A Sincere Homage to Larry Fine

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

Louis Fineberg was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 5, 1902. Louis grew up as a normal boy with an easygoing personality and a devil-may-care attitude (traits he would keep for his entire life).

One day, young Louis (or Larry) picked up a cup of the acid that his father used to etch the jewelry in his jewelry shop and tried to drink it, thinking it was a beverage. (If the incident hadn't been so frightening, one might easily imagine it being in a Three Stooges short.) His father, seeing his son bring the acid to his lips, instantly smacked it out of his hand. This may have saved his life, but the acid spilled on and deformed young Larry's arm.  

As therapy for his now-withered arm, Larry took up the violin. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this article that Louis Fineberg was later to grow up, begin a career in show business, join the great comedy team the Three Stooges, and become one of the most famous movie actors of all time.

All of the above is true, but it doesn't quite fit, doesn't sound quite right, does it? "One of the most famous movie actors of all time"?

Well, who doesn't know the Three Stooges? Who hasn't laughed, even if while protesting how stupid and silly they were? Larry Fine was "that middle guy" in the Three Stooges. The one everyone was sort of aware of, but no one really cared about. I've even had people ask me if he was Curly. Of course, they had seen his trademark curly, frizzy hair and assumed he was the one they called Curly.

Larry's world-famous frizzy-haired, bald-in-the-middle hairstyle came about when he was performing in vaudeville in 1925 and a comic named Ted Healy, along with fellow comics Moe Howard and his brother Shemp, came into his dressing room and tried to recruit Larry to become a member of their comedy team. They weren't yet called "The Three Stooges," but they would be in a few short years.

In his dressing room, Larry had been washing his hair in a sink and it was dripping wet. Like a fast-growing chia pet, Larry's hair started to blossom out into an Afro-like monstrosity. Moe, Shemp, and Ted all immediately knew Larry had to be a part of their act and Larry, in turn, agreed to sign on. At that time, Larry had a violin-playing act with his wife, Mabel. Ted Healy offered him $90 a week, and even $100 -if he'd drop the fiddle.

The Three Stooges, as we all know, went on to the greatest heights of show business success, with Ted and Shemp eventually leaving and Moe's kid brother Curly joining their ranks. And thus, as Moe, Larry, and Curly, these three kings of slapstick comedy were to bring their timeless humor to countless millions  all over the globe.

Larry's role as Stooge "middleman" in rather unique in film comedy history, in that it was pretty much his entire identity. Moe and Curly, his two comedic partners, each had very strong individual personalities and identities. Moe, the brutal, unsympathetic leader was a domineering bully, spending the greater part of his waking hours slapping, poking, and gouging his two "less intelligent" (a disputable point) subordinates. Curly, the eternal man-child, was a free spirit, the team's comedic powerhouse, an unquenchable well of hilarious, capricious comedic creativity.

But Larry had no real identity of his own. He was sort of an empty suit with a frizzy haircut filling it out. He was two clear things: 1) the middle Stooge and 2) the one with the frizzy hair. We never really knew who Larry Fine was, he was just sort of agreeably "there," cooperative, always going along with Moe's bullying and Curly's craziness. Oh, every once in a while he'd try to stand up to Moe's bossiness, only to be quickly smacked back into submission by Moe the leader. Maybe he'd try to boss Curly sometimes, a much easier target, but even then he'd usually be foiled, either by Moe, Curly, or fate.

At Stooges story conferences, witnesses say Larry would give forth very stupid and mostly useless suggestions. Moe would put him down and tell him to shut up (life mirroring movie comedy). One occasionally wonders if Moe and Curly could have even formed a good, solid two-man team sans Larry. But however Larry appears the "least of the three," Larry does have his moments onscreen.

In the Stooges' 1934 screen debut Woman Haters, Larry takes on the lead role, and does a convincing and admirable job, falling in love and marrying the coquettish Marjorie White.

In 1934's Punch Drunks, we watch as Larry fiddles "Pop Goes the Weasel" and the song transforms Curly into a Muhammad Ali of the boxing ring. But Larry's violin gets smashed, and Larry had to run around town trying to find anything that plays "Pop Goes the Weasel," frantically trying to save his pal Curly from taking a beating from his boxing opponent. These scenes of Larry running around the streets helter-skelter are unforgettably "film noir-ish" shots, as incredible as any Hitchcock scene.

In 1936's False Alarms, Larry the fireman tries to slide down the pop;e, only to have Mow grab him by his trademark frizzle top and pull him back up.

In 1946's Half Wit's Holiday, we watch Larry at the dinner party, stacking slides of meat and slabs of turkey in to a massive pile on his smorgasbord plate. "Are you going to eat all that alone?" Moe asks.

"No," answers Larry, "With potatoes." (SLAP!)

Poor Larry. He was an "alright" comedian, places by caprice or talent or whatever force, stuck in between a comedic powerhouse and a very domineering leader. In his way, he was George Harrison the composer, politely asking the other Beatles if there might be time to record one of his songs instead of  the next dozen being all Lennon-McCartney tunes. Curly, Moe, …..and Larry.

The Curlys are rare, like diamonds or rubies, precious gems, something wonderful to behold.

The Moes are rare, but in a different way. Moe is the politician, your boss at work, "the man," to one we have to listen to, the one we have to obey -or else. And like Larry, we all know what will happen if we dare try to strike out at Moe …(SMACK!)

Curly and Moe -these two are both rare, one we enjoy, the other we know as an inevitability.

But Larry? Heck, 99% of the world IS Larry.

Larry Fine, a loyal Stooge for over 40 years, probably took more slaps, punches, eye-pokes, and stomach jabs than any comedian in history. According to Larry's brother, he developed a callous on the side of his face from Moe swatting him. But he stuck in there, he did his job, he watched as Moe hogged the leadership and Curly got the majority of the laughs. No one, in movies or in the real world, ever went with the flow like Larry Fine.

In real life, Larry Fine and his beloved wife Mabel had a happy marriage of over 40 years. Mabel passed on in 1967. The couple had two children, a daughter, Phyllis, and a son, John. Sadly, John was to die in a car accident at the age of 24 in 1961.

Larry Fine loved music, especially jazz. He loved to gamble on the horses and high-stakes gin rummy. His favorite baseball team was the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Larry spent the last years of his life in a show business retirement home, surviving several strokes before finally succumbing on January 24, 1975, at the age of 72.

In real life, Larry's friends all attested to his easygoing nature. He was described as a "yes man" by many of them. In the movies, like in real life.

(YouTube link)

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