Jerome Lester Horwitz
October 22, 1903
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
|Died||January 18, 1952 48) (aged|
San Gabriel, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Home of Peace Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Other names||Jerry Howard|
|Relatives|| Moe Howard (brother)|
Shemp Howard (brother)
Joan Howard Maurer (niece)
Jerome Lester Horwitz (October 22, 1903 – January 18, 1952), known professionally as Curly Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was best known as a member of the American comedy team the Three Stooges, which also featured his elder brothers Moe and Shemp Howard and actor Larry Fine. In early shorts, he was billed as Curley. Curly Howard was generally considered the most popular and recognizable of the Stooges.
He was well known for his high-pitched voice and vocal expressions ("nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!", "woo-woo-woo!", "soiteny!" [certainly], "I'm a victim of soikemstance" [circumstance], and barking like a dog), as well as his physical comedy (e.g., falling on the ground and pivoting on his shoulder as he "walked" in circular motion), improvisations, and athleticism.An untrained actor, Curly borrowed (and significantly exaggerated) the "woo woo" from "nervous" comedian Hugh Herbert. Curly's unique version of "woo-woo-woo" was firmly established by the time of the Stooges' second Columbia film, Punch Drunks (1934).
Howard had to leave the Three Stooges act in May 1946 when a massive stroke ended his show business career. He suffered serious health problems and several more strokes until his death in 1952 at age 48.
Curly Howard was born Jerome Lester Horwitz in the Bensonhurst section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, on October 22, 1903. Of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, he was the youngest of the five sons of Jennie (Gorovitz) and Solomon Horwitz. Because he was the youngest, his brothers called him "Babe" to tease him. The name "Babe" stuck with him all his life. However, when his elder brother Shemp Howard married Gertrude Frank, who was also nicknamed "Babe", the brothers called him "Curly" to avoid confusion.His full formal Hebrew name was "Yehudah Leib bar Shlomo Natan HaLevi".
A quiet child, Howard rarely caused problems for his parents (something in which older brothers Moe and Shemp excelled). He was a mediocre student, but excelled as an athlete on the school basketball team. He did not graduate high school; instead, he kept himself busy with odd jobs and constantly following his older brothers, whom he idolized. He was also an accomplished ballroom dancer and singer and regularly turned up at the Triangle Ballroom in Brooklyn, occasionally bumping into actor George Raft.
When Howard was 12, he accidentally shot himself in the left ankle while cleaning a rifle. Moe rushed him to the hospital, saving his life, but the wound resulted in a noticeably thinner left leg and a slight limp. Curly was so afraid of surgery that he never had the limp corrected. While with the Stooges, he developed his famous exaggerated walk to conceal the limp on screen.
Howard was interested in music and comedy, and watched his brothers Shemp and Moe perform as stooges in Ted Healy's vaudeville act. He also liked to hang around backstage, although he never participated in any of the routines.
Howard's first on-stage appearance was as a comedy musical conductor in 1928 for the Orville Knapp orchestra; Howard would conduct the ensemble with his arms flailing, unaware that he was losing his pants. Moe later recalled that his performances usually overshadowed those of the band.Though he enjoyed the gig, he watched as brothers Moe and Shemp with partner Larry Fine made it big as some of Ted Healy's "Stooges". Vaudeville star Healy had a very popular stage act, in which he would try to tell jokes or sing, only to have his noisy assistants (or "stooges," in show-business parlance) wander on stage and interrupt or heckle him and cause disturbances from the audience. Meanwhile, Healy and company appeared in their first feature film, Rube Goldberg's Soup to Nuts (1930).
Shemp Howard, however, soon tired of Healy's abrasiveness, bad temper, and alcoholism.In 1932, he was offered a contract at the Vitaphone Studios in Brooklyn. With Shemp gone, Moe suggested that his kid brother Jerry could fill the third-stooge role, and Jerry ran through his Orville Knapp act but Healy was unimpressed: "Is that all he can do? Let his pants fall down? Get me a real comedian, not this amateur. He doesn't even look right!" Healy felt that Jerry, with his thick, chestnut hair and elegant waxed mustache, looked too good for a low comedian. Howard left the room and returned minutes later with his head shaven (the mustache remained very briefly). Moe and Larry started improvising with this new character:
That exchange sold the act to Healy, and Jerry Horwitz became Curly Howard. In one of the few interviews Curly Howard gave in his lifetime, he complained about the loss of his hair: "I had to shave it off right down to the skin."
