Happy birthday to Moe Howard! This incredibe Stooge remains forever a legend of the big screen and of the vaudeville scene. The extraordinary professionalism of the Three Stooges came from the boys’ long experience as song pluggers, backstage helpers, and comic performers in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in early sound cinema. The following excerpt from Three Stooges FAQ delves into the grinding nature of showbiz during the era of the Three Stooges, and the business mentalities the performers had to adapt in order to achieve their timeless successes.
Vaudeville theaters (many of which doubled as movie theaters) ran live acts much of the day and into the night. Top acts would headline, with lesser acts filling out the bill. Because of the theater’s long hours of operation, the venues were hungry for talent. Opportunity existed for the able, but most vaudevillians remained relatively obscure. Some topped the bills of came near to the top. A few made the transition to Broadway and to radio. And a very few stepped up to movies, gaining vast audiences. But even for featured acts, fame was relatively brief: who today recalls “International Juggling Humorist” Billy Rayes or the “Cantonese Capers” of Larry and Trudy Leung? Vaudeville performers who remain popular and fondly recalled today – such giants as Milton Berle, Abbott and Costello, Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Buster Keaton, and the Three Stooges – are special and rare.
Doggedness was vital to survival and success on the vaudeville circuit. Depending on one’s budget, train travel could be pleasant, or cramped and uncomfortable. Just to get from here to there ate up a lot of time. Backstage, many theaters were dumps with dirty, primitive dressing rooms and awful accommodations. (A notable exception recalled by Moe in the still-gorgeous Palace Theater in Cleveland, which was a grand backstage as it was out front.)
While on the road, stars lived in hotels. Lesser lights made do with lesser hotels, or boardinghouses. It was showbiz, but it wasn’t glamorous. For all, it was a job, and for some, it was a grind.
Most vaudevillians gulped greasy, inexpensive food, and had to contend with demanding theater managers, horny showgirls, abusive patrons, and acts that waited for moments to upstage rivals. The performers who prospered were the ones who loved their art. They didn’t love many aspects of “the life,” but they loved what they did on stage.
Moe, Larry, Shemp, Curly, and Joe loved it, and developed district personas that jibed in intriguing ways with their real selves.
Moe: an inherently serious performer with a sharp interest in the numbers side of the business, the group’s de facto leader, and the one who was prudent enough to end up with a gorgeous estate above Sunset Boulevard. On stage, he seemed comically boyish with his sugar-bowl haircut, yet he was startlingly pugnacious and impatient, quick to poke and slap those he considered rivals or inferiors.
Larry: a habitué of racetracks who loved fine clothes as much as he loved the ponies. He and his wife were for many years residents of Hollywood’s highly regarded Hotel Knickerbocker. In performance, Larry was faintly absurd with his frizzed-out curls and blandly smiling face, but he was one of the most brilliantly “reactive” comics of the 20th century. He never purposely stole a scene, but he was always up to something amusing, even when physically situated in the background.
Shemp: a famously funny Hollywood raconteur. Mickey Rooney told the fine historian Ted Okuda that whenever he spotted Shemp holding court in a restaurant, Rooney and his group invariably requested a table nearby, so they could listen in, and laugh. Although Shemp dealt professionally in a fast-talking worldliness, his real-life persona was kind and approachable. He was probably the most purely brilliant of all the Stooges, with a remarkable facility to think on his feet and ad-lib.
Curly: the “baby” of the Howard brothers, an antic lover of life often described (rather too glibly) as a “man-child.” He was connected to family, and found his greatest pleasures in women, dogs, and automobiles. A fine dancer and a comic with astoundingly inventive physical skills, he influenced generations of comics that came later, from the great Lou Costello to Jim Carrey. Curly’s stage persona was apparently a reflection of his true personality, with hyper energy, boundless enthusiasm, and a lovable quality that friends, family, and his public found hugely endearing.
Joe: like Shemp, he was impressively successful for years as a solo before he became a Stooge, working as a headliner in vaudeville and on Broadway. Stout and balding, he exploited his cherub’s face and body with cheerful cleverness. His carefully developed “sissy kid” persona slayed live audiences, and made him a refreshing addition to a latter-day incarnation of the Stooges.
Today is Moe Howard’s birthday!
Guest Blogger: David J. Hogan, author of Three Stooges FAQ , writes a little something in honor of the ornery Stooge with the bowl haircut. Enjoy!
Study the swirls and eddies of history long enough, and you’ll uncover intriguing, often unexpected links between scientists, scientific discovery, and science’s practical applications. The history of science is very plastic, existing in a state of continual evolution, building upon its past to enliven the present and presage the future.
