Saturday, July 30, 2011

MOE HOWARD: KING OF THE STOOGES

Growing up watching reruns of The Three Stooges, Moe Howard actually used to scare me. I felt bad how he treated his counterparts Larry and Curly. As I have aged though, I can now appreciate Moe Howard more. He was by far the king of The Stooges. Other Stooges came and went, but it was Moe that held the classic comedy team together. For nearly 40 years he presided over those knuckleheads, and he helped to make the Stooges a household name.

Moses Horwitz (aka Moe Howard)was born in Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Bensonhurst, to Solomon Horwitz and Jennie Gorovitz on June 19, 1897. He was the fourth of the five Horwitz brothers of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. In his younger years, he got the nickname Moe and later adopted the name Harry. Although his parents were not involved in show business, Moe, his older brother Samuel and younger brother Jerome all eventually became world-famous as members of the Three Stooges.

Although his "bowl cut" hairstyle is now widely recognized, when he was a child his mother refused to cut his hair, letting it grow to shoulder length. One day, he could not take his classmates' years of teasing any longer, sneaked off to a shed in his parents' back yard, and with the help of a friend and a mixing bowl, cut his hair. Moe was so afraid his mother would be upset (she enjoyed curling his hair) that he hid under the house for several hours, causing a panic. He finally came out and his mother was so glad to see him that she did not even mention the hair.

Moe began to develop an interest in acting and, as a result, his schoolwork suffered. He began playing hooky from school in order to attend theater shows. Moe said, "I used to stand outside the theater knowing the truant officer was looking for me. I would stand there 'til someone came along and then ask them to buy my ticket. It was necessary for an adult to accompany a juvenile into the theater. When I succeeded I'd give him my ten cents — that's all it cost — and I'd go up to the top of the balcony where I'd put my chin on the rail and watch, spellbound, from the first act to the last. I would usually select the actor I liked the most and follow his performance throughout the play."

Despite his decreasing attendance, Moe graduated from P.S. 163 in Brooklyn, but he dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School after only two months. This was the end of his formal education. To mollify his parents he took a class in electric shop, but quit after a few months to pursue a career in show business.


Moe continued his attempts at gaining show business experience by singing in a bar with his older brother Shemp until their father put a stop to it, and in 1914 joining a performing troupe on a Mississippi River showboat for the next two summers. In 1921, he joined Lee Nash, who was now firmly established in show business as Ted Healy, in a vaudeville routine. In 1923, Moe spotted Shemp watching the show and yelled at him from the stage. Shemp and Moe heckled each other to a large positive response from the audience and Healy hired Shemp as a permanent part of the act. Next, Healy recruited a vaudeville violinist, Larry Fine, in 1925, to join the comedy troupe, which was billed as "Ted Healy and His Racketeers" (later changed to Ted Healy and His Stooges).

By 1930, Ted Healy and his Stooges were on the verge of "the big time," and made their first movie, Soup to Nuts — featuring Ted Healy, and his four Stooges (Moe (billed as "Harry Howard"), Shemp, Larry, and one-shot Stooge Fred Sanborn) — for Fox Films (later 20th Century Fox). Shemp had never seen eye-to-eye with the hard-drinking and sometimes belligerent Healy, and left the group shortly after filming in order to pursue a solo film career. After a short search for a replacement, Moe suggested his youngest brother, Jerome ("Jerry" to his friends, "Babe" to Moe and Shemp). Healy originally passed on Jerry (whom he disliked), but Jerry was so eager to join the act that he shaved off his luxuriant auburn mustache and hair and ran on stage during Healy's routine. Healy hired Jerry, who took the stage name of "Curly."


Healy and the Stooges were hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as "nut" comics, to liven up feature films and short subjects with their antics. After a number of appearances in MGM films, Healy was being groomed as a solo character comedian. With Healy pursuing his own career, his Stooges (now renamed The Three Stooges) signed with Columbia Pictures where they stayed until December 1959, making 190 short films.

