1, 1896 - December 21, 1937
Healy, the Stooges' original straight man, was born Charles Earnest
Lee Nash on October 1, 1896, in Kaufman, Texas. He was educated at
Holy Innocents School nearby Houston and completed his high school
education at De LaSalle Institute in New York, where his family had
moved in 1908.
to Moe Howard, young Ted never intended to go on the stage; he had
his heart set on being a businessman in Texas. It took Ted ten years
to realize that he wasn't cut out for business life and he finally
tried the theatre.
worked hard at polishing his skills as a comedian, coming up with
an act as a single in blackface, comprised of imitations and burlesque
jokes. The act was entirely impromptu because Ted was unable to memorize
his lines. His graphic impersonations of such film luminaries as Ed
Wynn, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolson, which he performed at local amateur
shows, sparked considerable audience interest, but thought the audience
appreciated his talent, he made little headway towards a stable career.
He finally abandoned his amateur act and decided to become a full-fledged,
professional performer. It was then that he changed his name to Ted
comically crushed hat, an integral part of his wardrobe, received
as many good reviews as his act. A critic for a Baltimore newspaper
wrote: "Healy is remembered for the dilapidated hat he always
wears, and about which there is much speculation as to whether it
is always the same one. Many, as a matter of fact, hang on the wall
of his dressing room. Healy's one of the most informal of comedians.
His naturalness makes for his success."
became a Broadway star and continued with his solo act through the
pre World War I years. Then, in 1922, he teamed up with a dancer-singer
named Betty Brown, whom he later married. They were divorced ten years
later in 1932.
wrote all the comedy sketches for the act. Their first performance
at a Keith Theatre in Jersey City was a smash success and they were
signed to a 46-week contract by the Keith Circuit. Healy's slick-talk
and quick-wit made him the highest paid vaudevillian of his day, earning
as much as $8,500 a week. Throughout his career, Healy found that
it took a particular blend of physical, slapstick comedy for him to
induce audience laughter, and he realized he would need "stooges"
to take the brunt of his comedy shtick. In 1922, he brought his boyhood
pal Moe Howard into his act. Later, Moe, on stage with Ted, heard
his brother Shemp's unmistakable laugh coming from the audience; he
had Healy call him up on stage, and what resulted was a completely
ad-libbed, wild, slapstick performance that had the theatre vibrating
a newspaper interview, Healy once explained the purpose in having
stooges: "They're handy guys to have around. If a star's too
busy to give an interview, he can send his stooge. And a stooge is
a swell alibi. If a star's wife of girl friend says she saw him in
Sardi's (a swank Hollywood restaurant) with another doll, he can always
say, 'It must have been my stooge.'
then a stooge always comes in handy when you feel like throwing something
at somebody. Whenever I'm in doubt or feeling mixed up, I always hit
the nearest stooge. Makes me feel better. Nothing like it. Hollywood's
tired of 'yes-men.' That's why the stooge is coming into his own.
A stooge is a 'guess-man.' You can never guess what he's going to
Moe and Shemp, his new Stooges, continuing to fracture audiences,
Healy added a third Stooge in 1925, and thus a violinist named Larry
Fine started on a long and successful career.
his trio of Stooges, Healy appeared in a string of Broadway shows,
including, A Night in Spain and A Night in Venice. (Moe
Howard did not appear in A Night in Spain, nor did Larry. Moe
left the team for a year to pursue a career in real estate and Larry
had just married Mabel Haney.) Ted Healy and His Stooges made their
first screen appearance in the classic 1930's comedy feature Soup
to Nuts, for 20th Century-Fox. This film followed by a series
of comedies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Larry, Moe and Curly left his act in 1934, Healy appeared in a succession
of films for 20th Century-Fox, Warner Brothers and MGM. He was forty-one
and under contract to MGM at the time of his death on December 21,
1937. His untimely passing occured only a few hours after preview
audiences had acclaimed his work in the Warner Brothers film Hollywood
cloud of mystery still hangs over the cause of Healy's demise. Newspaper
accounts attributed his passing to serious head injuries sustained
in a night-club brawl while celebrating the birth of his first child,
a son. Conflicting reports stated that the comedian died of a heart
attack at his Los Angeles home. Apparently, his physician, Dr. Wyant
LeMont, refused to claim a heart seizure as the cause, and refused
to sign the death certificate. Despite his sizable salary, Healy died
penniless. In fact, MGM's staff members got together a fund to pay
for his burial. Moe later mentioned that comedian Brian Foy of the
Eddie Foy family footed a great part of the bill for Healy's funeral.
