Ted Healy

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Ted Healy
Ted Healy in The Casino Murder Case trailer.jpg
Healy in the trailer for The Casino Murder Case (1935)
Ernest Lea Nash

(1896-10-01)October 1, 1896
DiedDecember 21, 1937(1937-12-21) (aged 41)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles
OccupationComedian, actor
Years active1912–1937
Betty Brown
(m. 1922;div. 1932)

Betty Hickman
(m. 1936)

Ted Healy (born Ernest Lea Nash; October 1, 1896 – December 21, 1937) 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. His sister Marcia Healy appeared in The Sitter Downers with the Three Stooges.


Early life

Sources conflict on Healy's precise birth name and birthplace, but according to baptism records, he was born Ernest (or Earnest) Lea Nash on October 1, 1896, in Kaufman, Texas. [1] He attended Holy Innocents School in Houston before the family, including his sister, Marcia, moved to New York in 1908. While in New York, he attended high school at De La Salle Institute. Nash initially intended to become a businessman but eventually decided on the stage. [2]

Show business career

Nash made his first foray into show business in 1912 at the age of 15. Moses Horwitz (later known as Moe Howard) was his childhood friend and they joined the Annette Kellerman Diving Girls, a vaudeville act that included four boys. The act ended quickly after an accident on stage, and Nash and Howard went their separate ways. Nash developed a vaudeville act and adopted the stage name Ted Healy.

Healy's act was a hit, and he soon expanded his role as a comedian and master of ceremonies. In the 1920s, he was the highest-paid performer in vaudeville, making $9000 a week. He added performers to his stage show, including his new wife, Betty Brown (Betty Braun), and his German shepherd dog. [3]

The Healys' revue toured, listed on the marquee as Syncopated Toes , and when some of his acrobats quit in late 1923, Moe Howard answered the advertisement for replacements. Since Howard was not an acrobat, Healy cast his old friend as a stooge (a purported member of the audience who is picked, ostensibly at random, to come onstage). In the routine, Howard's appearance would end with Healy losing his trousers.

Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen

Howard's brother Shemp joined the act as a heckler in early 1924, but both Howards temporarily retired from show business by mid-1925. Ted and Betty were hired in June 1925 to star in the Broadway revue Earl Carroll Vanities of 1925. Ted brought some of the routines he developed with the Howard brothers, using three comics under contract to Carroll, Dave Chasen, Kenneth Lackey, and Lou Warren. After a contract dispute whereby it was determined that Carroll was in the wrong, Ted and Betty left "Vanities" in October 1925 with Lou Warren and relaunched their "Syncopated Toes" revue, now retitled Fun in the Healy Manner . By January 1926, Shemp Howard had returned, and they successfully toured the country through the summer of 1926. Ted and Betty received another Broadway opportunity, this time from the Shubert Brothers, who hired them for The Passing Show of 1926 , with Ted bringing Shemp and Lou along. "Passing" only enjoyed a preview tour and did not open on Broadway, but the Shuberts and Healy retooled the show into the successful A Night in Spain , with Phil Baker joining the Healys as its stars. For "Spain," Ted now utilized four stooges in some scenes, Shemp, Lou Warren, brother-in-law Sam "Moody" Braun, and Dick Hakins. Arriving on Broadway in May 1927 after four months of successful previews, Hakins fell ill and was replaced by comedy/specialty dancer Bobby Pinkus. In November 1927, "Spain" began a national tour with four months at Chicago's 4 Cohans Grand Opera House. Larry Fine, who had been working as the lead performer and house M.C. at Chicago's Rainbo Gardens nightclub and restaurant, was added to Healy's group of comics in late March 1928.

The Shuberts hired Ted to star in their new show A Night in Venice , with Moe Howard returning to show biz and joining Ted at his home in Connecticut to develop some comedy bits for the revue, which began rehearsals in January 1929. Shemp Howard also came back, but Larry Fine was in Atlantic City with his wife, waiting for the birth of his daughter. Healy hired comedy xylophonist Fred Sanborn as a third comic in Fine's place. Circa mid-February, Larry contacted Healy and was welcomed to join the "Venice" cast.

During the run of A Night in Spain, Ted and Betty also performed a song-and-dance stage act in nightclubs and other theaters after the evening curtain went down on "Spain." But the Healys split in 1928, and Ted came up with the idea to spotlight his stooges in a new act, with the emphasis on comedy and slapstick humor. Concurrent with their performances in Venice, Healy booked himself and his troupe in additional shows as '"Ted Healy & His Southern Gentlemen" and later as "Ted Healy & His Racketeers". A Night in Venice had a shortened road tour after Broadway and closed in March 1930, largely owing to the economic impact of the Depression.

