Howard, the one with the shaven head which Moe referred to as "looking
like a dirty tennis ball," was the most popular member of the Three
Stooges and the most inventive of the three. His hilarious improvisations
and classic catch-phrases of "N'yuk- n'yuk-n'yuk!" and "Wooo-wooo-wooo!"
have established him as a great American cult hero.
real name was Jerome Lester Horwitz, born to Jennie and Solomon Horwitz
on October 22, 1903, in Bath Beach, a summer resort in a section of
Brooklyn, He was the fifth and youngest of the Horwitz sons and weighed
eight and a half pounds at birth. He was delivered by Dr. Duffy, the
brother of Moe Howard's six-grade school teacher. Curly- Jerome, to
complicate matters, was nicknamed "Babe" by his brother Moe.
was a quiet child and gave his parents very little trouble. Moe and
Shemp made up for him in spades. Moe recalls one mischievous incident
when Curly was an infant: "We took his brand-new baby carriage, removed
the wheels, made a pair of axles from two-by- fours and built our
own version of a `soap box racer. We put Curly in it and dragged him
all over town. It was a lucky thing we didn't kill him. When our parents
found out we had the devil to pay.
Curly was about four, Moe and Shemp started to instill in their brother
the idea of becoming a comedian. Quite frequently they would stage
small theater productions in the basement of their friends' homes;
the cast would usually consist of Shemp, Moe and Curly. There was
a charge of two cents for admission, but the ventures could not have
been very lucrative, as the boys had to split the take three ways.
It is believed that during these performances Curly got his first
taste of comedy.
also recalled that Curly was only a fair student in school. A boyhood
friend, Lester Friedman, remembers that he was a fine athlete, making
a name for himself on the elementary school basketball team. Though
Curly never graduated from school, he kept himself busy doing odd
jobs, following Moe and Shemp wherever they went.
a young man, Curly loved to dance and listen to music, and he became
an accomplished ballroom dancer. He would go regularly to the Triangle
Ballroom in Brooklyn, where on several occasions he met George Raft,
who in the early days of his career was a fine ballroom dancer. Curly
also tried his hand at the ukulele, singing along as he strummed.
As Moe once said, "He was not a good student but he was in demand
socially, what with his beautiful singing voice." Moe continued to
influence his kid brother's theatrical education, taking him along
with him to vaudeville shows and the melodrama theaters, but Curly's
first love was musicals and comedy.
this period, sometime in his late teens, Curly found another love
and married a young girl whose name remains a mystery to this day.
His mother, Jennie Horwitz, the matriarch of the family, was against
the idea of Curly's marrying at such a young age and, before six months
had gone by, had the marriage annulled.
1928, Curly landed a job as a comedy musical conductor for the Orville
Knapp Band, which, to that date, was his only stage experience. Moe
recalls that his brother's performances usually overshadowed those
of the band. "He was billed as the guest conductor and would come
out and lead the band in a breakaway tuxedo. The sections of the suit
would fall away, piece by piece, while he stood there swinging his
Curly's interest in show business continued to grow as he watched
his brothers, Shemp and Moe, perform as stooges in Ted Healy's act.
Joe Besser, who worked with them in The Passing Show of 1932, recalls
that Curly liked to hang around backstage. "He was there all the time
and would get sandwiches for all of us in the show, including Ted
Healy and his Stooges. He never participated in any of the routines
but liked to watch us perform." During this period Curly remained
in the shadow of his brothers, and watched as their careers began
to skyrocket them to stardom along with Healy.
was in 1932, during J.J. Shubert's Passing Show, that Healy had an
argument with Shubert and walked off the show; taking Larry and Moe
along with him. Shemp, disenchanted with Healy's drunken bouts and
practical jokes, decided to remain in the Shubert show.
that afternoon, Moe suggested to Healy that his kid brother; Babe
(Curly), was available and would make an excellent replacement for
Shemp, since he was familiar with the act. Ted agreed, asking Curly
to join the act, but under the condition that he shave his head. At
the time, Curly sported long, wavy brown hair and a mustache. In an
interview; Curly recalled the incident: "I had beautiful wavy hair
and a waxed mustache. When I went to see Ted Healy about a job as
one of the Stooges, he said, `What can you do?' I said, `I don't know.'
He said, `I know what you can do. You can shave off your hair to start
with.' Then later on I had to shave off my poor mustache. I had to
shave it off right down to the skin."
wacky style of comedy started to emerge, first on stage and then on
screen when Healy and his Stooges starred in numerous features and
comedy shorts for MCM. Later; in 1934, Curly played an integral part
in the team's rise to fame as the Three Stooges at Columbia Pictures,
where he starred as a Stooge in 97 two-reel comedies.
success virtually destroyed Curly. He started to drink heavily, feeling
that his shaven head robbed him of his sex appeal. Larry Fine once
remarked that Curly wore a hat in public to confirm an image of masculinity,
since he felt like a little kid with his hair shaved off Curly was
also unable to save a cent. When he received his check he'd rush out
to spend it on life's pleasures: wine, women, a new house, an automobile
or a new dog-Curly was mad about dogs. Since Curly was certainly no
businessman, Moe usually handled all of his affairs, helped him manage
his money and even made out his income tax returns.
homes were San Fernando Valley show-places and most of them were either
purchased from or sold to a select group of Hollywood personalities.
