One of the most iconic and beloved comedy teams of all time, The Three Stooges changed comedy and the way violence in cinema was portrayed, and they are still as loved as they ever were. Fans of the Stooges are loyal to a fault, and still celebrate the iconic shorts that made the flawless transition from vaudeville to the silver screen.
While most comedy fans know about the antics of the three legends, there are some facts that took place behind the scenes that many may not know. In order to appreciate the men behind the Stooges, fans may be interested in these important facts that make the comedians even more legendary.
The Stooges Were A Vaudville Act
Most know the Stooges from the shorts made between 1934 and 1958. And while this era is what made them household names, they got their start on stage with a man named Ted Healy, according to Deseret News. They served as bumbling side characters to Healy’s straight man routine. The act was incredibly successful, with the Three Stooges obviously stealing each show.
The three made their silver screen debut in several films with Healy while he was contracted with MGM. Ted Healy was infamous for his alcoholism, which led Moe, Larry, and Curly to split from him in 1934 when their MGM contract expired. That same year, they signed a contract with Columbia Pictures, and history was made.
Shemp Was The Original Third Stooge
Most fans know that the eldest Horwitz sibling replaced his brother Curly when the latter grew too sick to perform. What isn’t as well known, reported in the Jewish Virtual Library, is that Curly was the original replacement. The original lineup while touring with Ted Healy was Moe, his brother Shemp, and Larry. With Healy’s increasing alcohol abuse and abrasive nature, Shemp left the act to pursue his own career, leaving the other stooges behind.
Needing a replacement, Moe recommended his younger brother Curly and he remained with the act until 1946 when Shemp once again returned. There were several replacements after Shemp, one appearing with the trio in a cameo in one of the longest comedy movies ever made, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but Shemp is the true original.
Stooges Vs. Hitler
Looking back at the media during World War II, there were plenty of instances of Hollywood poking fun at Hitler. The first instance, however, came from The Three Stooges. You Nazty Spy was released in 1940, shortly before another anti-Nazi film and one of Charlie Chaplin’s best movies, The Great Dictator.
Moe’s parody of the despicable dictator did not go unnoticed, even by Hitler himself, as reported by We Are The Mighty. Hitler had a list of names of people that he wished to wipe out, and the Stooges were near the top. The biggest insult was that all three Stooges were Jewish. Thankfully, Hitler’s list did no harm to the Stooges.
One Of Lucille Ball’s First Roles
Before legendary comedian Lucille Ball gave the world some of the best TV moments in history with I Love Lucy, she joined the Stooges in an early adventure. Three Little Pigskins was the fourth of the Stooges shorts and featured an early role for Ball. She played Daisy, one of the recruiters who convince the dimwitted trip to play football for their college.
Ball would go on to be known for her own physical comedy, and fans get a small taste of that in this short. Notably, she was blonde during the filming of this short, instead of sporting the red hair she would later be famous for. When asked about her early role years later, ThreeStooges.com reported that she claimed the only thing she learned from the Stooges “was how to duck.”
They Worked For Pennies
Before they really began taking off at Columbia, the trio was contracted $1,000 a week according to Obsev.com. What they discovered all too late, was that their pay was $1,000 a week for the trio, not individually. This meant they had to evenly split this between them, adding up to about $333 a week.
Given their success and talent, even in the ’30s, this was considered severely underpaid. After the huge success of their short Men In Black, their pay was increased to $7,500 a week, but that still had to be split evenly.
Ted Healy’s Mysterious Passing
After discovering his wife was pregnant, Ted Healy decided to celebrate the best way he knew how, by getting drunk. According to E.J. Flemming, as mentioned on PlaygroundtotheStars.com, while at a bar, Healy was involved in an altercation with three men. The men beat Healy and left him in the parking lot and he passed away later that day, with conflicting causes of death.
MGM released an official statement claiming that his death was the result of a heart attack. A coroner’s report stated his alcoholism was to blame, but unofficially, the wounds he sustained in the bar brawl seem to be the true cause. Regardless of the cause, his passing was a blow to the comedy world, and fans still remember him for his contributions to the art.
Many Stooge fans likely think of a violin when they think of crazy-haired Larry Fine. On more than one occasion, Larry played his violin in the Stooges shorts, most notably in Punch Drunks and Disorder in the Court. Larry also played the instrument during his vaudeville days and was incredibly skilled at it in real life. The story of how this skill came to be is tragic, yet interesting, according to the official Stooge site, ThreeStooges.com.
Growing up, Larry’s father was in the jewelry business and often had dangerous corrosive chemicals around the house. One day, the young Larry mistook one of these chemicals as a drink, but his father smacked the liquid out of his son’s hand before he ingested it. While saving his life, some of the chemicals ran down Fine’s arm, damaging his muscles. To help strengthen his weakened arm, he took up the violin, and the rest is comedy history.
Men In Black Was Their Only Oscar Nomination
“Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.” This phrase is one of the most iconic to ever come from The Three Stooges shorts. It is fitting then that Men In Black, the short where the quote originated, was the only one nominated for an Academy Award. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, shorts were much more popular than they are now. Television had yet to catch on, so going to the local theatre to watch a 10-minute short was the equivalent of tuning in to a favorite show now.
So popular were these shorts that there was once an Oscar category celebrating them. While it is strange to think The Stooges were nominated for the biggest award in Hollywood, stranger still is the fact they never won.
Curly Was An Avid Dog Lover
One of Curly Howard’s most famous traits off-screen, was his love for dogs. Curly would foster dogs he found while on his travels and give them a loving home until he found them a forever home. Curly was estimated to own close to 5,000 dogs in his life, typically owning up to seven at one time.
NationalPurebredDogDay.com reports that the youngest Howard sibling loved dogs so much that he had a clause in his Columbia contract stating he was allowed to have up to two of his canine friends join him during filming. So if there is a dog seen on screen during Curly’s run as a Stooge, odds are, they were his.
Curly Wasn’t Bald
One of Curly’s most famous characteristics was his bald head. But as famous as this look was, he was not naturally bald and the comic shaved his head. The story goes, according to Mental Floss, when Curly first met Ted Healy to replace brother Shemp, he was rejected due to his head full of auburn hair and large handlebar mustache. Healy rejected the youngest Howard, stating he just didn’t look funny.
Curly then shaved all but his mustache, which got him the part. Curly’s head of hair even made it on screen in a non-speaking cameo appearance in Hold That Lion after Shemp had taken over.