Sunday column: Genius of The Stooges

Stooges

When the time comes for me to have to renew my “man card,” I’m certain there’s one thing about me that will keep me eligible.
I’m a Three Stooges freak.
It’s a trait that has been passed down through generations of Liggett men (unfortunately, drop-dead good looks and wealth got lost along the way, but I won’t complain). My dad, my grandfather, and I’m pretty certain my grandfather’s father are and were big fans of Moe, Larry, Curly and even Shemp — we’re OK with Joe and Curly Joe, but only by association.
Eighty-seven years ago, Harry Moses Horwitz (Moe), Samuel Horwitz (Shemp) and Louis Feinberg (Larry) formed the original Stooges, which were actually a side act to straight man Ted Healy on Vaudeville stages. The Stooges’ act was ruining Healy’s stand-up routine, and The Stooges always stole the show. The off-stage relationship with a jealous Healy was so heated, that the Stooges broke away from the act, and just before that, Shemp quit altogether to appear in movies.
That’s when Moe and Shemp’s little brother, a curly long-haired kid named Jerome Horwitz, joined. Told that he didn’t look funny enough to join, legend has it Jerome shaved his head and looked in a mirror, saying “well, ain’t I curly?” Thus, Curly was born.
That’s the short history of how The Three Stooges came about. They’d go on to star in hundreds of short films from 1934 to 1957, making $600 a week at first and eventually, just $7,500 per film — rarely asking for a raise in fear of losing their jobs. Shemp rejoined in 1946 after Curly suffered a stroke that would eventually kill him. Shemp died six years later of a heart attack, and was replaced by the annoying Joe Besser, who was replaced by Curly Joe until the end.
Moe, Larry and Curly Joe would perform together on stage, television and in film for nearly 20 years, from 1958 to 1975. Larry and Moe died in 1975.
One year later, I was born.
My dad introduced me to The Stooges about the time I was able to say “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk.” My best friends in high school were Stooges fans, and instead of partying and getting in trouble, sometimes we’d invite each other over for Stooge marathons. Yes, we were kind of nerdy. I’ve always admitted to that.
There’s a misconception that only men love The Stooges, and while that’s not entirely true (my wife has been known to laugh with them), there is a special bond men have with The Stooges, even after all these years.
Women who don’t like The Stooges think men do simply because of the slapstick. While, yes, it’s hilarious to watch Moe get a 2-by-4 to the back of the head thanks to Curly not looking where he’s going, get mad, ask Curly to pick two fingers, then proceed to drive those two fingers into Curly’s eye sockets … it’s not all there is to these comedic geniuses.
The one-liners were great (Curly: “Shhh, I hear footprints), the plots were ridiculous (who’d hire these guys to do plumbing anyway?), and the social commentary was surprisingly biting and controversial for those days (in one short film, Moe, who was Jewish, plays an idiotic version of Hitler).
It’s not mindless humor, like some believe. It really was genius at times.
I own a few Stooge DVDs, as they’re not entirely easy to find unless you’re at a Best Buy or other store with a large movie selection. But I get my Stooge fill thanks to Spike TV, which often airs Stooge marathons and has the Stooge hour on Saturday mornings.
The Stooges are more popular today than they were back in their prime. The Stooge Web site, soitenlystooges.com, sells everything you could imagine and slaps Moe, Larry and Curly’s pictures on them. In high school, my mom bought me Franklin Mint plates with The Stooges on them … she knows me well, doesn’t she?
I figure they’ll be even more popular in a few years, as The Coen Brothers are currently under contract for a big-budget Stooges movie in 2009. If you can’t wait that long, check out Mel Gibson’s made-for-TV movie from 2000, it was done very well.
I look forward to the day when I can share them with my kids, though I know there’s a risk in showing a young boy or girl how to break a hammer over somebody’s head without killing them.
But we’ve gone 87 years without mass casualties. I’m sure we can go another 87.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

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