One house Curly purchased was on Cahuenga Boulevard and Sarah Street
in North Hollywood and was purchased from child star Sabu. Later Curly
sold the property to a promising young actress of the forties, Joan
Leslie. Curly also bought a lot next door to Moe Howard's palatial
home in Toluca Lake, expecting to build on it, but he never did. It
was eventually sold to film director Raoul Walsh.
to Curly's personality, he was basically an introvert, barely speaking
on the set between takes, the complete antithesis of his insanely
hilarious screen character. Charles Lamont, who directed Curly in
two Stooges comedies, related in an interview that "Curly was pretty
dull. This may not be a very nice thing to say but I don't think he
had all of his marbles. He was always on Cloud Nine whenever you talked
Seiden, the sister of Moe Howard's wife, Helen, saw Curly off screen
whenever there was a party at his home. She remembers him as being
far from "a quiet person." Seiden said: "Although he wasn't on (stage)
all the time, I wouldn't call him a quiet person. ... he was a lot
of fun. He was quiet at times but when he had a few drinks-and he
drank quite a bit-he was more gregarious."
niece, Dolly Sallin, agreed with Mrs. Seiden that Curly liked people
but shared Lamont's viewpoint that he could be quiet at times. "I
can remember his wanting to be with people. He wasn't a recluse and
I wouldn't call him dull. He wasn't an intellect nor did he go in
for discussions. But when I think of someone as dull, I'd think of
them as being under par intelligence-wise, and Curly wasn't that."
remember that Curly refrained from any crazy antics in private life
but reserved them for his performances in the comedies. However, when
he got together with his brothers, Moe and Shemp, it was a totally
different story. As Irma Grenner Leveton, a friend of Moe and Helen
Howard, recalls: "Yes, Curly did clown around, but only if Moe, Shemp
and Larry were with him. Or if his immediate group of friends or family
were there. But the minute there were strangers, he retreated."
Curly's main weakness was women; to paraphrase an old adage, "Curly
couldn't live with women, or live without them." Mrs. Leveton remembers
that women were his favorite pastime for a number of reasons. As she
said: "He just liked a good time and that was it. And women. he loved
women. I don't have to tell you... not always the nicest women. You
know why, because he was so shy. Curly didn't know how to speak to
a woman, so he would wind, up conversing with anyone that approached
Sallin viewed his love for women in a similar manner: "I can remember
his wanting to be around people, and that included the current woman
in his life. That was the most important thing-if she was good, bad,
or whatever. If he decided she was interesting, that was that! As
long as there was a woman around the house, he would stay home instead
of running around. He seemed restless to me."
Norman Maurer first met Curly in 1945 and remembers that he "was a
pushover for women. If a pretty girl went up to him and gave him a
spiel, Curly would marry her. Then she would take his money and run
off. It was the same when a real estate agent would come up and say,
`I have a house for you,' Curly would sell his current home and buy
another one. It seemed as though every two weeks he would have a new
girl, a new car, a new house and a new dog."
as much as Curly loved women, they were his downfall. He married three
times after his first marriage was annulled. On June 7, 1937, he married
Elaine Ackerman. In 1938 Elaine gave birth to Curly's first child,
a daughter, Marilyn. Due to the addition to their family, Curly and
Elaine moved to a home on the 400 block of Highland Avenue in Hollywood,
near where Moe lived at the time. But slowly the marriage began to
crumble and Elaine filed suit for divorce on July 11, 1940, after
only three years of marriage.
the next five years, Curly ate, drank and made merry. He gained a
tremendous amount of weight and his blood pressure soared. On January
23, 1945, he entered the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara where he
was diagnosed as having extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage
and obesity. He remained at the hospital for tests and treatment and
was discharged on February 9, 1945.
months later, while making a personal appearance in New York, Curly
met Marion Buxbaum, a petite blonde woman with a ten-year-old son
from a previous marriage. Curly instantly fell in love with her and
they were married in New York on October 17, 1945. It was felt that
Marion used Curly to her advantage. He spent a fortune on her-everything
from fur coats to expensive jewelry. Curly even bought her a new home
on Ledge Street in Toluca Lake. As Marie Howard, Jack Howard's wife,
recalled: "She was just after his money.
didn't take long for Curly to find out that Marion wasn't for him.
After a miserable three months of arguments and accusations, Marion
and Curly separated on January 14, 1946, and Curly sued for divorce.