days before his death, Healy visited Moe's wife, Helen, at their Hollywood
apartment with the news that Betty (Hickman), his second wife, was
expecting. Excited at the prospect of his first child, he told Moe's
wife, "I'll make him the richest kid in the world." Moe
had later related in an interview that Ted had always wanted children
and that it was ironic that the birth of his first child came the
night of his death. Moe recalled, "He was nuts about kids. He
used to visit our homes and envied the fact that we were all married
and had children. Healy always loved kids and often gave Christmas
parties for underpriviledged youngsters and spent hundreds of dollars
the time of Ted's death, the Stooges, Moe, Larry, and Curly, were
at Grand Central Station in New York preparing to leave for a personal
appearance in Boston. Before their departure, Moe called Rube Jackter,
head of Columbia Pictures' sales department, to confirm their benefit
performance at Boston's Children's Hospital. During the conversation,
Jackter told Howard that the night editor of The New York Times
wanted to talk to him.
phoned the Times. The editor, without even a greeting, queried
curtly, "Is this Moe?" Howard replied, "Yes."
Then the editor asked, "Would you like to make a statement on
the death of Ted Healy?" Moe was stunned. He dropped the phone.
Then, folding his arms over his head, started to sob. Curly and Larry
rushed into the phone booth to warn Moe that their train was about
to leave and saw him crumpled over, crying. Since Moe never showed
his emotions, Larry cracked to Curly, "Your brother's nuts. He
is actually crying." Moe didn't explain the reason for his sudden
emotional breakdown until he got aboard the train.
was when Howard arrived back in Hollywood that he learned the details
of Healy's death from a writer friend, Henry Taylor. He told Moe that
Ted had been out drinking at the Trocadero night club on Sunset Strip
and an argument broke out between him and three college fellows. Ted
had called them every vile name in the book and offered to go outside
the club to take care of them one at a time. But once outside, Ted
didn't have a chance to raise his fists; the three men jumped him,
knocked him to the ground and kicked him in the head, ribs and stomach.
Healy's friend Joe Frisco, came to the scene and picked him up from
the sidewalk and took him to his apartment, where Ted died of what
medical officials first claimed was a brain concussion.
to Moe, even in the heyday of his stage career, Ted refused to put
any money away and spent every dime of his salary as fast as he received
it. Healy was also a heavy drinker, loved the horses and enjoyed hunting
and fishing; his favorite reading matter was race track charts.
often said that Ted's drinking led to outbreaks of violence, such
as the night of his tragic, untimely death. When sober, he was the
essence of refinement. Ironically, liquor had killed Ted's father
and uncle and ruined the life of his sister, Marcia. As a result,
Ted made a pledge when he was very young never to touch liquor, but
the strain of show business life got him started and he was never
able to stop.
a salute to Healy and his many contributions to the world of show
business as a comedian, Helen Howard, Moe's wife, wrote the following
poem to Healy on one of his birthdays:
poet, the scholar, the painter
in their own art reign
we don't chant much of the actor
has slowly risen to fame.
the man who uses his talent
make us laugh as he'll joke
deep in his heart there's an aching
'round his neck is a yoke.
lounge in our chair at the theatre
laugh at his merriment
when it is o'er we go to our homes
light-hearted and content.
when the curtain drops
we leave the man who clowns
greasepaint of smiles is rubbed away
the naught is left but the frowns.
let's drink a toast to a "comedian"
has reached the heights to which not many soar
happiness and long life, Ted Healy-
we wish you anything more?
Howard (Moes wife)
married twice, was survived by his widow, the former Betty Hickman,
whom he married on May 15, 1936, and a son, John Jacob (who was baptized
in St. Augustine's Church, across from MGM, a week after Healy's death).
legendary success of Ted Healy can best be explained in a remark the
comedian made to actor Jimmy Stewart. "Never treat an audience
as customers-always treat them as partners."
more excellent information on Healy's life visit the web site of Aaron
Neathery at www.tedhealy.com