TEAM'S MIDDLEMAN, Larry Fine, was born Louis Feinberg on October 5,
1902, in the south side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father,
Joseph Feinberg, and mother, Fanny Lieberman, owned a watch repair
and jewelry shop.
was the first of four children; he had two brothers, Morris and a
younger brother, Philip, who died prematurely, and a sister, Lyla,
who became a school teacher. He wasn't even a year old when his parents
and friends started treating him like a celebrity. He stole the show
as an entertainer while still in diapers. One time, at just two years
of age, his father propped him up on the top of a jewelry showcase
to show relatives how well he could dance. Larry managed to do a few
dance steps before losing his balance and falling backward through
the glass top of the display case. Luckily, he emerged unharmed.
Feinberg recalls that Larry had another close call in his youth. "Larry
wasn't so fortunate the next time he got into trouble. It happened
when Dad was testing metals to see which were gold. He used a powerful
acid that when applied to base metals would turn them green or burn
a whole in them. Gold, however, was not affected by the acid. One
day Dad had removed the stopper from the acid bottle, leaving it uncovered.
A thirsty Larry stood unnoticed at his side. As he reached for the
bottle of acid to raise it to his mouth and drink, Dad saw him out
of the corner of his eye and smacked the bottle from his hand, splashing
acid on his left arm and burning it badly."
required immediate medical attention and a skin graft was done on
his arm. After the surgery, doctors recommend that he be given violin
lessons as a form of therapy. It was believed that the action of drawing
the bow over the strings would strengthen his damaged arm muscles.
Little did Larry realize that the violin would become an important
tool in his career.
his teens, Larry had aspirations of becoming a comedian, even a star.
He enjoyed putting on shows for anyone who would watch him. As a result,
he gained valuable experience. Larry's skill as a violinist became
so impressive that he was asked to play professionally. At age ten,
as a student at Southwalk Grammar School, he soloed at a children's
concert at the Roseland Dance Hall in Philadelphia. Backed by Howard
Lanin's orchestra, he played "Humoresque" on his violin.
remembers that Larry eventually became a versatile musician. "He
was a natural-born performer and could play any instrument he got
his hands on-piano, clarinet, saxophone and brass. He even constructed
a violin out of a cigar box and a broom handle. He played it single
string like a cello, holding it between his knees."
now in his blood, Larry played on the bill of local theatre amatuer
nights, taking top prizes in most of these contests. Which didn't
suprise his peers, since he was certainly good at his craft. During
this period he interspersed his musical talents with pugilistic skills,
earning money as a lightweight boxer, fighting over 40 bouts. By age
fifteen, he started singing along with movie slides at Philadelphia
theatres- the Keystone, Alhambra, Broadway, Nixon's Grand, and the
Allegheny-where he received two dollars for each performance. All
of this was still accomplished while he was still a student at Central
High School. In later years, he would go on to develop an act in which
he would do a Russian dance while playing the violin.
1921, Larry landed a job in Gus Edwards' Newsboy Sextette, playing
the violin, dancing and telling jokes in a Jewish dialect. On the
bill with him was Mabel Haney, who would later become his wife. Mabel,
with her sister, Loretta, joined Larry in an act called "The
Haney Sisters and Fine." The trio worked together in vaudeville
until 1925, playing the RKO, Orpheum, Keith-Orpheum and Delmar Circuits
and the Paramount Theatre in Canada.
was during a playdate in Chicago, in 1925, at a night club called
the Rainbow Gardens, that Larry was first asked to become a stooge.
Ted Healy, Moe and Shemp Howard took in Larry's performance one evening,
at which time Shemp informed Healy that he planned to leave the act.
Moe suggested that perhaps Larry could replace Shemp. Healy liked
the idea and at the conclusion of the show the trio went backstage
to meet with Fine. Ted made him an offer: $90 a week to become a stooge
and an extra $10 a week if he'd throw away his fiddle. The next day,
Larry accepted the offer and this was the beginning of what would
eventually be "The Three Stooges"; Shemp would return later,
as his stint away from Healy did not pan out.
trio, Moe, Larry, and Shemp, first opened on Broadway in A Night in
Venice and later appeared in 20th Century-Fox's comedy Soup to Nuts
(1930). The rest of Larry's career would parallel Moe's. When the
team left MGM in 1934, the Stooges were comprised of Moe, Larry, and
Curly. They went on to star in two-reel comedies for Columbia Pictures,
where the team remained for 24 years.
