Howard, the irascible one with the world-famous bangs, was born on
June 19, 1897, in Bensonhurst, New York, a small Jewish community
on the outskirts of Brooklyn. His real name was Moses Horwitz (only
later did he adopt the name Harry), son of real estate entrepreneur
Jennie Horwitz and clothing cutter Solomon Horwitz. Moe was the fourth
eldest of the five Howard brothers, all but two, Jack and Irving,
having entered show business.
Moe's career, columnists the world over tried to find words to describe
his unusual haircut; buster brown, spittoon, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl,
and Beatle were but a few. His hair color changed with the years from
black in his youth to reddish-brown (when he dyed it) to silver-white,
(its final natural color) during the seventies. He had a marvelous
mop of hair until the day he died, but during grammar school days
it was the bane of his existence. He was constantly taunted by his
classmates over his head of shoulder-length curls, which his mother
adored, having always wanted a girl. One day, tired of fighting with
his school chums, Moe grabbed a pair of shears and hacked off the
curls that encircled his freckled face; the resulting hairstyle was
a raggedy version of one that became his trademark.
was an extremely bright child and at a very young age displayed an
ability to quickly memorize anything. This ability carried over into
later life, making him a quick study during his acting career. Brother
Jack reminisced about his youth and his love for books: "I had
many Horatio Alger books and it was Moe's greatest pleasure to read
them. They started his imaginative mind working and gave him ideas
by the dozen. I think they were instrumental in putting thoughts into
his head, to become a person of good character and to become successful."
carried his penchant for learning and a love of the theatre right
with him to school, acting in a play he dramatized, directed and appeared
in, The Story of Nathan Hale. He was fascinated with acting
and played hookey to catch the shows at the melodrama theatres during
the week. As his interest in the theatre grew, Moe's excellent marks
in school began to suffer. In spite of his truancy, he graduated from
P.S. 163 in Brooklyn, but he attended Erasmus High School for only
two months, never completing his high school education. This greatly
disturbed his parents, who were not in favor of his show business
aspirations and urged him to go into a profession or some kind of
a trade. Moe tried to please them and did take a class in electric
shop at the Baron DeHirsch Trade School in New York. His interest
was short-lived, however, and within a few months he gave up all thought
of school to pursue the career that was closest to his heart, show
later, recalling his lost schooldays, Moe said: "I used to stand
outside the theatre knowing the truant officer was looking for me.
I would stand there 'til someone came along and then ask them to buy
my ticket. It was necessary for an adult to accompany a juvenile into
the theatre. When I succeeded I'd give him my ten cents, that's all
it cost, and I'd go up to the top of the balcony where I'd put my
chin on the rail and watch, spellbound, from the first act to the
last. I would usually select the actor I liked the most and follow
his performance throughout the play."
love for show business indelibly fixed, Howard embarked on a film
career in 1909 at the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, where he earned
his entree into filmmaking by running errands, "for no tips,"
for such performers as Maurice Costello. As a result of his persistence,
Moe soon appeared in films with such silent stars as John Bunny, Flora
Finch, Earle William, Herbert Rawlinson and Walter Johnson.
1909 Moe met Ted Healy for the first time. They became close friends
and together in the summer of 1912 joined Annette Kellerman's aquatic
act as diving "girls." This job lasted through the summer.
in 1913, Moe and Shemp tried their hand at singing, using the family
room at Sullivan's Saloon to gain their much-needed experience in
front of an audience. The Howards sang along in a quartet with the
talented bass singer of that time, Babe Tuttle, and an Irish tenor,
Willie O'Connor. Moe sang baritone, while Shemp sang lead. Together,
the foursome harmonized such popular old songs as "Dear Old Girl,"
"Oh, You Beautiful Doll," "By the Light of the Silvery
Moon," "Heart of My Heart," and "I've Been Through
the Mill, Bill." Moe and Shemp continued to sing every night
until nine or ten o'clock, until their father found out what they
were doing and put a stop to it.
following year, in 1914, Moe, feeling a bit of Huck Finn in his blood,
wangled himself a job with a performing troupe on Capt. Billy Bryant's
showboat, Sunflower. For two summers Howard acted with the
company in the same melodramas he had seen as a kid, performing his
favorite roles in Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl, St.