Fox Films hired Healy to costar in the film Soup to Nuts (filmed in July 1930), and Ted brought Moe, Shemp, Larry, and Fred Sanborn with him. In late August 1930, the Stooges and Healy parted ways after a dispute over a movie contract. Sanborn began a solo career, and the remaining trio began performing on their own, using such monikers as "The Three Lost Soles" and "Howard, Fine, and Howard", and often incorporated material from previous Healy shows. Healy attempted to sue the Stooges for using his material, but the copyright was held by the Shubert Theatre Corporation, for which the routines had been produced, and the Stooges had the Shuberts' permission to use it.

Healy hired replacement stooges, consisting of Eddie Moran (soon replaced by Richard "Dick" Hakins), Jack Wolf (father of sportscaster Warner Wolf), and Paul "Mousie" Garner, in early 1931. This group appeared in two Broadway plays, with Healy co-starring in The Gang's All Here and Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt .

Moe, Larry, and Shemp rejoined Healy's act in late July 1932, but Shemp left on August 19 to pursue a solo career and was replaced by his younger brother, Jerry Howard, renamed Curly Howard. The switch from Shemp to Curly happened very quickly, and on August 27, 1932, only eight days after Shemp departed, "Ted Healy with Howard, Fine & Howard" premiered Curly at the RKO Palace in Cleveland, Ohio. The new lineup's personal appearances headlined many of the prime nightclubs and movie palaces nationally for the next several months. In late spring 1933, Ted was contracted by MGM, and the act once more headed to Hollywood, this time to stay. Over the next year, Ted's comedy team appeared in several MGM shorts, and even supported stars like Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in features like Dancing Lady . On his own, Healy was given major roles in MGM features like Bombshell with Jean Harlow and Operator 13 with Marion Davies and Gary Cooper. In March 1934, Fine and the Howards permanently and amicably parted professional ways with Ted Healy and began working at Columbia Studios as "The Three Stooges."

In 1937, Marcia Healy would make one film with the post-Healy Stooges, The Sitter Downers [4] and she also had a part in The Great Ziegfeld (filmed 1935–36). [5]

After the Stooges

Healy in the color short La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935), one of the earliest examples of the full-color Technicolor film process Ted Healy Fiesta.jpg
Healy in the color short La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935), one of the earliest examples of the full-color Technicolor film process

Healy appeared in a succession of films for MGM from 1934 to 1937 and was also loaned to 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. for films by those companies, playing both dramatic and comedic roles. One of his films, Mad Holiday (1936), featured stooge Dick Hakins as his sidekick. In San Francisco (1936), a new lineup of "stooges" consisting of Jimmy Brewster, Red Pearson, and Sammy Glasser (Sammy Wolfe) filmed a scene with Healy, but it was omitted from the final release; a few production stills of them exist. Also, in the Technicolor short subject La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935), Jimmy Brewster briefly appears to 'stooge' with Healy. During this period, Healy took to wearing a toupée in public. [2] His last film, Hollywood Hotel (1937), was released a few days after he died.

Personal life

Healy's first wife was dancer and singer Betty Brown (born Elizabeth Braun), whom he married in 1922, [6] one week after they met. [7] The couple worked together in vaudeville, then divorced in 1932 [8] after Brown sued heiress Mary Brown Warburton for "alienation of her husband's affections". [9]

Healy's second marriage was to UCLA coed Betty Hickman. After introducing himself, Healy proposed immediately, and the couple became engaged the following day. [10] They were married in Yuma, Arizona, on May 15, 1936, after a midnight elopement by plane. [11] Hickman was granted a divorce on October 7, 1936, which was nullified after a reconciliation. [12] Their son, John Jacob, was born on December 17, 1937, four days before Healy's death. [13]


Healy died on December 21, 1937, at the age of 41, after an evening of celebration at the Trocadero nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. He was reportedly celebrating the birth of his son, an event he had eagerly anticipated, according to Moe Howard. "He was nuts about kids", wrote Howard. "He used to visit our homes and envied the fact that we were all married and had children. Healy always loved kids and often gave Christmas parties for underprivileged youngsters and spent hundreds of dollars on toys." [2]

The circumstances surrounding his death remain a matter of some controversy. [14] An MGM spokesman initially announced the cause as a heart attack, [15] [16] but the presence of recent woundsa cut over his right eye and a "discolored" left eyecombined with reports of an altercation at the Trocadero gave rise to speculation that he died as a result of those injuries. [15]