Larry was a social butterfly. He liked a good time and surrounded
himself with friends. Larry and his wife, Mabel, loved having parties
and every Christmas threw lavish midnight suppers. Larry was what
some friends have called a "yes man," since he was always so agreeable,
no matter what the circumstances. As film director Charles Lamont
recalled after directing Fine in two Stooges comedies, "Larry was
a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper.
devil-may-care personality carried over to the world of finance. He
was a terrible businessman and spent his money as soon as he earned
it. He would either gamble it away at the track or at high-stakes
gin rummy games. In an interview, Fine even admitted that he often
gave money to actors and friends who needed help and never asked to
be reimbursed. Joe Besser and director Edward Bernds remember that
because of his free spending, Larry was almost forced into bankruptcy
when Columbia terminated the Three Stooges comedies in 1958.
Maurer recalls that Larry was surrounded by friends, some of whom
were ready and waiting to take his money. "Larry would wait around
at the end of a booking during personal appearance tours. Then, the
minute Moe would go to the theater manager to get their money, Larry
would take his cut and ten minutes later it was gone. It would be
spent on life's luxuries: diamond rings, fur coats and on the horses.
Or if one of his friends would say, `Larry, I've got a deal-this non-sinkable
bathing suit... all we need is $l5,000'-- Larry was had!"
another occasion, Larry convinced Moe to finance a fast-food restaurant
in Glendale called Mi Patio. Larry's two friends, who conceived the
idea, planned to sell Stoogeburgers, which would be served in little
plastic baskets with the Stooges' faces printed on the sides. After
several months of so-so business the partners skipped town with everything
they could get their hands on, including the burgers. As a result,
Moe and Larry were left holding the bag.
of his prodigal ways and his wife's dislike for housekeeping, Larry
and his family lived in hotels-first in the President Hotel in Atlantic
City, where his daughter Phyllis was raised, then the Knickerbocker
Hotel in Hollywood. Not until the late forties did Larry buy a home
- a splendid, old Mediterranean structure in the Los Feliz area of
screen personality was as laid back as his real life one, and thus
his character was never forced. Prior to the filming of a scene he'd
come up with a gag idea that he'd toss at the director; he would always
shrug it off when his ideas were ignored. He was said to be a bit
of a whiner, sometimes complaining about the smallest things. If he
stubbed his toe on a chair during a scene, he'd carry on until the
propman cushioned the chair leg with a sponge pad to protect him from
injuring the toe again. In the early days, Larry would put on an act
in public, trying to appear aloof, to make people believe he was a
serious intellectual-a complete opposite of his screen persona. But
this false front disappeared as he matured.
was also known for his tardiness. He rarely got to the set on time,
or to any other engagement. Several times during his career, Moe had
to cover for him until he showed up. Tardiness was definitely one
of his foibles, which even the cast's call-sheets bear out. In fact,
one time while performing in Atlantic City, a newspaper photographer
had arranged a photo session with the Stooges in advance of their
engagement. When Larry forgot the appointment, Moe had to ask the
theater manager to take his place.
Bernds, who directed Larry in numerous Stooges films, recalls that
he wasn't as dedicated to his career as the other Stooges. "He tended
to be a bit of a goof-off" Bernds said. "But not a real goldbricker;
he just wasn't as dedicated as Moe was.
Norman Maurer believes that Larry's talent as an actor and comedian
were commonly overlooked in Stooges comedies. As he put it: "I think
Larry was the best actor of the three. I used to argue with Moe about
giving him more lines because Larry was good, but Moe was against
had two children, a son, Johnny, who died in a tragic automobile accident
on November 17, 1961, at age 24, and a daughter, Phyllis. His wife
Mabel died on May 30, 1967, during the Memorial Day weekend while
the Stooges were on tour. Larry left the show when he learned of his
wife's death and, in true show business tradition, Moe and Curly-Joe
carried out the team's three-day engagement.
favorite hobbies included teaching serious music, preferably jazz,
the kind Andre Previn, Percy Faith, Morton Gould and Andre Kostelanetz
popularized. His favorite Stooge: Curly. As he once commented, "Personally,
I thought Curly was the greatest because he was a natural comedian
who had no formal training. Whatever he did he made up on the spur
of the moment." Larry's favorite sport was baseball, the Los Angeles
Dodgers his favorite team. He also enjoyed going to the boxing matches.
favorite actors were Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Peter Falk, while
Milton Berle, Jack Benny and Redd Foxx were his choice for comedians.
His favorite Stooges films were Scrambled Brains (1951) and The Three
Stooges Meet Hercules (1962). Runner-up favorites included You Nazty
Spy (1940) and I'll Never Heil Again (1941).