One of my favorite childhood memories involves hanging out with my Dad and watching The Three Stooges. I know. Most women detest these clown comics. My mother and my grandmother were among them.
Not me! This trio of guys could always make me laugh no matter what. Usually, Curly is cited as being the favorite Stooge. I guess I am a little strange because I always preferred Shemp. Oddly enough, no one is ambivalent about the Stooges either you like them or you don’t.
The comedy trio that became The Three Stooges that we know and love was born in 1928. They were originally part of a vaudeville act known as Ted Healy and His Stooges. Moe joined in 1921, followed by his brother, Shemp in 1923. Around 1928, Larry Fine came on board with another chap named Fred Sanborn.
Healy was the front man and he would tell jokes or sing which would prompt the Stooges to continuously interrupt him. Growing increasingly “angry” he would then resort to verbal and physical shtick as a form of retaliation.
Oddly enough, this beginning was fraught with drama. In 1930, they made their first feature, Soup to Nuts. This film also featured Ted Healy. While the movie didn’t do well, the Three Stooges were memorable and Fox Studios offered them a contract. Angry, Healy told the studio no dice because they were his employees.
As a result, the offer was withdrawn. Somehow, the trio found out what happened. They quit Healy’s show and started doing the theater circuit on their own. The act was quite successful. Healy became enraged and went legal on the group claiming copyright infringement.
Shemp was so upset by all this constant upheaval that he attempted to quit the group. They gave him a pay raise to keep him. The Stooges reunited with Healy after brokering a new agreement. However, Shemp soon became disenchanted with the way Healy treated him that he left and started performing on his own.
This is when Curly came into the picture. Moe contacted his younger brother and he was approved to join the group. Healy and the new Stooges were signed to a contract with MGM to do comedy shorts. In 1934 when their contract with MGM ended, they parted ways with Healy for the last time. They signed with Columbia Pictures.
From 1935-1941, the Stooges were carrying on making films at Columbia. During this time, Curly was having a slew of personal and health problems brought on by excessive drinking and eating. His behavior took a toll on him and in 1946 he suffered a career ending stroke. As a result, the Three Stooges disbanded.
Shemp rejoined the group in 1947 despite having success as a solo performer. During the late 40s, the Three Stooges began to become active in television appearing on such blockbuster shows as Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater.
In 1952, the group was dealt a low blow when Curly finally passed away. Unfortunately, three years later, Shemp succumbed to a heart attack. In a bind, from missing a member and having a studio contract to fulfill, the concept of the Fake Shemp was born!
Using recycled footage of Shemp and a contract actor named Joe Palma (who was filmed from behind) the trio were able to satisfy their obligation to the studio. From 1956-1958, Joe Besser came on board but due to poor reception, his comedic stint was short lived.
Joe DeRita was the next replacement and his tenure lasted until 1970. This decade was fraught with tragedy for the comedic trio. Moe and Larry died.
Fortunately, their legacy and legend lived on in part because of television. Now, with the rise of DVD’s, their entire film collection can be yours.