In 1934, MGM was building Healy up as a solo comedian in feature films, and Moe saw the writing on the wall. Healy alone was under contract to the studio; his Stooges answered to Healy, who paid each of them only $100 a week. When Healy's lucrative MGM contract was up for renewal on March 6, 1934, Moe proposed that Healy and his stooges should split: "Let's just break up. No hard feelings, no sneaking around. Just a good, clean split."Healy agreed, and left to pursue his own career. That same year, with "The Three Stooges" as the act's new name, they signed to appear in two-reel comedy short subjects for Columbia Pictures. Their third short, Men in Black , was nominated for the "Best Short Subject" Academy Award. It lost to the pioneer Technicolor featurette La Cucaracha , but it did establish The Three Stooges as new comedy stars. It also won the Stooges movie-star salaries: Columbia paid each of them $2500 per short subject (an exceptional sum; Columbia usually paid $500 to $1000 per short). The Stooges soon became the studio's most popular short-subject attraction, with Curly playing an integral part in the trio's work.
Howard's childlike mannerisms and natural comedic charm made him a hit with audiences, particularly children. He was known in the act for having an "indestructible" head, which always won out by breaking anything that assaulted it, including saws (resulting in his characteristic quip, "Oh, look!"). Although Howard had no formal acting training, his comedic skills were exceptional. Often, directors let the camera roll freely and let Howard improvise. Jules White, in particular, left gaps in the Stooge scripts where he could improvise for several minutes.In later years, White commented: "If we wrote a scene and needed a little something extra, I'd say to Curly, 'Look, we've got a gap to fill this in with a "woo-woo" or some other bit of business', and he never disappointed us."
By the time the Stooges hit their peak in the late 1930s, their films had almost become vehicles for Howard's unbridled comic performances. Classics such as A Plumbing We Will Go (1940), We Want Our Mummy (1938), An Ache in Every Stake (1941), Cactus Makes Perfect (1942), and their most violent short, They Stooge to Conga (1943), display his ability to take inanimate objects (food, tools, pipes, etc.) and turn them into ingenious comic props.Moe Howard later confirmed that when Curly forgot his lines, that merely allowed him to improvise on the spot so that the "take" could continue uninterrupted:
If we were going through a scene and Curly forgot his words for a moment, and then, you know, rather than stand, get pale and stop, you never knew what he was going to do. On one occasion, however, he would drop down to the floor and spin around ten times like a top until he finally remembered what he had to say.
Howard also developed a set of Brooklyn-accented reactions and expressions that the other Stooges would imitate long after he had left the act:
On several occasions, Moe Howard was convinced that rising star Lou Costello (a close friend of Shemp's) was stealing material from his brother.Costello was known to acquire prints of the Stooges' films from Columbia Pictures on occasion, presumably to study him. Inevitably, Curly Howard's routines would appear in Abbott and Costello feature films, much to Moe's chagrin. (It did not help that Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn would not allow the Stooges to make feature-length films like contemporaries Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and Abbott and Costello.)
Curly was the only "third Stooge" who never made a series of his short films, without Moe or Larry, either before joining the Stooges or after leaving. Shemp and subsequent Stooges Joe Besser and Joe DeRita (referred to during his stint with the Stooges as "Curly Joe DeRita") each starred in their solo series of theatrical short subjects.
By 1944, Howard's energy began to wane. Films such as Idle Roomers (1944) and Booby Dupes (1945) present a Curly whose voice was deeper and his actions slower. He may have suffered the first of many strokes between the filming of Idiots Deluxe (October 1944) and If a Body Meets a Body (March 1945). After the filming of the feature-length Rockin' in the Rockies (December 1944), he finally checked himself (at Moe Howard's insistence) into Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, on January 23, 1945, and was diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity. His ill health imposed a rest, leading to only five shorts being released in 1945 (the normal output was six to eight per year).