Elmo and Ten Nights in a Barroom, all at the age of seventeen.
Before answering Ted Healy's call in 1922 to become a stooge, Moe
worked a blackface act with Shemp, touring the country. Besides stage
work, Moe also appeared in 12 two-reel shorts with baseball great
in 1922, Moe renewed his acquaintance with Ted Healy and together
with Shemp formed a partnership that, except for a few short breaks,
would last for almost ten years.
June 7, 1925, Moe married Helen Schonberger, a cousin of the late
Harry Houdini. In 1926 Helen urged Moe to leave the stage and Ted
Healy in order to spend more time with her, as she was expecting a
child. Moe acquiesced and left show business to work in real estate
for a year. When that didn't work out he opened a small retail store
and attempted to sell distressed merchandise, which turned into an
hysterical fiasco. During 1927 Moe worked intermittently at the Jewish
Community House in Bensonhurst, producing and directing plays. One
of his early efforts, Stepping Along, was reviewed by a critic
at The New York Times, who wrote, "A Musical Dream in Three Episodes
was probably as good a description as anything else and it was a dream
from which none wanted to awaken."
missing the old gang and unable to make a living in the workaday world,
Moe rejoined Healy a short time later, appearing in a J.J. Shubert
production, A Night in Venice, in addition to vaudeville engagements
and numerous films for MGM. When Healy decided to star in features
at Metro and the Stooges left to star in their short two-reel comedies
at Columbia, Moe became the permanent leader of the group, a leadership
that would last through the Stooges' contract with Columbia for 24
consecutive years; the longest single contract ever held by a comedy
many ways Moe's off-screen persona was far removed from the character
he played on screen. In the theatre or before the cameras, Moe would
open up and let his nervous energies flow, but at home he was a very
different man. While Larry was gregarious, Moe was introverted, very
serious, and very nervous, a man who found it very hard to relax.
He also had difficulty expressing his true feelings and emotions and
bought gifts for family and friends as a means of expressing his love.
Moe felt his inability to demonstrate his emotions stemmed from his
family upbringing. As he once wrote: "I recall that my father
rarely kissed my mother and that I rarely kissed them. Expressing
our love for one another was difficult."
his son-in-law Norman Maurer explains it: "If he liked you, he
would do anything for you. Like his mother, he worked for charity
organizations and loved to watch people's faces when they opened their
gifts. On one occasion during the Hanukkah/Christmas season, Moe went
grocery shopping for Emil Sitka and his family of seven and delivered
the groceries himself. Howard made the gesture without being asked.
Sitka, a character actor who had played in many of the Stooges' comedies,
was suprised to come home and find the cupboards and refrigerator
packed with groceries. Emil expressed his gratitude to the comedian
in a letter he wrote: "The oil burns for eight days during Hanukkah,
but my torch burns in gratitude for you forever."
desire to give a helping hand to the needy coninued throughout his
life, as a member and three-time president of the Spastic Children's
Guild, playing Santa Claus for the Guild's palsied children, rounding
up their gifts and committing himself and the other two Stooges to
hundreds of benefit performances whenever and wherever he was asked.
his tough demeanor on screen, at home he was quite softhearted. His
wife Helen remembers with nostalgia the different ways Moe liked to
mark their wedding anniversary each year. As she recalled, "He
was a very sentimental man and wrote me hundreds of love poems when
we were first married. On our tenth wedding anniversary, the phone
rang and a strange voice on the other end asked me if I would take
Moe Horwitz for my lawful, wedded husband. The voice then proceeded
to perform the entire wedding ceremony with me on one end and Moe,
the mystery voice, on the other. He was also a singer and at the end
of the ceremony, in a beautiful baritone voice, he sang, 'Oh Promise
Me,' the song sung at our wedding."
was also the businessman of the team, he ran the group and made most
of the team's decisions. Curly and Larry were carefree individuals,
never priding themselves on punctuality and with absolutely no regard
for money. Moe did the worrying for all of them.