The divorce was quite scandalous and notices were carried in all the
local papers. Dolly Sallin recalled: "It was horrible. She tried to
get everything she could from him and even accused Curly of never
bathing, which was totally untrue. Curly was fat but he was always
immaculate. That marriage nearly ruined him." Marion was awarded the
decree on July 22, 1946, less than nine months after they were married.
Leveton remembers that Moe talked Curly into the marriage with Marion
since he, Moe, did not like the kind of wild life his brother was
leading. Moe wanted Curly to settle down and take care of his health.
As Leveton remarked: "Moe fixed them u* Marion and Curly. He wanted
Curly to get married and pushed him into it. He wanted Curly to quit
the life be was leading, as he was getting sick. Curly had very high
blood pressure and that marriage to Marion didn't help. It was very
aggravating for Curly and a very unhappy time for all concerned."
his third marriage a disaster, the question surfaced as to why Curly's
marriages had failed? Irma Leveton believed that it was a combination
of Curly's immaturity and a succession of mismatched marriages. As
she remarked: "He couldn't contribute anything to a marriage. Most
likely his wives married him because he was a (film) personality.
But he had nothing to back it up. There was no substance of any kind.
He always seemed to be in a trance... kinda dopey. Once in awhile
he would come out with something very funny. And I can't even imagine
him saying, `I Love you, to any woman.
Dolly Sallin brought to light another point of view. She said: "I
don't think Curly ever grew up. He couldn't make it in a one-to-one
relationship. He was sweet and loving but not really mature. He was
very restless. He seemed to need women to soothe his restless quality,
not just for sex. I would guess that he was restless and that nothing
seemed to help."
was soon after his separation from Marion that Curly's health started
its rapid decline. On May 6 (not May 19), 1946, he suffered a stroke
during the filming of his 97th Three Stooges comedy, HalftWits' Holiday
(1947). Curly had to leave the team to recuperate from his illness.
His condition began to improve and a year later, still not fully recovered
from his stroke, Curly met a thrice-married widow of thirty-two who
really seemed to care for him-Valerie Newman, whom he married on July
was Curly's fourth wife, a very caring woman who nursed him through
those last, awful years. Although his health worsened after the marriage,
Valerie gave birth to a daughter, Curly's second child, Janie. As
Irma Leveton recalls: "Valerie was the only decent thing that happened
to Curly and the only one that really cared about him. I remember
she nursed him 24 hours a day."
in 1949, Curly's health took a severe turn for the worse when he suffered
his second in a series of strokes and was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon
Hospital in Hollywood. Doctors contemplated doing spinal surgery on
him since the stroke had left him partially paralyzed. But the final
decision was not to operate.
was confined to a wheelchair and doctors put him on a diet of boiled
rice and apples. It was hoped that this would bring down his weight
and his high blood pressure. As a result of his illness Curly's weight
dropped dramatically. As Norman Maurer recalls: "I'll never forget
him at this point in his life. His hand would constantly fall off
the arm of the wheelchair; either from weakness or the paralysis,
and he couldn't get it back on without help." When Curly's condition
failed to improve, Valerie admitted him into the Motion Picture Country
House and Hospital in Woodland Hills on August 29, 1950. He was released
after several months of treatment and medical tests on November 15,
1950. Curly would return periodically to the hospital, up until 1952.
returned home confined to his bed, where Valerie nursed him. When
his health worsened, in February 1951, she made a request for a male
nurse to help her. In that same month, Curly was placed in a nursing
home, the Colonial House, located in Los Angeles. In March, he suffered
another stroke and Moe had to move him, out, due to the fact that
the nursing home did not meet state fire codes.
April of 1951 Curly was moved to North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium.
In December; the hospital supervisor advised the family that Curly
was becoming a problem to the nursing staff due to mental deterioration
and that they could no longer care for him. It was suggested that
he be placed in a mental hospital, but Moe would not hear of it. On
January 7, 1952, Moe was called from the filming of a Stooges comedy,
He Cooked His Goose (1952), to help move Curly again, this time to
the Baldy View Sanitarium in San Gabriel. He died 11 days later on
January 18, 1952. He was forty-eight years old.
Howard is gone and one can only wonder what it would have been like
if he had lived and worked with the Stooges through the 1960's. Imagine
Curly starring in full- length features in color and black-and-white.
Stooges cartoons could have been voiced with the original Curly "N'yuk-n'yuking"
and "Wooo-woooing." Television audiences could have realized the true
genius of Curly Howard on talk and variety shows. When the Stooges'
popularity suddenly burgeoned in 1959, Curly could have been around
to take the bows with Moe and Larry.
if there is a Stooges' heaven Curly will be there watching, seeing
his talent, his art of comedy and his contributions as a Stooge continue
to be enjoyed by millions throughout the world.