Moe Howard pleaded with Harry Cohn to allow his younger brother some time off upon discharge to regain his strength, but Cohn would not halt the production of his profitable Stooge shorts and flatly refused his request.The Stooges had five months off between August 1945 and January 1946. They used that time to book a two-month live performance commitment in New York City, working shows seven days a week. During their time on the East Coast, Howard met his third wife, Marion Buxbaum, whom he married on October 17, 1945, after a two-week courtship.
Returning to Los Angeles in late November 1945, Howard was a shell of his former self. With two months' rest, the team's 1946 schedule at Columbia commenced in late January, but involved only 24 days' work from February to early May. Despite eight weeks off in that same period, Howard's condition continued to deteriorate.
By early 1946, Howard's voice had become even more coarse than before, and remembering even the simplest dialogue was increasingly difficult. He had lost considerable weight, and lines had creased his face.
Half-Wits Holiday , released in 1947, was Howard's final appearance as an official member of The Three Stooges. During filming on May 6, 1946, he suffered a severe stroke while sitting in director Jules White's chair, waiting to film the last scene of the day. When called by the assistant director to take the stage, he did not answer. Moe looked for his brother; he found him with his head dropped to his chest. Moe later recalled that his mouth was distorted, and he was unable to speak, only able to cry. Moe immediately alerted White, leading the latter to rework the scene quickly, dividing the action between Moe and Larry while Curly was rushed to the hospital,where Moe joined him after the filming. Howard spent several weeks at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills before returning home for further recovery.
In January 1946, Shemp had been recruited to substitute for a resting Curly during live performances in New Orleans.After Curly's stroke, Shemp agreed to replace him in the Columbia shorts, but only until his younger brother was well enough to rejoin the act. An extant copy of the Stooges' 1947 Columbia Pictures contract was signed by all four Stooges and stipulated that Shemp's joining "in place and stead of Jerry Howard" would be only temporary until Curly recovered sufficiently to return to work full-time. However, Curly's health continued to worsen and it became clear that he would not be returning. As a result, Shemp's involvement became permanent.
Howard, partially recovered and with his hair regrown, made a brief cameo appearance in January 1947 as a train passenger barking in his sleep in the third film after brother Shemp's return, Hold That Lion! (1947). It was the only film that featured Larry Fine and all three Howard brothers – Moe, Shemp, and Curly – simultaneously; director White later said he spontaneously staged the bit during Curly's impromptu visit to the soundstage:
It was a spur-of-the-moment idea. Curly was visiting the set; this was sometime after his stroke. Apparently he came in on his own, since I didn't see a nurse with him. He was sitting around, reading a newspaper. As I walked in, the newspaper he had in front of his face came down and he waved hello to me. I thought it would be funny to have him do a bit in the picture and he was happy to do it.
In June 1948, Howard filmed a second cameo as an angry chef for the short Malice in the Palace (1949), but due to his illness, his performance was not deemed good enough, and his scenes were cut. A lobby card for the short shows him with the other Stooges, although he never appeared in the final release.
Still not fully recovered from his stroke, Howard met Valerie Newman and married her on July 31, 1947. A friend, Irma Leveton, later recalled, "Valerie was the only decent thing that happened to Curly and the only one that really cared about him."Although his health continued to decline after the marriage, Valerie gave birth to a daughter, Janie, in 1948.
Later that year, Howard suffered a second massive stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. He used a wheelchair by 1950 and was fed boiled rice and apples as part of his diet to reduce his weight (and blood pressure). Valerie admitted him into the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Country House and Hospital on August 29, 1950. He was released after several months of treatment and medical tests, although he returned periodically until his death.
In February 1951, Howard entered a nursing home, where he suffered another stroke a month later. In April, he went to live at the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium.
