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A History of the "Godfathers of Comedy" The Three Stooges
- by Mathew Ahner

 

For more than 50 years fans have been entertained by the Three Stooges. Although the Stooges where not famous at first they gained recognition like a speeding steam engine.

It all Started in 1922 when Ted Healy booked the Brooklyn Prospect Theatre in New York, and ran into trouble with his German acrobatic act. They had walked out before the show because of an argument they had with Healy. Ted missing an act called on two brothers Moe and then Shemp Howard to come up from the audience and joined him on stage. The three went on the perform many other routines which always resulted in the same reaction...instantaneous laughter.

After four years Shemp got a chance to do an act with an old friend, Jack Waldron. Shemp broke the news to Healy during a visit of the Rainbow Gardens nightclub in 1925. That evening Larry Fine played his violin in an act called "Haney Sisters and Fine". Loretta and Mabel Haney sang and danced while Larry Fine played his violin and performed a Russian dance to the tune of "My Old Kentucky Home."

During Larry's act, after Shemp had told Healy about his decision to leave, Moe suggested that Larry might make a good replacement for Shemp. Healy agreed, and after the show, Healy, Moe, and Shemp went to visit Larry in his dressing room. Once there, Healy made him an offer to become a stooge.

Even though his act was breaking up, Larry was hesitant to accept the offer. He had never done comedy before and was afraid of the outcome. Healy agreed to give Larry some time to think it over.

The following night Larry returned to the Rainbow Gardens, still wondering if he should accept Healy's offer. That night, however, the club was closed because prohibition was in force and the club had been found serving alcoholic. To compound matters, the nightclub manager, Fred Mann, feeling as if the incident might have stained his image, committed suicide. As a result of all of this, Larry found himself released of his nightclub contracts, and out of a job.

Larry immediately got a taxi to take him to the Cohan Theatre where Healy was performing. While backstage Healy found Larry first and signaled to Al Jolson to push him on stage. There Larry with Healy, Moe, and Shemp did a full routine.

Larry accepted Healy's offer and soon Healy and his Stooges style of shenanigans caught on and they played in sell-out crowds across the country.

In 1927, Healy, Shemp and a gang of funsters acted on Broadway in A Night In Spain, Moe left the act to be closer to his family, as his daughter was to be born that year. While Larry married his former Vaudeville partner, Mabel Haney. Healy and Shemp despite the loss of Moe and Larry appeared in J.J. Shubert's Musical Revue.

Larry and Moe returned to join Healy's act in time for the Broadway revue A Night In Venice. This was to become a permanent act. The New York Times reported that Healy's hilarious trio were "three of the frowziest numbskulls ever assembled." A Night In Venice closed, due to the onset of the Depression, after 175 performances.

After its closing a scout from Fox immediately signed Healy, Moe, Larry, and Shemp to star in Soup to Nuts. Ted's salary to star in Soup to Nuts was a third less than his usual salary, but was enough at $1250 a week. Out of this he paid each Stooge $150 a week to star in the film. When Healy learned of the studio's offer of an exclusive contract to the stooges, he stormed into the office of the Fox studio head, Winnie Sheehan, arguing that the contract was invalid without his approval. In a rage, Ted took the contract from Sheehan's desk and tore it to shreds.

Moe, Larry, and Shemp soon caught wind of Healy's double-dealing and left the act immediately to form one of their own under the name of Howard, Fine, and Howard and billed as "Three Lost Souls." The three performed on the West Coast and worked their way back to New York. In 1931, the Stooges hired Jack Walsh as their straight man and together wreaked havoc on the stages of the RKO - Keith Theatre Circuit.

This combination was making head-lines. Critics reported that Walsh complemented the three's broad, physical style of comedy to perfection. The Stooges' act with Walsh had many routines from the Healy Days bit an additional bit of nonsense had them constantly interrupting his singing of "Shine On, Harvest Moon."

During this period Healy, wanting to regroup the Stooges, tried to steal first one Stooge and then all three of them back, using a number of underhanded methods. First, he filed a legal suit against the team for promoting themselves in newspaper ads as "Howard, Fine, and Howard former associates of Ted Healy in A Night in Venice." Healy claimed the use of his name, combined with the Stooges' use of his comedy material in their act, was illegal. But a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Stooges, claiming that Healy had no rights to the material.

The material that Healy filed suit over was skits taken from portions of the Stooge's performance a A Night in Venice. However, Moe, always the team's manager, secured permission from the show's producer, J.J. Shubert, to use certain pieces of material from the show to incorporate it into their act. Healy's Irish temper was slow to cool and in frustration he resorted to threats in a vain attempt to stop the Stooges from continuing their use of any of his material.

Because of Healy's constant threats, moe, Larry and Shemp became concerned for their own saftey and decided to change some of the material, hoping to pacify Ted. Before one engagment, working at fever pitch, the Stooges in one evening sketched out about half-dozen new routines. As Larry Fine recalled: "We worked in between the rirst and second show, and did a complete turnabout. We worked out an old bit where we were musicians and faked a riot, breaking instruments over each others' heads and staging a fight. The audience just loved us, and so did the manager, who booked us for eight more weeks."

Even with their act revamped, Shemp continued to fear Healy and became so concerned over what action the comedian might take next that he stressed his desire to leave the act. Moe, trying to entice Shemp to stay, agreed that he and Larry would raise his salary and pay him more than they were making. According to Moe, Shemp took 36 percent of the team's salary while he and Larry retained 32 percent apiece. The trio then divided, using this new formula, the lucrative salary of $900 a week.

MORE TO COME...

I would like to give credit to Mathew Ahner for writing this Historical Overview
of the career of the Three Stooges. You may reach him for comments at mattat007@hotmail.com