They signed on to appear in short films with Columbia Pictures, receiving $600 per week on a one-year contract. With their new-found freedom from Healy, the group quickly became immensely popular, so popular that Columbia soon started negotiating with theaters, refusing to send over shorts of The Three Stooges unless the theaters also agreed to show some of the company’s mediocre B movies as well.
The contract was rough too, requiring the team to turn out eight short films per year and allowing them only three months off, which the group would usually spend with their families or on the road performing their live act. In the end, The Stooges made 190 shorts and five feature films while at Columbia. After leaving the studio, Moe, the group’s manager, finally learned the truth and realized that their act could have earned millions more than they received.
Curly or Shemp?
While Shemp was actually one of the original Stooges, Curly is generally regarded as the most popular of the group. Funny enough, the same thing that allowed him to enter the comedy team was also the thing that made him feel most insecure –his shaved head. He soon took to excessive eating and drinking to soothe his insecurities and his weight and blood pressure both skyrocketed. By 1945, his bad lifestyle caught up with him and he became seriously ill, struggling to get through every scene. On May 6, 1946, Curly suffered a debilitating stroke that ended his career.
Moe immediately asked Shemp to rejoin the group, but he was hesitant since he already had a rather successful solo career going on. After realizing that Moe's and Larry’s careers would probably be over without The Stooges, he stepped up to help his brother and friend until Curly was able to return. Unfortunately, Curly’s health was far too fragile and he never returned, save for a short cameo in Hold That Lion!, which ended up being the only film where all four of the original Stooges, and all three Howard brothers, appeared on screen together. Eventually, Curly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1952.*
Shemp went on to appear in 76 more shorts and one feature film with The Stooges. While he was a funny guy and the films all did well, it was impossible for him to match the popularity of his younger brother.
Everything Must Come to an End
In 1956, Shemp was officially replaced by comedian Joe Besser, who starred in 16 shorts with the group. Unlike Curly and Shemp, Besser was known as the only “third” stooge who hit Moe back and even though Larry occasionally fought back, it was always with serious repercussions.
Rising From the Ashes Only to Fall Again
This new lineup went on to make a number of full-length films from 1959 to 1965, all aimed at the youth market. The group also continued to tour and throughout the sixties, they were one of the highest-paid live acts in America.
There were plans to replace Larry, but they never went forward and later that year, Moe died due to lung cancer. The Stooges, amazingly, continued, despite lacking any original members, as DeRita continued to perform live shows as The New 3 Stooges with Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell filling in for the other Stooges. Eventually, even this group stopped performing when DeRita retired in 1979.
In the end, the group ended up appearing in 220 films. In 2004, Larry’s grandson-in-law opened a three-story museum dedicated to the group called the Stoogeum.
Bringing It To A New Generation
A lot of fans are pretty disgusted by the idea of the new movie, but what you might not know is that the film has actually been in the works for over 15 years. In fact, when the Farrelly brothers first started working on it, the Stooges were going to be played by Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Jim Carrey. Instead, the actors selected were Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso –relative no-names compared to the stars originally slated to star in the film.
So, how about you guys, do you like the original Three Stooges? If so, what’s your favorite Three Stooges film? Also, are you going to see the new movie? And, would you be more excited about it if it starred Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Jim Carrey (I certainly would be)?
Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, Mental Floss
*Previously at Neatorama: Whatever Happened to Curly?
Age 6, the laughter died.