With Healy's departure, Moe's character assumed Healy's previous role of the aggressive, take-charge leader of the Three Stooges: a short-tempered bully, prone to slapstick violence against the other two Stooges. However, despite his rather cruel demeanor towards his pals, Moe's character was also very loyal and protective of the other Stooges, keeping them from harm and, should it befall them, doing whatever it took to save them. In many ways, Moe's on-screen persona was the antithesis of his real personality; he was quiet, loving, and generous to his family. He was also a shrewd businessman, and invested the money made from his film career wisely. However, the Stooges got no subsequent royalties from any of their many shorts: they were paid a flat amount for each one and Columbia owned the rights (and profits) thereafter.


Moe sold real estate when his show-business life slowed down, although he still did minor roles and walk-on bits in movies (Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title, Dr. Death: Seeker of Souls) and television appearances (Here's Hollywood, Toast of the Town, Masquerade Party, Truth or Consequences and several appearances on The Mike Douglas Show). In one episode of The Mike Douglas Show, Howard, his hair in a style popular at the time, made a surprise appearance during an interview of the writer of a "where-are-they-now" book. When the audience was given the chance to ask the writer about famous people, Howard asked "What ever happened to the Three Stooges?" Finally recognized by Douglas, he then combed his hair into his trademark style. The Stooges also made several appearances on late night television, particularly The Tonight Show.

The Stooges attempted to make a final film in 1969, Kook's Tour, which was essentially an early "reality TV" show of Moe, Larry and Curly-Joe, out of character, touring the country and interacting with fans. But production abruptly halted when on January 8, 1970, Larry suffered a major stroke during filming, paralyzing the left side of his body; he died on January 24, 1975 at age 72. Moe asked long-time Three Stooges supporting actor Emil Sitka to replace Larry, but this final lineup never recorded any material.

Moe was working on his autobiography, tentatively titled I Stooged to Conquer when he died of lung cancer on May 4, 1975, a month and a half shy of his 78th birthday. He was entombed in Culver City's Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery. His wife died of a heart attack in October 1975 and was entombed next to him. Moe's autobiography was released in 1977 as Moe Howard and the Three Stooges.


Despite being constantly rereun on television now, The Three Stooges never got a dime from the syndication. While Moe was alive he was asked about this and he said "When we were making the films we never thought about television or syndication. We were making the movies for the audiences that loved us. That was our payment." Now some 80 years after the Three Stooges first took the stage, they are still remembered fondly, and even though their slapstick could be violent at times, it is timeless as well...

8 comments:

  1. They were the "THE Best of the Best comedians" & always will be, 40 years of laughs on fans faces, especially mine. I never knew how awesome they were til reading this, long live " The Three Stooges"

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  2. When people try to decide which stooge is their favorite, it is usually put, "Do you like Curly or Shemp the best?" Moe is sometimes overshadowed by his brothers, but I really think I like Moe better than all of them.

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  3. I love the Stooges been a die hard fan since I was 5! I remember watching with my dad and us laughing so hard that we would fall off the couch and stop breathing. Best of times. I still watch the reruns and have the dvd's.
    -Mariana in STL

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  4. Funniest guys on this planet anywhere anytime any planet. Equal opportunity offenders where everybody got slapped poked prodded whatever without reservation. Hillarious? Does nyuck nyuck nyuck do anything for you? Timeless and that's really something!

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  5. I just never "got" the Stooges. I could not understand the stupidity of 3 grown men and the non stop violence. I still don't understand the obsession that is ongoing.

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  6. To Diane Funk,
    I'd give you everything, babe... skunk, mink, porcupine! (Similar to a stooges quote)
    But seriously, Diane, if you are a really a lady and not married, I'd give you a big kiss and hug if you were in front of me right now! Your comment about the 3 funny boys isright on the money!

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  7. I once asked a group of sixth graders, "Who is your favorite of The Three Stooges?" (this was about 15 years ago when they were still on TV or their parents had 'em on video.) Of course, most chose Curly, and a few shrewd ones said Shemp. (Sadly, no Larry's.) One young feller said "Moe." Aghast, I asked why. "Simple," he said. "He's a natural leader!" Indeed, he was. Love Moe and Curly and Shemp and Larry, too. Each has his own excellence, like the Beatles. I'd say they're in the same category - which is saying a lot.

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  8. The sound effects were a huge part of their films.

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