In December 1951, the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium supervisor told the Howard family that Curly was becoming a problem to the nursing staff at the facility because of his mental deterioration. They admitted they could no longer care for him and suggested he be placed in a mental hospital. Moe refused and relocated him to the Baldy View Sanitarium in San Gabriel, California.
On January 7, 1952, Moe was contacted on the Columbia set while filming He Cooked His Goose to help move Curly for what would be the last time. This proved unsuccessful, and Curly died eleven days later, on January 18, 1952.He lived the shortest life of the Stooges, dying at the age of 48. He was given a Jewish funeral and was buried at the Western Jewish Institute section of Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California. His older brothers, Benjamin and Shemp, who died three years later, and parents Jennie and Solomon are also interred there.
Howard's offscreen personality was the antithesis of his onscreen manic persona. He generally kept to himself and was an introvert, rarely socializing with people unless he had been drinking (a habit to which he would increasingly turn as the stresses of his career grew). Howard refrained from engaging in the antics for which he became famous unless he was with family, performing for an audience, or intoxicated. He was known for his kindness to stray dogs.
Howard had four marriages and two children:
Howard's first marriage ended in divorce five months after the union occurred and before he achieved fame with the Stooges. Howard married his second wife, Elaine Ackerman, on June 7, 1937. Their union produced one child, Marilyn, the following year. The couple divorced in June 1940, after which he gained weight and developed hypertension. He was insecure about his shaved head, believing it made him unappealing to women. He increasingly drank to excess and caroused to cope with his feelings of inferiority. He took to wearing a hat in public to convey an image of masculinity, saying he felt like a little kid with his hair shaved off. Despite his low self-esteem, he was popular with women, particularly with those who wanted to take advantage of him.
Moe's son-in-law Norman Maurer noted "he was a pushover for women. If a pretty girl went up to him and gave him a spiel, Curly would marry her. Then she would take his money and run off. It was the same when a real estate agent would come up and say 'I have a house for you'; Curly would sell his current home and buy another one."
During World War II, for seven months each year, the trio's filming schedule went on hiatus, allowing them to make personal appearances. The Stooges entertained service members constantly, and the intense work schedule took its toll on Howard's health. He never drank while performing in film or on stage (Moe would not permit it), but after the work day had ended, he would head out to nightclubs where he ate, drank, and caroused to excess to cope with the stress of work. He was a profligate spender, especially on wine, food, women, and homes, and was often near bankruptcy. Moe eventually helped him manage his finances and even filled out his income tax returns.
Howard found constant companionship in his dogs and often befriended strays whenever the Stooges traveled. He would pick up homeless dogs and take them with him from town to town until he found them a home somewhere else on the tour.When not performing, he usually had a few pet dogs waiting for him at home, as well.
Moe urged Curly to find himself a wife, hoping it would persuade his brother to finally settle down and allow his health to improve somewhat. After a two-week courtship, he married Marion Buxbaum on October 17, 1945, a union that lasted nine months. The divorce proceeding was bitter, exacerbated by exploitative, sensationalist media coverage, which worsened his already fragile health. The divorce was finalized in July 1946, two months after he suffered his career-ending stroke.
On July 31, 1947, he married Valerie Newman. They had one daughter, Janie (born in 1948), and remained married until his death.
Curly Howard is considered by many fans and critics alike to be their favorite member of the Three Stooges.In a 1972 interview; Larry Fine recalled, "Personally, I thought Curly was the greatest because he was a natural comedian who had no formal training. Whatever he did, he made up on the spur of the moment. When we lost Curly, we took a hit." Curly's mannerisms, behavior, and personality along with his catchphrases have become a part of American popular culture. Steve Allen called him one of the "most original, yet seldom recognized comic geniuses."
The Ted Okuda and Edward Watz's book The Columbia Comedy Shorts puts Howard's appeal and legacy in critical perspective:
Few comics have come close to equaling the pure energy and genuine sense of fun Curly was able to project. He was merriment personified, a creature of frantic action whose only concern was to satisfy his immediate cravings. Allowing his emotions to dominate, and making no attempt whatsoever to hide his true feelings, he would chuckle self-indulgently at his own cleverness. When confronted with a problem, he would grunt, slap his face, and tackle the obstacle with all the tenacity of a six-year-old child.
