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What You Did & Didn't Know About The Three Stooges

Moe and Larry with Shemp (center) from Malice in the Palace (1949)
Moe and Larry with Shemp (center) from Malice in the Palace (1949)

It’s hard to deny that The Three Stooges are one of the most successful and best-known vaudeville and comedy teams in the history of entertainment. But, what a lot of people may not know is that the group actually had six members throughout its nearly 50-year run. The two regulars were Moe Howard (Moses Horwitz) and Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg), but the pivotal "third stooge" was played by (in order of appearance) Shemp Howard (Samuel Horwitz), Curly Howard (Jerome Horwitz), Joe Besser, and "Curly” Joe DeRita.

The ensemble was active from 1922 to 1970 and is responsible for creating some 190 short subject films for Columbia Pictures. It’s worth mentioning that the group lasted throughout the Great Depression (1929 - 1939), WWII (1939 - 1945), the Korean War (1950 - 1953), the Vietnam War (1954 - 1975), the Civil Rights Movement, and more. Though The Three Stooges are widely esteemed for their slapstick comedy and plot lines that primarily addressed the more mundane aspects of life, there was actually a lot more depth to their acts.

Like many entertainers of the day, who were bothered by what they were seeing happening in their societies, the comedy group channelled some of that frustration into their films. Some fans may recall the episodes where they lampooned the Nazi’s and the Axis Powers, shed light on class divisions and economic hardships, and highlighted the lack of access to quality education. They did this by relying on gibberish and slang-laden speech that was often mixed with Yiddish, used sets depicting lower class living conditions, and ignored the industry Production Code.

It’s been 60+ years since the group made their last short film, but their appeal continues to endure. While their work is not regarded as "sophisticated" — with critics noting its lack of emotional depth, wit, and subtlety that was typical of icons like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton — they still managed to pull off some of the greatest slapstick comedies ever filmed on camera. Unfortunately, some of their material, as well as the material of many other entertainers, was destroyed in the Universal Fire of 2008. In total, The Three Stooges made over 220 films.


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