For nearly 50 years, The Three Stooges delighted audiences with their bumptious bonhomie. The trio of funnymen are an icon of American humor, with their much-loved brand of knockabout laughs. But how much do you know about the slapstick kings? Here are ten things about The Three Stooges that you might find surprising.
10. The famed Stooges eye-poke had a real-life origin
Of all the ways the rib-tickling three gained fame for abusing one another, perhaps the most famous is the eye-poke. To the twang of a violin string, two digits would end up jammed into a Stooge’s orbits. It was a staple used in all the films, but it had a curious beginning.
Stooge Moe Howard explained that the eye-poke had actually been born during a raucous game of cards. His brother Shemp had a notion that the third of the trio, Larry Fine, wasn’t playing fair and square. And his reaction to that was the classic two fingers in the peepers. Moe said, “Larry had tears coming from his eyes for a week. It struck me so funny I leaned backward in a chair and went right through a glass door.”
9. The boys sacrificed their hair for their art
Think Stooges and you think terrible haircuts – the funsters are as known for their bad ’dos as they are for their jokes. But it wasn’t always the case. For instance, Curly was renowned for his shaved head, but before he was ordered to apply the buzzcut, he had had a lovely set of locks and even a slick mustache.
And Curly wasn’t alone in giving up his mane for his art. Moe, who was known for hair that was surely cut with the pudding bowl, had once sported delightful, wavy tresses. They especially pleased his mom, who had always fancied raising a daughter. But Moe faced some serious ribbing over his curls, so much so that one day he hacked them off, leaving behind the style for which he would become renowned.
8. Adolf Hitler was not a fan
As Jewish comedians, The Three Stooges likely didn’t celebrate Hitler’s rise. In fact, they blazed a trail in openly mocking the Führer and the Nazis in film. What makes this somewhat surprising is that studio bosses at the time weren’t willing to be critical of Hitler’s rule, because they worked in a country that wanted to maintain a neutral stance.
However, the Stooges’ 1940 effort You Nazty Spy! sneaked through the censors because short films weren’t given the same attention as their longer siblings. Hitler was extremely unimpressed by the film, which shone a light on many of the evils of Nazi Germany. His reaction was to add the Stooges to his list of people he wanted dead.
7. There’s a museum dedicated to the gagsters
Deep in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a surprise lurks. In 2004 a fan of The Three Stooges, Gary Lassin, opened up a museum all about the comic legends. And his obsession with the gang doesn’t end at the thousands of items on show… he joined the family by marrying Larry’s great-niece.
Don’t just turn up at Lassin’s museum though; you have to give prior notice if you don’t go on a Thursday. But it won’t cost a cent to visit, and the architect-designed building is sure to impress. It’s a fitting home for memories of the slapstick entertainers, cherished by fans whose pictures Lassin shows in an exhibit called “Stooge-a-holics Unanimous.”
6. The Stooges were reborn in a 2012 film
An up-to-date movie of The Three Stooges had been mooted since the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2012 that it finally saw the light of day. Dumb and Dumber director Peter Farrelly teamed up with brother Bobby to make the film.
And indeed Dumb and Dumber’s lead Jim Carrey looked set to pile on the pounds so that he could take the part of Curly. However, fears for his health led him to stop his reverse diet and leave the project. Fellow star Sean Penn was also earmarked for the role of Larry, but his focus turned to Haiti instead. The eventual stars, Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso, did a great job, though, garnering plaudits for their work as the Stooges.
5. A replacement Stooge wasn’t keen on violence
Above all, The Three Stooges excelled in physical humor, all of which they orchestrated themselves. Despite their painstakingly choreographed routines, however, the work was still perilous. The lads usually did their own stunts, but on one occasion they insisted that doubles stand in for a skit in which professional footballers tackled them. Let’s hope the stunt pros got danger money, as they walked off with a bunch of broken bones!
With that in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that when Joe Besser came in as a replacement after Curly left and Shemp died, he insisted on some curious contract clauses. Apparently, Besser made sure his agreement contained the words, “I never was the type of comic to be hit by a pie.” And this was a prudent precaution, given that Moe often reused one of his pies after throwing it, and that meant it might include a special ingredient: a nail or hefty splinter of wood.
4. Their original lead met a mysterious end
Years before The Three Stooges ever featured in a film, they were sidekicks in a vaudeville act. They first appeared as the quite literal stooges of Ted Healy in 1922. A Fox Studios employee spotted them, and in 1930 they made their first movie, Soup to Nuts.
However, Healy’s drinking and bad behavior eventually proved too much for the Stooges, and they left him. He still had a strong career though, right up until his demise following a night’s barhopping to toast the arrival of his son. Healy had apparently got involved in multiple fights, taking a beating outside one of the bars. Ultimately, he died after first suffering a heart attack, but the coroner and his doctor could not agree on the cause of death. Whether it was alcoholism, the heart attack or something to do with his big night out, he left his newborn without a father.
3. The team never had a contract longer than a year
Columbia Pictures did well out of The Three Stooges, with the funnymen helping its short films division boom around the end of the 1930s and through the 1940s. But Columbia’s boss Harry Cohn was renowned as a tough businessman, and he certainly proved his nous with the Stooges. An expert in manipulation, he conned the boys into thinking that the shorts side of the business was strapped for cash.
Cohn achieved this in part by insisting that the Stooges signed a new contract every year. And each year, he bullied them into working for very little, so that it was said that they never got a raise. Indeed, after 23 years of working for Columbia, Moe was so short of bucks that he ended up running errands for his own agent.
2. Curly met a sad end
Larger than life, Curly was not only loved by fans, but he was also very popular with the ladies – having had a string of lovers. But in between, he drank heavily and indulged in feasting that took a toll on his body. Worse than that, years of literally being punched in the head had resulted in a series of minor strokes.
Despite medical advice stating that Curly should rest, studio boss Cohn would not let his charge take time off, and it was soon plain that Curly was not well. He started to fluff his lines, and the grace and power that marked his character slipped away. Eventually, a combination of working when sick and too much partying ended with him suffering a major brain hemorrhage in 1945. Although he staggered on, another huge stroke in 1946 brought down the curtain on Curly’s career. His health never recovered, and he passed in 1952.
1. There were more than three Stooges
Of course, when Curly left The Three Stooges, the team were short one Stooge. But this was not the first time a different lineup would represent the comedy trio. Indeed, the original Stooges did not feature Curly. His brothers Shemp and Moe had teamed up with Larry Fine in order to become the first incarnation.
And after the original Stooges had left Healy, their creator blew his top and formed a whole new group of sidekicks. In fact, he did so twice, and there were other groups of Stooges kicking around Hollywood from time to time. In the end, a total of 20 men were at one time or another a Stooge. The Stooges left an enormous legacy regardless. They made 190 short films that are just as funny today as they were when the boys were getting paid peanuts for making them.