Across the many centuries, obvious giants stand out: Archimedes and Copernicus. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Thomas Edison and Stephen Hawking.
Oh, I can hear the snorts of disbelief. Well, that’s fine, that’s good. Scientific minds should be skeptical. But disputes can be resolved via solid scientific inquiry, so open your scientific journals to page 1 and follow along:
- In 240 BCE, the Greek astronomer and mathematician Eratosthenes utilized measurement and geometry to show that the Earth is curved. In 1957, Moe pilots the spaceship built by dotty Prof. Rimple, blasting into space (“We’re above the world!” Larry cries) to reveal that Earth is indeed round. (Space Ship Sappy)
- As part of a modernization project in 1816, Baltimore’s city council granted permission for the Gas Light Company to lay miles of gas pipe. When Moe and the boys impersonate cooks in 1941, and try to come up with dinner for a houseful of swells, Larry collapses a birthday cake after puncturing it with a fork. Thinking quickly, Moe hooks the cake to a kitchen gas line and orders Larry to “Pump in four more slices!” The cake shortly explodes all over the guests, but, really, is that Moe’s problem? (An Ache in Every Stake)
- Michigan astronomer Robert R. McMath took the first film footage of sun spots in 1934. His achievement rested partly on his ability to utilize complex instruments—in this case, the spectroheliokinematograph. Pressed into off-the-cuff surgery in 1946, Moe makes handy use of instruments that would have astonished McMath: the trectahomlachtameter and the even more wondrous hamadanaseenafarin. Meanwhile, the unanesthetized patient (Curly) struggles to retain a shred of composure. (Monkey Businessmen)
- In 1977, following years of effort by 70,000 scientists, engineers, and construction workers, the Trans-Alaska pipeline began pumping oil on an 800-mile journey southward, from Alaska’s North Slope, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, to the Alaskan port city of Valdez. In 1939, the scientifically inclined Moe briefly waggles a screwdriver in the spout of a water pump and unleashes an unending gusher of black gold. (Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise)
- A 1987 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Louisiana’s creationism education law, by which the state mandated that, if evolution were taught in public schools, creationism must be taught, as well. Evolution and creationism collide head-on in 1948, as the cavemen Stooges bathe, hunt, and rescue their cavegirl mates from marauding rivals. Moe slathers his head with lard and combs his hair with a fish’s spine. Later, he babbles like a 20th-century teenager while enthusing about his prehistoric sweetheart. (I’m a Monkey’s Uncle)
Each of the real-life scientific accomplishments noted above occurred on June 19, Moe Howard’s birthday. Vectors of science and history, coming together!
Happy 116th, Moe! The world can never repay you for your lifetime devotion to big science and, of course, big laffs.
This entertaining and informative study of the Three Stooges focuses on the nearly 190 two-reel short comedies the boys made at Columbia Pictures during the years 1934-59. Violent slapstick? Of course, but these comic gems are also peerlessly crafted and enthusiastically played by vaudeville veterans Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe – arguably the most popular and long-lived screen comics ever produced by Hollywood.
Detailed production and critical coverage is provided for every short, plus information about each film’s place in the Stooges’ careers, in Hollywood genre filmmaking, and in the larger fabric of American culture. From Depression-era concerns to class warfare to World War II to the cold war to rock-and-roll – the Stooges reflected them all.
Seventy-five stills, posters, and other images – many never before published in book form – bring colorful screen moments to life and help illuminate the special appeal of key shorts. Exclusive sections include a Stooges biographical and career timeline; a useful, colorful history of the structure and behind-the-camera personnel of the Columbia two-reel unit; and personality sidebars about more than 30 popular players who worked frequently with the Stooges. Also included is a filmography that covers all 190 shorts, plus a bibliography, making this the ultimate guide for all Three Stooges fans!
Happy Birthday, Moe Howard!
Moe would have been 115 years old today.
Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, David J. Hogan talks about his book Three Stooges FAQ with FAQ series editor Robert Rodriguez.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. Daivd J. Hogan, author of Three Stooges FAQ, chats with FAQ series editor Robert Rodriguez about everybody’s favorite “boys,” the kings of slapstick, and how they are a product of their time and an insight into American history.
Three Stooges FAQ is an entertaining and informative study of the Three Stooges focuses on the nearly 190 two-reel short comedies the boys made at Columbia Pictures during the years 1934-59. Violent slapstick? Of course, but these comic gems are also peerlessly crafted and enthusiastically played by vaudeville veterans Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe – arguably the most popular and long-lived screen comics ever produced by Hollywood.