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.

The 21 Best Movies of the 1970s

Robert De Niro stars in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).
Robert De Niro stars in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

By the end of the 1960s, the battle between "Old Hollywood" (Technicolor musicals, historical epics, and old-fashioned acting) and "New Hollywood" (youth-oriented stories full of sex and violence, political volatility, and realistic performances) was over, and New Hollywood had won. Game-changing films like Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, and Easy Rider—all released between 1967 and 1969—had shifted the Hollywood tide while the French New Wave had inspired the kids in film school (itself a new concept in the '60s), and the 1970s proved a remarkably fertile time for the new batch of filmmakers that followed. Miraculously, studios gave these young directors a lot of creative freedom. The result? One of the best decades in all of movie history.

1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A scene from 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)
Warner Home Video

Stanley Kubrick was technically part of the older generation of moviemakers, but his groundbreaking films in the '60s (including Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey) had established him as part of the avant-garde. And yet A Clockwork Orange, his adaptation of Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel, still surprised and shocked people with its violence, sex, and social commentary. The image of a juvenile delinquent having his eyes propped open to force him to watch films meant to recondition him remains indelible.

2. The Last Picture Show (1971)

A still from 'The Last Picture Show' (1971)
The Criterion Collection

It was fitting that as Old Hollywood faded away, an up-and-coming filmmaker like Peter Bogdanovich would make something set in the past, shot in nostalgic black-and-white, that depicted a town where the old ways were dying. Roger Ebert observed that The Last Picture Show "is above all an evocation of mood," full of lovely melancholy as its young, restless characters in a moribund Texas town struggle with where to go and what to do next.

3. The French Connection (1971)

Gene Hackman, Eddie Egan, Sonny Grosso, and Bill Hickman in The French Connection (1971)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Gene Hackman, one of the most admired actors in Hollywood, was at the peak of his career in the 1970s: In addition to this cop thriller (for which he won an Oscar) and its sequel, he had I Never Sang for My Father, The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation (which could also be on this list), Night Moves, Superman (he remains the quintessential Lex Luthor), and a hilarious turn as a blind man in Young Frankenstein. The French Connection cast him as a New York police detective chasing down drug smugglers, and director William Friedkin guided the film to a win for Best Picture of 1971.

4. and 5. The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Marlon Brando and Salvatore Corsitto in 'The Godfather' (1972)
Paramount Pictures

You knew these would be on the list. It has become cliché to cite Francis Ford Coppola's monumentally popular and lavishly praised mafia epics as the best the '70s had to offer, but only the most stubborn of contrarians would deny the truth of it. With blockbuster performances by an impressive array of stars present and future—including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and James Caan—and an epic story spanning several decades, Coppola created a saga that has inspired countless filmmakers (and gangsters).

6. Serpico (1973)

Al Pacino in Serpico (1973)
Warner Home Video

Al Pacino is another actor whose heyday was the '70s; besides the Godfathers, we could mention The Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow, and Dog Day Afternoon. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Frank Serpico, a real-life New York cop who exposed corruption within the police force, while director Sidney Lumet—who was always interested in social issues, as seen in movies like 12 Angry Men, Network, and The Verdict—brought the full force of his righteous indignation to the edge-of-your-seat story.

7. The Exorcist (1973)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

After he scored with The French Connection, William Friedkin cemented his place in movie history with this colossally popular and monumentally frightening horror film about a girl with a demon inside her. It inspired fainting and vomiting; it made people think they were possessed; it became the first horror film nominated for Best Picture; it made Ellen Burstyn a star. And it's still one of the most terrifying possession stories ever told.

8. Chinatown (1974)

Jack Nicholson stars in 'Chinatown' (1974)
Paramount Home Entertainment

If you can separate the art from the artist (in this case, director Roman Polanski), Chinatown is just about the closest thing we have to a flawless movie, with a screenplay by Robert Towne that's taught in screenwriting classes. Reviving the dormant detective noir genre, Polanski gave Jack Nicholson a chance to shine as a nosy Los Angeles P.I. snooping around a land deal with sinister implications. Faye Dunaway is unforgettable in her shocking role, and the last line—"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown"—is an all-time classic.

9. Blazing Saddles (1974)

Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles (1974)
Warner Home Video

Mel Brooks released two classic comedies in 1974, but this writer's subjective opinion is that Blazing Saddles is funnier than Young Frankenstein. Co-written with Richard Pryor (who would have starred in it, too, except that Warner Bros. found him too unreliable), this Western spoof is often like a Looney Tunes short come to life—with the added bonus of mocking racists with gleeful abandon. Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn give hilarious performances.

10. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

A still from 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' (1974).
New Line Cinema

This low-budget horror flick, basically the godfather of the "teens go somewhere remote and get murdered" genre, isn't nearly as bloody as its reputation suggests. That's partly a testament to director Tobe Hooper's ability to suggest ghastliness without actually showing it, and partly due to the fact that most of the film's many imitators are drenched in gore. More than 45 years later, the film's raw, nightmarish final 30 minutes are still horrifically effective.

11. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
© 1975. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Like Mel Brooks, the Monty Python gang employed many types of comedy in telling their medieval story: slapstick, wordplay, satire, meta-references, and a killer rabbit. Perfectly capturing the anarchic, freewheeling, peripatetic spirit of the group's sketch comedy TV series, Monty Python and the Holy Grail often feels like a series of skits—but who cares when the skits are all so brilliant?

12. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

A still from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (1975)
Warner Bros.

The 1970s were a fantastic decade for Jack Nicholson, who appeared in 15 movies including Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, the aforementioned Chinatown, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—and those are just the ones that earned him Oscar nominations. He won for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which he plays a non-insane man in an insane asylum who questions authority and tries to break people out of complacency, themes that still resonate today.

13. Jaws (1975)

Susan Backlinie in 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Jaws invented the "summer blockbuster" as we know it (that season was previously considered a dead zone), rocketed Steven Spielberg to the A-list of young directors, and made millions of ordinary people sharkphobic. Jaws also happens to be an expertly made dramatic thriller, with superb editing by Verna Fields (whom Spielberg credited with saving the picture) and an instantly iconic musical score by John Williams.

14. Taxi Driver (1976)

Robert De Niro in 'Taxi Driver' (1976)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

New York City was a violent cesspool in the '70s, and nobody captured it better than Martin Scorsese did in this jarring drama—it's almost a horror film—about an unstable cabbie (Robert De Niro) who longs to clean up the sleazy streets. Long before "toxic masculinity" was a common phrase, Travis Bickle was taking women to porno movies on first dates and personifying the violent ends to which some men will go to get what they want.

15. Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Watching the many, many sequels, it's easy to forget that the original Rocky was more character drama than boxing movie, focused on a working-class schlub who just wants to go the distance, win or lose. Sylvester Stallone's down-to-earth screenplay and natural performance were enhanced by the journeyman sensibilities of director John G. Avildsen, who later brought the same rousing spirit to The Karate Kid.

16. All the President's Men (1976)

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in 'All the President's Men' (1976)
Warner Home Video

After the national trauma of Watergate and the disgrace of Richard Nixon's resignation, Americans needed a film to sort it all out for them. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, both already big stars, played household-name Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in a steady, methodical film directed by To Kill a Mockingbird producer Alan J. Pakula. With moral clarity and a thrilling story, All the President's Men stands as the best and most important political film of the decade.

17. Network (1976)

Peter Finch stars in 'Network' (1976)
Warner Home Video

Just as trenchant in this bicentennial year as All the President's Men, Network (directed by Serpico's Sidney Lumet) satirized that most American of inventions: the television industry. Nearly every outrageous thing that happens in this depiction of a fictional broadcast network run by ruthless executives has since happened in real life, making the film even more potent now than it was then. And the performances by Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Peter Finch are terrific fun.

18. Star Wars (1977)

Mark Hamill stars in 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope' (1977)
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

George Lucas's space fantasy, a sort of interstellar Western, elevated old good guys vs. bad guys tropes to the level of high (and highly successful) art. The effects of the Star Wars franchise on Hollywood and the world need not be recited here. What's notable is that even if there had never been a sequel, spinoff, or toy tie-in, the original Star Wars would still stand as, well, an original.

19. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now (1979)
Paramount Home Entertainment

In the annals of movies whose behind-the-scenes stories were as troubled and disastrous as the stories they depicted, few rank higher than Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. But the result of a year of filming plagued by weather, sickness, and Marlon Brando's unpreparedness was a movie that has only risen in people's estimation since then, vividly depicting the insanity of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a rattled Martin Sheen as he searches for a rogue Army Special Forces officer.

20. Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, and Yaphet Kotto in Alien (1979)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Alien could be on any list of important movies for its famous advertising tagline alone: "In space no one can hear you scream." Directed by Ridley Scott from a long-in-development screenplay by Dan O'Bannon, this sci-fi thriller about a killer E.T. in a spaceship is a masterpiece of tension and horror and chest-bursting. Look how many other films on this list influenced it: O'Bannon pitched it as "Jaws in space"; Scott called it "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre of science fiction"; and 20th Century Fox only gave it a greenlight because Star Wars had suddenly made outer space cool again. Whatever it took to get it going, the result was worth it.

21. Being There (1979)

Shirley MacLaine and Peter Sellers in Being There (1979)
Warner Home Video

A TV-obsessed simpleton stumbling his way into the higher echelons of political power sounds totally implausible ... but that's the premise of this genteel but sharp comedy directed by Hal Ashby, whose other films from this decade—Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, and Coming Home—could all be on this list. Peter Sellers's lead performance, just like the movie, perfectly walks the line between the absurd and the sublime.

Disney+ Users Are Already Facing Technical Problems

Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian (2019).
Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian (2019).
© 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved

It seems that the highly anticipated Disney+ release did not go as smoothly as the company had hoped. Variety reports that the streaming service launched this morning, only to find its IT department being flooded with phone calls, tweets, and emails from angry users complaining of malfunctions.

Many customers took to social media to vent their frustration that they either couldn’t login into their account or couldn’t watch certain content.

The service did offer an explanation for all the technical issues via Twitter, posting, “The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations. We are working to quickly resolve the current user issue. We appreciate your patience.”

Too bad a little Disney magic couldn’t help them with these tech glitches.

[h/t Variety]

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