Moe was cautious in certain directions about saving money, he would
go crazy in other directions. Norman Maurer nicknamed him "Wholesale
Charlie," since his fondest pleasure was buying clothes for all
the members of his family. He's buy everything by the dozen (it seemed
that all his boyhood friends had wound up in the wholesale garment
business). Norman felt that he wasted a good deal of money on these
spending sprees, but Moe got untold enjoyment out of them.
his inability to relax and enjoy life to its fullest like Curly and
Larry, Moe's goal in life was to give his family their every wish,
and this he did. He and his wife Helen traveled to just about every
city in the world, where they were treated like royalty their fans.
Edward Bernds, who knew him for 40 years, felt the businesslike side
of Moe certainly helped on the set. "Moe was all business, but
he was interested in making the film as good as he could do. He didn't
take anything away from the director but he did see to it that the
boys shaped up. He liked making suggestions and was very creative."
social life was quite different from Shemp's, as he rarely mingled
with the show business crowd. Most of his friends, as strange as it
seems, were judges, lawyers and doctors and any people his wife befriended.
Although he loved his profession, Moe's first thoughts were for his
family and he dreaded the separation caused by the hectic shooting
schedules and personal appearance tours.
the loss of his brothers Curly and Shemp, Moe once remarked that he
had mixed feelings about watching his brothers in television reruns
of their Stooges comedies. As he said, "How strange it is that
people can laugh at comedians who are dead and never give it a second
thought. At the same time, it's good to think that Shemp and my kid
brother, Curly, are still remembered."
was more to Moe's life than bopping and slapping his fellow Stooges.
He had a wide range of interests over the years which included travelling,
gardening, ceramics and cooking. (He could whip up a mean cioppino
and a marvelous lasagna, neither of which he ate. He cooked them because
his wife loved them.)
his younger days, he enjoyed going to the fights, football games,
and midget auto racing and had hobbies that including hooking rugs
and stamp and coin collecting. Moe even tried the art of wine making.
His daughter Joan, about ten at the time, recalls vaguely what happened:
"It seems that my father decided to make wine. Never one for
reading directions carefully, he made a radical mistake somewhere
down the line. Something to do with not removing the bung from the
wine barrel at the right time...or maybe not removing it all. When
the day arrived for my father to taste his wine, he pulled out the
bung and all hell broke loose. The entire contents of the barrel-wine,
skins and seeds-exploded out like they were shot out of a cannon.
The room, which had white walls, was splashed with vivid red, but
the strangest sight of all was my father. He was wine red from head
to toe and peppered with grape seeds. They were stuck to him everywhere:
his ears, his nostrils, his hair. Even the walls of the room were
plastered with seeds. My dad was able to take a bath after and clean
himself up, but that house must still have telltale signs of what
went on that fateful day."
favorite music was quite diverse. It included anything sung by a barber
shop quartet, the music of Andre Segovia, and his favorite song, "How
Deep is the Ocean." His favorite Stooges comedy was You Nazty
Spy (1940). For exercise there was golf and a brisk two-mile walk
had two children: his first, Joan, and eight years later a son, Paul.
He was married almost 50 years to his wife, Helen, who died six months
after him on October 31, 1975.
once asked how long the Stooges would remain in show business, Howard
replied, "Forever is a long time, but with a little luck, we
just might make it."
THE OTHER BIOS
Fine | Curly Howard | Shemp
Howard | Joe Besser | Curly-Joe