Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to advise that, no, we haven’t taken leave of what remains of our senses. We pose this query about Larry, Curly and Moe in all earnestness, and with full respect to their seemingly unending slapstick appeal.
What set us thinking was the current Fox theatrical release of The Three Stooges, directed by that raunchy, politically incorrect fraternal duo, Bobby and Peter Farrelly (the creators of the hilarious 1998 comedy hit, There’s Something About Mary). Although the Stooges picture is not burning up the box office (grossing about $42 million in the U.S, and Canada with a foreign run just beginning), its title speaks volumes about what we’re talking about.
The fact that present-day Hollywood, obsessed as it is with hugely-budgeted fantasy and special effects extravaganzas, would back a theatrical feature about the Stooges is telling. Sure, it took the Farrellys at least four years to get their movie in front of the cameras, but the fact is — it got made.
As did that 2000 TV movie adaptation of author-trade journalist Michael Fleming’s book, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons: The Three Stooges. Fleming’s book is one of at least seven volumes in print covering the Stooges. There’s an “official encyclopedia,” a scrapbook as well as multiple biographies of individual members of the trio.
Larry Fine, Moe Howard and his brother Curly Howard, three ragtag Jewish comics from Brooklyn and Philadelphia, began their careers in vaudeville, graduated to the stage, arrived at Columbia Pictures making shorts in 1935, which then began airing on that fresh new medium called television in 1949.
The Stooges continued to perform even after the 1952 death of Curly (he’s the chubby one who goes, “woo woo woo, woo woo” after getting slapped by Moe). Vacancies from death or other reasons were filled over the years by Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Curly Joe de Rita. Moe and Larry Fine, the guy with the frizzy, unkempt hair, both expired in 1975.
Although Columbia Pictures made considerable money from the nearly 200 shorts the Stooges made at the studio, they were largely taken for granted by mogul Harry Cohn, who had other things to think about including Columbia’s troublesome home-grown star, Rita Hayworth. Columbia showed the Stooges the door in the mid Fifties, a move that ironically sent their careers skyrocketing.
It was television airings of the Stooges material that ensured its astonishing durability. Those filmed shorts were shown in syndication over decades, providing the Stooges an immense audience cutting across several generations.
It was (and is) not uncommon for fathers and sons to equally enjoy simultaneous viewings of Stooges shorts. For some reason women generally don’t warm to the Stooges brand of slapstick silliness. (If their are female Stooges fans out there, let’s hear a comment or two from you.)
Perhaps in an implicit nod to the Stooges’ enormous television popularity, the Farrellys in The Three Stooges feature cast a number of contemporary TV personalities including Jane Lynch, Larry David and Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi of the Jersey Shore reality show. (The movie’s principals pictured above are from left Will Sasso as Curly, Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe and Sean Hayes as Larry).
From vaudeville to smartphones, the Stooges live on. Can we say the same about even such revered Hollywood stars as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, John Wayne or even Bogie himself?