There’s a bittersweet pleasure in watching the Three Stooges these days, knowing about them, their careers, their lives. What seems like zany comedy on screen was, like so many celebrity stories, much more complex, contentious, and even tragic at times. But there’s also an insuppressible joy in their work that keeps drawing me back to watch more. Moe, Larry, and Curly (and Shemp) will always bring a smile to my face. The subsequent replacements for Curly sometimes will, too, although not as often.
And with more than 200 film credits to their names, running from 1930 to 1970 in both shorts and feature films, there’s a lot to watch. One hundred and ninety of those short films were for Columbia Pictures alone (1934-59). These can be seen today online or in DVD collections from Sony (released as multi-year sets from 1934 to ’59, and as 17- or 20-disc collections; yes, of course, I have them). There are 51 other films or shorts in which they collectively starred or have a role, 17 of which were newsreels or bio-shorts.
And that doesn’t include all the films several of them made solo (Shemp Howard in particular was prolific) nor their 156-episode cartoon series, The New Three Stooges, that included live-action segments, and ran from 1965-66. And even this doesn’t show off their impressive careers that began in the 1920s in vaudeville. Moe Howard was performing on stage with his friend Ted Healy in 1923, joined by his brother Shemp in 1924. Louis Feinberg — aka Larry Fine — joined them in 1928. The three would appear with Healy in their first film, Soup to Nuts (1930), but parted ways with Healy over a contractual dispute. For a couple of years, the trio performed onstage as “The Three Lost Soles” and “Howard, Fine, and Howard.”