This is an article I wrote about Curly from the Three Stooges for a magazine called Gadfly. It was a feature in their July/August, 2000 issue. Hard to believe that 14 years have gone by since I wrote this! Anyway, it’s always been one of my favorite things I’ve written and Curly was certainly my favorite Stooge. Since the Weekend Contributors pool is dry this weekend, I thought I’d run it here for the Saturday post. And now...Moe...Larry...Cheese!
He was born in 1903 and named Jerome Horowitz, but his older brothers Shemp and Moe called him Babe. You know him as Curly—the hefty, high-pitched whooping, cue ball-domed, shoulder spinning on the floor like a side of beef marinated in methamphetamine, barking like a dog, knuckle-shuffling, finger popping Stooge.
A Really Brief Bit of History
Although Curly was an original, he wasn't an original Stooge. The original Three Stooges were his brothers Shemp and Moe and comedic vaudevillian actor Larry Fine. In the beginning, the trio started out with vaudevillian Ted Healy, who took the major portion of the money they earned and was also prone to drinking benders. But history can be boring, and none of this really matters much.
Something That Matters
This matters: Sometime around 1933, Shemp wanted to quit the Stooges and pursue a solo acting career but was reluctant to leave Moe and Larry with only two-thirds of a Three Stooges act. Moe told him not to worry, they'd bring in younger brother Babe to be the third Stooge. Like I said, this really matters.
"Hey Moe, hey Larry, get me out of here, I'm stuck."
—Curly in "Cactus Makes Perfect" (1942)
Moe had Beatle bangs that predated the Fab Four by at least 30 years. His hair was longish for those days, and he wore it straight down, cut in soup bowl-over-the-head fashion. Larry was going bald, but his curly anywhichway frizzball hair jutted out to the sides like coiling rattlesnakes ready to strike. (The unique Larry hairstyle would later influence both Bozo the Clown and Art Garfunkel the singer.)
Babe had wavy brown hair that was most unStoogelike. The women liked it, but would the Stooge fans understand? No, they wouldn't. Something had to happen.
So, after Moe and Larry approached him about becoming a Stooge, Babe told them he'd be back shortly. When he returned, he was wearing a hat. While his soon-to-be-fellow-Stooges watched, Babe whipped it off and presented his new chrome-domed coif to the shocked Stooges.
He was no longer Babe; he was Curly. And Moe, Larry and Curly were now The Three Stooges. Cue up "Three Blind Mice."
"That's no lump, that's my head!"
—Curly in "Gents Without Cents" (1944)
A Theory on Curly and The Three Stooges' Wall of Comedy
To me, The Three Stooges were a precursory comedic version of legendary rock 'n' roll producer Phil Spector's wall of sound. Spector, who produced the Ronettes, Crystals, Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon and George Harrison, to name just a few, created what would be called "a wall of sound" in his recordings.
Without getting too technical (because I'm not really a technical guy), the wall of sound was a driving drum beat that sounded like 27 drummers pounding on kettle drums with sticks the size of oak trees, lots of percussion and a heavy bass sound. Spector then added guitars, strings, pianos, harps, horns and a smorgasbord of other instruments. On top of that, he added heavenly soaring vocals and lush, creamy-smooth harmonies.
This wall of sound can be compared to a layering of fabrics. The drums and percussion are blue jeans, the guitars, flutes, pianos, etc. are akin to warm, thick corduroy and the vocals sound like miles of piles of fine expensive silk. That's the wall of sound broken down in material values: blue jeans, corduroy and silk.
When you watch The Three Stooges in action, you'll see the same kind of multi-layering, but instead of music it's comedic layering. Moe is the drums and bass, the blue jean material, all boom boom boom THWACK! Larry's the corduroy, the sweet sounding instruments in the middle, running around like a fuzzy-topped sperm in a fun-house petri dish. And then along comes Curly, the silk. A man-child. All WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! to Moe's boom boom boom THWACK! Together these elements create a perfect wall of comedy to inflict a HA HA HA sensory overload on even the most serious, tight-lipped Stooge viewer.
While The Three Stooges were always funny with Curly replacements in later years, they were never able to recreate this staggering, booming wall of comedy. The WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! was gone from the equation, and nobody could replace it.
Without Curly, it was all blue jeans and corduroy. The silk was gone, and it didn't come back.
To "Err" is Human, To "Oi" is Divine
In addition to the spinning, the belly thumping, the nyuks and the whoops, the words "Soitenly" (certainly) and "Poifictly" (perfectly) are still other Curlyisms. But then you already knew that, didn't you?
A Short List of People Influenced by Curly
Moe Howard always felt that Lou Costello, half of the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, "borrowed" a great deal of his character from Curly. In his 1977 pictorial autobiography Moe Howard and The Three Stooges, he voiced the following opinion: "I always felt there was much of Curly—his mannerisms and high-pitched voice—in Costello's act in feature films."
Of course, you'd be hard pressed to find any comedian or comedic actor who wasn't influenced by The Three Stooges. Here's a short list of funny guys guilty of acting under the influence of Curly: Jerry Lewis, John Belushi, Uncle Fester, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Michael Richards, Divine, Carroll O'Connor, Mel Gibson, Mel Brooks, Art Carney, Red Skelton, Barney Rubble, Albert Brooks, Bob Denver, Mickey Dolenz, Chris Farley, Harpo Marx, John Candy, Iggy and the Stooges and any wise-ass punk who has nyuk, nyuk, nyuked himself into detention hall.
"Oh boy, it's done. Look at all the beer we got!"
—Curly in "Beer Barrel Polecats" (1946)
Of all the Stooges, Curly was the one who liked to imbibe in all things liquid and alcoholic. Legend has it that when the Stooges were on the road, Moe would worry when Curly was out on the town carousing. It was only when Curly returned to the hotel and screamed "Swing It!" at the top of his lungs that big brother Moe would relax. He knew then that Curly had made it back in one piece.
Moe addressed Curly's drinking in his autobiography: "He drank far too much liquor and I knew the reason why. After his gun accident as a teenager, he was in quite a bit of pain when he stood too long. The fact that he had to shave his head for the act was also a factor: he felt that he had no longer any appeal for the fair sex. So he drank to give himself the courage to approach any young lady that appealed to him."
"I got something to do before I die."
—Curly in "Rhythm and Weep" (1946)
Curly finally found happiness with his fourth wife, Valerie Newman, and their daughter Janie. But on January 18, 1952, at the age of 49, the strokes finally caught up with him and Curly died.
With a full head of hair.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
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