Their films never pretended to be Shakespeare, and for millions of fans the Three Stooges didn’t need to aim high with their low form of comedy. Beginning in the 1930s, Larry Fine, Curly Howard and Moe Howard were the main players of the knockabout trio which starred in about 200 comedy shorts as well as in features and cameo appearances on TV, and their films have enjoyed an extended life in television reruns.
Now the Three Stooges are being reborn in a new feature film to introduce their particular brand of slapstick humor to new audiences.
By CBSNews.com senior editor David Morgan
The Three Stooges started out as comic foils in a vaudeville act headlined by straight man Ted Healy. Moe Howard and Shemp Howard, joined by Larry Fine, would engage in knockabout comedy at the behest of Healy. But the relationship and contract terms were contentious, and Shemp Howard departed the group as they began making film appearances.
Left: Ted Healy and his “Stooges” – Curly Howard (who replaced Shemp), Moe Howard and Larry Fine – in the Clark Gable-Joan Crawford musical “Dancing Lady” (1933).
Poster for “Hello Pop,” an early feature starring Ted Healy and His Stooges – Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard.
“Ted Healy and His Stooges” appeared in several MGM features and Technicolor shorts.
This undated publicity photo shows an unusually well-groomed Three Stooges team – Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Curly Howard.
After splitting from Healy, the Three Stooges signed on to Columbia Pictures where they appeared in nearly 200 shorts between 1933 and 1959. Their only short to be nominated for an Academy Award was “Men in Black” (1934) – a parody of the Clark Gable-Myrna Loy “Men in White” – which finds the Three Stooges as medical students (and not very good ones at that).
The comedy team proved to be extremely popular, but the Stooges never got rich. They made about 8 films a year, but were paid a flat fee (no royalties) of $60,000 – to be divided by the three. The studio head managed to renew the terms of their contract for 23 years, in which time the Stooges never got a raise. Meanwhile, their shorts – the most popular of the studio’s output – made Columbia millions.
The Three Stooges take to the links, as brewery employees who enter a golf tournament, in “Three Little Beers” (1935).
What would a Three Stooges short be without a spittoon? The three engage in some refined merriment in “Hoi Polloi” (1935).
In “Movie Maniacs” (1936), the Three Stooges are mistaken for movie studio executives and promptly turn a movie set upside-down. Here they serenade Mildred Harris.
The Three Stooges in “The Sitter Downers” (1937).
The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard) run a dog grooming business in “Mutts to You” (1938).
The Three Stooges in “Violent Is the Word for Curly” (1938).
In “Saved By the Belle” (1939), the Three Stooges get mixed up with revolutionaries in a South American country.
Curly faces some work-related hazards in “A-Plumbing We Will Go” (1940).
The Three Stooges in one of their World War II-era shorts, this one involving the fascist dictator of Moronica, in “I’ll Never Heil Again” (1941).
The Three Stooges in “Gents Without Cents” (1944).
When Curly suffered a stroke, Shemp Howard (right), who had helped launch the group in vaudeville, returned to fill Curly’s shoes.
Shemp Howard had gone on to a solo acting career, seen at left in the Charlie Chan mystery “Murder Over New York” (1940).
This rare photo of FOUR Stooges was taken when Curly – who had left the team after suffering a stroke, replaced by Shemp – made a cameo appearance in “Hold That Lion” (1947). It was the only short with all three Howard Brothers.
The Stooge behind the pie is Shemp, in “Heavenly Daze” (1948).
The Three Stooges in “Self-Made Maids” (1950).
The Three Stooges – Moe, Shemp and Larry – in “Booty and the Beast” (1953).
The Three Stooges made two 3-D shorts in 1953, including “Spooks!” And yes, no viewer was spared the old poke-in-the-eye gag.
After Shemp Howard died, Joe Besser (left) filled the team’s third slot, appearing in 16 Three Stooges shorts between 1957-1959.
The Three Stooges’ Joe Besser takes an interest in photography in “Flying Saucer Daffy” (1958).
Once Three Stooges shorts began running on TV in the 1950s, the teams’ popularity soared. While Columbia disbanded their shorts production unit in the late ’50s, the Three Stooges were upgraded to features, with “Have Rocket, Will Travel” (1959).
Joe DeRita was asked by Moe and Larry to be their third wheel, and he adopted the moniker “Curly Joe.”
Olympic figure skater Carol Heiss starred in “Snow White and the Three Stooges” (1961), with Moe Howard, Larry Fine and “Curly Joe” DeRita housesitting for the seven dwarfs. This was the only film appearance for Heiss (who’d won a gold medal at the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley). And yes, Snow White skates!
What do sword-and-sandal epics from the 1950s and ’60s lack? Slapstick comedy! “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules” (1962) filled that unfortunate gap in the cinema canon.
Joe DeRita (a.k.a. Curly Joe), Larry Fine and Moe Howard come face-to-face with Martians in the feature-length “The Three Stooges in Orbit” (1962).
“Around the World in 80 Days” gets a ribbing from the team in “The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze” (1963).
A couple of original Three Stooges TV pilots failed to sell, but two animated versions of the bumbling team’s exploits were broadcast. “The New Three Stooges” (1965-66) was a syndicated cartoon series which also featured live-action bits featuring Moe, Larry and Curly Joe.
Following the success of “Star Wars,” when robots were all the rage, Hanna-Barbera’s “The Robotic Three Stooges” debuted on CBS – first in 1977 as a segment on the Saturday morning show “The Skatebirds” and then as their own half-hour. Paul Winchell, Joe Baker and Frank Welker provided the voices for the bionic secret agents.
Curly Joe DeRita, Larry Fine and Moe Howard in the Three Stooges’ last feature, “The Outlaws Is Coming” (1965).
In an interview excerpted in “The Three Stooges Scrapbook,” DeRita said he enjoyed working with the team but added, “I don’t think the Stooges were funny. I’m not putting you on, I’m telling the truth – they were physical, but they just didn’t have any humor about them. Take, for instance, Laurel and Hardy. I can watch their films and I still laugh at them and maybe I’ve seen them four or five times before. . . . I was with the Stooges for 12 years and it was a very pleasant association but I just don’t think they were funny.”
In 2012 the Three Stooges made a return to the big screen, in the guises of Sean Hayes (Larry), Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), and Will Sasso (Curly).