Healy's friend, writer Henry Taylor, told Moe Howard that the fight was preceded by an argument between Healy and three men whom he identified as "college fellows". [17] The younger men allegedly knocked Healy to the ground and kicked him in the head, ribs, and abdomen. The wrestler Man Mountain Dean reported that he was standing in front of the Plaza Hotel in Hollywood at 2:30 a.m. when Healy emerged, bleeding, from a taxi. He related an "incoherent story" of being attacked at the Trocadero but could not identify his assailant. [18] Dean contacted a physician, Sydney Weinberg, who treated Healy at the hotel. [15] Another friend, Joe Frisco, then drove him to his home. [19] Wyantt LaMont, Healy's personal physician, was summoned to the home the following morning when Healy began experiencing convulsions. [1] Despite the efforts of LaMont and a cardiologist, John Ruddock, Healy died later that day. Because of the circumstances, LaMont refused to sign Healy's death certificate. [15]

A later source alleged that the three assailants were not college boys but rather actor Wallace Beery, producer Albert R. Broccoli, and Broccoli's cousin, agent/producer Pat DiCicco. [20] While no documentation is seen in contemporaneous news reports that either Beery or DiCicco was present, Broccoli admitted that he was indeed involved in a fist fight with Healy at the Trocadero. [21] He later modified his story, stating that a heavily intoxicated Healy had picked a fight with him and the two had briefly scuffled and then shook hands and parted ways. [1] In other reports, Broccoli admitted to pushing Healy, but not striking him. [22]

Following an autopsy, the Los Angeles county coroner reported that Healy died of acute toxic nephritis secondary to acute and chronic alcoholism. Police closed their investigation, as no indication in the report was given that his death was caused by physical assault. [22]

Healy was a prolific spender; despite a weekly salary of $1,700 (equivalent to $30,234in 2019), he died in debt. [1] He indulged in numerous personal luxuries and paid his assistant performers' salaries out of his own pocket. He was also financially generous to friends when they were out of work; for example, while unemployed, Frisco lived at an expensive hotel on Healy's tab. [1] Betty was left responsible for a multitude of liabilities, including hospital bills related to the birth of her son and Healy's medical care. [23] She remained hospitalized for some time after Healy died, leaving their house unattended; as a result, it was burgled and looted of everything of value. [1]

A trust fund was organized by friends and colleagues to provide financial support for Betty and her child. A fundraiser was also held, including a $10-per-plate dinner (about $170 in 2017) and an auction of the Hollywood Hotel's ledger with hundreds of famous signatures, but Betty later asserted that she had never received any proceeds from the fundraiser. [1]

Ted Healy is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, along with his mother and sister.


In the decades that followed, many comedy stars, including Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Red Skelton, cited Healy as a mentor and significant influence on their careers. [24] "Back in 1925, Ted Healy took me aside and gave me some wonderful advice," Berle told Walter Winchell, in 1955. "'Milton, always play to the public. Never mind playing to the theatrical crowd. Don't try to impress the trumpet player in the pit. Entertain the people and you'll get rich and famous.'" [25] Alex Gard's caricature of Healy was the first of several hundred displayed at Sardi's restaurant in New York City's Theater District. [26]


1926Wise Guys Prefer BrunettesNapoleon FizzShort film
1930 Soup to Nuts Ted "Teddy"
1931A Night in Venice
1933 Nertsery Rhymes PapaShort film
1933Stop, Sadie, StopTedShort film. A lost film
1933 Beer and Pretzels HimselfShort film
1933 Hello Pop! FatherShort film
1933Stage MotherRalph Martin
1933 Bombshell Junior Burns
1933 Plane Nuts HimselfShort film
1933 Meet the Baron Head Janitor
1933 Dancing Lady Steve - Patch's Assistant
1933 Myrt and Marge Mullins
1934 Fugitive Lovers Hector Withington, Jr.
1934Lazy RiverWilliam "Gabby" Stone
1934 The Big Idea Ted Healy, Scenario Company PresidentShort film
1934 Hollywood Party ReporterUncredited; last film with the Stooges
1934 Operator 13 Doctor Hitchcock
1934 Paris Interlude Jimmy
1934 Death on the Diamond 'Truck' Hogan
1934 The Band Plays On Joe O'Brien
1934 Forsaking All Others (scenes deleted)
1935 The Winning Ticket Eddie Dugan
1935 The Casino Murder Case Police Sergeant Ernest Heath
1935 Reckless Smiley
1935 Murder in the Fleet Gabby O'Neill
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara HimselfColor short film
1935 Mad Love Reagan
1935 Here Comes the Band Happy
1935 It's in the Air Clip McGurk
1936 Speed Clarence Maxmillian "Gadget" Haggerty
1936 San Francisco Mat
1936 Sing, Baby, Sing Al Craven
1936 The Longest Night Police Sergeant Magee
1936 Mad Holiday Mert Morgan
1937 Man of the People Joe The Glut
1937 The Good Old Soak Al Simmons
1937 Varsity Show William Williams
1937 Hollywood Hotel Fuzzy Boyle
1938Love Is a HeadacheJimmy Slattery
1938 Of Human Hearts Uncredited

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Further reading