From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons: The Three Stooges

As biographer Michael Fleming points out in this thorough book about the lives and work of the Three Stooges, Jerome “Curly” Howard was “one of the most gifted physical comedians” of his generation. Even so, there was a lot more to the Stooges than Curly.

Jerome’s older brother Moses “Moe” Howard, the ornery one with that bowl haircut, was a serious actor, having performed in Shakespeare productions with various companies before poverty drove him to the comparatively more lucrative setting of vaudeville; their older brother Samuel “Shemp” Howard was already doing well there. It wasn’t long before Shemp and Moe joined forces with Larry Fine, a classically trained violinist with impeccable timing who also found more money to be made on the vaudeville circuit, as part of Ted Healy’s Stooges.

Shemp dropped out to make pictures (most notably, W.C. Field’s The Bank Dick—Shemp is the bartender who keeps whistling “Listen to the Mockingbird” throughout)—prompting Larry and Moe to enlist Jerome.

Hollywood beckons; alcoholic Healy can’t cut it; Columbia Pictures likes the Stooges; and the rest, as they say, is hilarity. And tragedy (Curly’s debilitating stroke). And genuine stupidity (those embarrassing World War II shorts that mistake anti-Japanese racism for patriotism).

Author Fleming has done a remarkable job of pulling together all the disparate sources into this solid biography, relying on old interviews with the long-deceased principals and more recent discussions with the men’s still-living offspring. And even if you’re not a fan ("Mmm! A wise guy!"), the book is rich with historical details about vaudeville and the early film industry. Plus there are lots of pictures, nyuck, nyuck!