All are guest appearances except the compilation feature Stop! Look! and Laugh! ; the Stooges never starred in their own feature film during Curly Howard's lifetime.
The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970, best remembered for their 190 short-subject films by Columbia Pictures. Their hallmark styles were physical, farce, and slapstick. Six Stooges appeared over the act's run : Moe Howard and Larry Fine were mainstays throughout the ensemble's nearly 50-year run; the pivotal "third stooge" was played by Shemp Howard, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard again, Joe Besser, and "Curly Joe" DeRita.
Ted Healy was an American vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor. Though he is chiefly remembered as the creator of The Three Stooges and the style of slapstick comedy that they later made famous, he had a successful stage and film career of his own and was cited as a formative influence by several later comedy stars.
Moses Harry Horwitz, better known by his stage name Moe Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He is best known as the leader of the Three Stooges, the farce comedy team who starred in motion pictures and television for four decades. That group initially started out as Ted Healy and His Stooges, an act that toured the vaudeville circuit. Moe's distinctive hairstyle came about when he was a boy and cut off his curls with a pair of scissors, producing an irregular shape approximating a bowl cut.
Louis Feinberg, better known by his stage name Larry Fine, was an American comedian, actor, and musician. He is best known as a member of the comedy act the Three Stooges, and was often called "The Middle Stooge".
Samuel Horwitz, better known by his stage name Shemp Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was called "Shemp" because "Sam" came out that way in his mother's thick Litvak accent.
Joseph Wardell, known professionally as Joe DeRita, was an American actor and comedian, who is best known for his stint as a member of The Three Stooges in the persona of Curly Joe DeRita.
Joe Besser was an American actor, comedian, and musician, known for his impish humor and wimpy characters. He is best known for his brief stint as a member of The Three Stooges in movie short subjects of 1957–59. He is also remembered for his television roles: Stinky, the bratty man-child in The Abbott and Costello Show, and Jillson, the maintenance man in The Joey Bishop Show.
Hold That Lion! is a 1947 short subject directed by Jules White starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 100th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Soup to Nuts is a 1930 American pre-Code comedy film written by cartoonist, sculptor, author, and inventor Rube Goldberg and directed by Benjamin Stoloff. It was the film debut of the original four members who would later, minus Ted Healy, go on to become known as The Three Stooges comic trio. Goldberg made a cameo appearance in the film as himself, opening letters in a restaurant. Several other comedians are also featured.
Swing Parade of 1946 is a 1946 musical comedy film directed by Phil Karlson and released by Monogram Pictures. The film features Gale Storm, Phil Regan, and The Three Stooges, Edward Brophy and musical numbers by Connee Boswell and the Louis Jordan and Will Osborne orchestras, including "Stormy Weather" and "Caldonia".
This is a complete list of short subjects and feature films that featured The Three Stooges released between 1930 and 1970.
Woman Haters is a 1934 musical short subject directed by Archie Gottler starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the inaugural entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who would ultimately star in 190 short subjects for the studio between 1934 and 1959. This short is known to be the first program shown on Antenna TV, a channel that was launched on January 1, 2011, by Tribune Broadcasting.
A Plumbing We Will Go is a 1940 short subject directed by Del Lord starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 46th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Who Done It? is a 1949 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 114th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Monkey Businessmen is a 1946 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 92nd entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Three Little Pirates is a 1946 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 96th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Fright Night is a 1947 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 98th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Out West is a 1947 short subject directed by Edward Bernds starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 99th entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
Cuckoo on a Choo Choo is a 1952 short subject directed by Jules White starring American slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges. It is the 143rd entry in the series released by Columbia Pictures starring the comedians, who released 190 shorts for the studio between 1934 and 1959.
The Three Stooges is an American biographical television film about the slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges directed by James Frawley. This television film was entirely shot in Sydney, Australia. It was broadcast on ABC on April 24, 2000.