10 Slap-Happy Facts About The Three Stooges

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Few artists have suffered more for their art than Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine, the most recognizable members of the revolving comedy troupe billed as The Three Stooges. For decades, the former vaudeville performers filmed a series of shorts that used pain, pies, and misunderstandings as the basis for their unique style of physical comedy. Check out some facts about their early days, their surprisingly economical salaries, and why Adolf Hitler wanted them dead.

1. THEIR ORIGINAL RINGLEADER DIED OF UNNATURAL CAUSES.

Having an eye for stage work since their childhood days in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, brothers Moses “Moe” Horwitz, Jerome “Curly” Horwitz, and Samuel “Shemp” Horwitz—who were all billed under the last name “Howard”—got their big break when childhood friend and vaudeville performer Ted Healy enlisted them to be slapstick-heavy “stooges” for his comedy act in 1922. (Another performer, Bozo-haired Larry Fine, would join them; Curly was added to the show following Shemp’s departure.) Though they toured with Healy for years, the men grew tired of his abrasive attitude and excessive drinking and eventually parted ways in 1934 to pursue film stardom independent of his influence.

In 1937, Healy’s volatility caught up to him: Following an argument with an associate of mobster Lucky Luciano named Pasquale DiCicco, Healy was beaten to death outside of a bar on the Sunset Strip. Actor Wallace Beery was also believed to be part of the melee, and future James Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was an eyewitness. No one was ever charged with the crime, though, and allegations that Shemp may have had information about the violent encounter were never confirmed, possibly out of fear of reprisal from criminal figurehead Luciano.

2. THEY CO-STARRED WITH LUCILLE BALL.

For a 1934 short titled Three Little Pigskins, the Stooges found themselves starring alongside a new Columbia contract player named Lucille Ball. Ball, who would later become a comedy legend in her own right, was once asked what she learned from working with the formidable comedy team. “How to duck,” she replied.

3. HITLER WANTED THEM DEAD.

Having established their comic personas on film, the Stooges proceeded to make some accidental history. Their 1940 short, You Nazty Spy!, was the first American production to openly make a mockery of Adolf Hitler’s regime. (Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator opened nine months later.) The short was perceived as a great insult by the Führer, who listed the Stooges as favored casualties on his own personal death list. (It’s not known whether he named each one individually.)

4. THEIR SIGNATURE EYE POKE WAS CULLED FROM A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT.

In Stooge body language, nothing says “I despise you” more efficiently than jutting out the ring and index fingers in a “V” formation and jabbing them into someone’s eyes. This trademark maneuver was apparently based on a real incident. Once, when the gang was playing cards, Shemp became enraged when he believed Larry Fine was cheating. Shemp stood up and poked Larry in both eyes. An observant Moe filed it away for future use onscreen.

5. THEY WORKED CHEAP.

Despite their incredible popularity starring in a series of shorts for Columbia Pictures—they worked a total of 23 years for the studio—Columbia boss Harry Cohn was notoriously stingy. Every year, the Stooges would be forced to renegotiate their one-year contract, with Cohn asserting that the shorts division of the company was not profitable. Believing the spin and fearing Cohn’s alleged criminal connections could be problematic if they made waves, the Stooges worked for a relative pittance most of their careers. When Columbia shut down their shorts department in 1957, the men were fired.

6. THEY MADE LIVE APPEARANCES.

Today’s Stooge fan has to be content with the over 200 shorts circulating on television, but there was once a time the group could be seen live and in all their nose-tweaking glory. During and following their stint at Columbia, the gang had time to tour, taking their live act on the road to different cities throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Following the passing of Curly Howard in 1952, the trio’s live show made use of replacement Stooge Joe DeRita. This sometimes confused kids who came out for the shows, and Larry Fine was apparently a little curt in explaining it. One young guest recalled that he had been puzzled by Curly’s absence and asked Fine about it while the performer was shaking hands. “Where’s Curly?” the seven-year-old asked. “Curly’s dead,” Fine replied.

7. A REPLACEMENT STOOGE HAD A NO-VIOLENCE CONTRACT CLAUSE.

Sorting out the musical chairs of Stooges enrollment can be difficult: While Moe and Larry were largely engrained, the trio was originally rounded out with Shemp before he departed for a solo career: Curly was his replacement. Following Curly’s departure due to illness, Shemp stepped back in, but he died in 1955. After briefly considering a run as the Two Stooges, Moe and Larry recruited Joe Besser, a comic actor who already had a deal with Columbia, in 1956. But Besser wasn’t quite as game for the physical comedy as his predecessors. He insisted his contract contain language prohibiting him from being abused to excess, including anything pastry-related. “I never was the type of comic to be hit by a pie,” he said, a mentality that calls into question the decision to become part of The Three Stooges. Following Besser’s departure in 1959, the group roped in Joe DeRita for live shows and several feature films, including 1961's Snow White and the Three Stooges.

8. THERE WAS A LOST STOOGE.

A familiar face in 35 of the Columbia shorts, Emil Sitka played a perennial foil for the Stooges, standing aghast at their manic behavior and uncouth manners. When Larry Fine died in 1974, the remaining original Stooge, Moe Howard, decided to mount a new feature film production and asked Sitka to fill Fine’s shoes. Sitka signed a contract, but Moe died in 1975 before filming could commence.

9. SEAN PENN ALMOST PLAYED LARRY.

For years, filmmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) attempted to mount a big-budget continuation of the Stooges that would replicate their comedy rather than attempt a behind-the-scenes chronicle of their careers. The two came close in 2009, when Sean Penn agreed to play Larry, Benicio del Toro was cast as Moe, and Jim Carrey agreed to play Curly. Carrey even began putting on 40 pounds of extra weight before the project fell apart. The Farrellys eventually made the movie in 2012, with Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly, and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe.

10. THERE’S A STOOGES MUSEUM IN PENNSYLVANIA.

The Stooges’ vital contributions to pop culture have always deserved some archival recognition. They got it in 2004, when The Stoogeum opened its doors in Ambler, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia. The museum’s founder is Gary Lassin, who married Larry Fine’s great niece in 1981. A Stooges fan, Lassin acquired over 100,000 items related to their careers and displays roughly 3500 pieces at a time. There’s a Hall of Shemp, a game area (with Whack-a-Moe), as well as countless artifacts.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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