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October 5, 1902 - January 24, 1975

THE 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.

Larry 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.

Morris 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."

Larry 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.

In 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.

Morris 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."

Music 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.

In 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.

It 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.

The 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.

Offstage, 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.

Larry's 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.

Norman 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!"

On 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.

Because 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 Los Angeles.

Larry's 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.

Fine 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.

Ed 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.

But 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 it."

Larry 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.

Fine's 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.

Larry's 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).

 

 

 

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