This article appeared in the May 29, 2010 Jewish Advocate.
Remembering the Three Stooges’ legacy
With Farrelly Brothers film on the horizon, Three Stooges fans convene for 22nd year in Philadelphia
By Susie Davidson
Coerced into attending an annual Three Stooges fan club meeting in Fort Washington, Penn. five years ago, I anticipated hundreds of sci-fi types Nyuk Nyuking each other. Nobody in my Randolph neighborhood was even allowed to watch them, due to the violence. So imagine my surprise when I met dentists, lawyers, businessmen (and women!), clergymembers, and other professionals, as well as Three Stooges relatives and costars decked in Stooges apparel and armed with memorabilia - some newbies, some regulars.
“It’s a chance to visit with fellow fans and film buffs, many with other similar interests,” said Kay Lhota of Waltham.
“I especially enjoy the Depression-era shorts,” said Mar-Jean Zamperini of Evans City, Penn., “which give insight to songs, sayings, radio shows, and even fashion of that time.”
In nearby Ambler, I visited the Stoogeum, the only Stooge Museum in the world. With a third-floor movie theatre, a 16mm film storage vault, research library, and nearly 100,000 artifacts meticulously curated by owner Gary Lassin, it’s an awesome look into not just the Stooges, but their Hollywood era as well. Admission is free.
Despite the Randolph parents’ best efforts, the Stooges, who started their physical slapstick, slick one-liners and crazy plots in the 1920s, became iconic in the 1950s and 1960s following the release of their short films as fillers on “kiddie-show” television. And they remain so, morphing since onto comic books, advertising, a 1960s cartoon series, Scooby Doo and Alf films, the Simpsons, computer games, even Las Vegas slot machines and lottery tickets. Their one-liners are ubiquitous in today's TV shows, and chances are, you’ve heard them at work and at parties.
Next year’s Farrelly Brothers-directed “The Three Stooges” will star Sean Penn as Larry, Jim Carrey as Curly, and Benicio del Toro, who recently portrayed Che Guevara, as Moe.
Moe and Curly were born Harry Moses and Jerome Lester Horwitz, to Jenny and Solomon (a clothing cuttter) Horwitz of Brooklyn, whose five sons also included Shemp (Samuel), who replaced Curly following his death at age 48 of a stroke (Joe Besser and Joe DeRita later replaced Shemp, following his 1955 death). Larry was born Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia, to Joseph and Fanny Lieberman Feinberg, who owned a watch repair and jewelry shop. Although Larry and Curly led fast and somewhat transient lives, Larry living with his wife Mabel in hotels, and Curly marrying four times, Moe was more traditional.
“My dad was a family man and I certainly benefited from it,” his daughter, Joan Howard Maurer, told the Advocate. After running errands for theater performers, Moe’s career took off after teaming up with Shemp, Larry and friend Ted Healy in "Ted Healy and his Stooges." Their 1930 “Soup to Nuts” film was followed by the MGM comedies with Moe, Larry and Curly still seen on TV today.
In 1925, Moe married Helen Schonberger, a cousin of Harry Houdini. “The first of my mother’s memories (and doubtswere based on her Aunt Fanny’s words,” said Maurer, who is writing a book called “Stooge Kids.” They were: “If you marry an actor, especially in vaudeville, you’ll never have a home.”
Fanny and her husband Sam hosted celebrities, who included Houdini and his sister Gladys. “Dad promised Mother that she’d have a house like Fanny’s some day,” said Maurer. During their forty-nine year -marriage, they rented Hollywood houses, finally buying a Spanish-style house on Highland Avenue. “In 1941, Mother and Dad built our King Street house in Toluca Lake,” she recalled, “a beautiful English Manor with a swimming pool, badminton court, and enough room for several gardens.”
Maurer’s late husband Norman Maurer ran Moe’s Stooges company and drew artwork for the comic books. The author of several books, she lives in L.A. with her companion, Jack, a World War II veteran and substitute teacher.
A Brandeis alum, Lassin majored in Economics and Political Science. “I liked the location, loved the liberal and activist mood of the place at the time, and of course, hoped to meet a nice Jewish girl (which he did; moreover, his wife Robin is Larry’s brother Morris’ granddaughter).” As a giver to Jewish causes, does the Jewish aspect of the Stooges play into his adulation? “Not really,” he said. “The Stooges are a religion in and of themselves.” He began the annual meets in 1987. “I had just taken over the club from Morris Feinberg, who passed away in 1986,” he said. “I met Frank Reighter, who had run non-sport card shows, and the rest is history.”
“Dad’s dislike of shellfish stemmed from my grandmother’s Kosher dietary rules,” Maurer related. “One day on the set, he was to take the meat out of a lobster claw, toss it out and eat the claw.” But he did not want the claw in his mouth. “To solve this problem, the special effects man had to make a fake claw out of rock candy,” she said.
According to the Internet Movie Database, their 44th short, 1940‘s “You Nazty Spy, released nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” was the first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler, and Moe was the first American actor to play him. Directed and produced by Jules White and written by Felix Adler, Moe Hailstone, Curly (Field Marshall) Gallstone, and Larry (Minister of Propaganda) Pebble led Moronica, recalling Hitler, Göring and a mix of Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, at a time when the U.S. was still neutral. While political content in films was restricted by the Hays code of the time, shorts were not as policed. 1941 sequel called “I’ll Never Heil Again” included the Yiddish “Beblach” (beans); Yiddish often made it into their repartee.
“I’ve sold and displayed Three Stooges memorabilia since the second meeting,” said Dave Shmookler of Allentown, Penn. “Their comedy is timeless.”
“The fans have become friends,” said Maurer, who has attended since 1987. “They have made my world a smaller, kinder place and are a meaningful inheritance from my father.”
Fan Club dues is $9 per year and $23 for 3 years. The Stoogeum is located at 904 Sheble Lane in Ambler, Penn., just off Bethlehem Pike. For information, visit TheStoogeum.com or call (267) 468-0810.