Soup-to-Nuts & all things comedy
Harry Moses Horwitz (Moe Howard) was the fourth of five sons born to Solomon Horwitz and Jennie Gorovitz. Arriving in Brooklyn, New York on June 19, 1897, he received the nickname ‘Moe’ at a very young age. In time, Moe, his older brother Samuel and younger brother Jerome made a name for themselves in show business as the Three Stooges.
Learning came easy to Moe. He was blessed with a prolific memory and could memorize anything within a relatively short period of time. Not only did this serve as a blessing regarding schoolwork, it benefited him strongly when he later needed to memorize lines for his acting career. One who loved to read, Moe entertained himself with a large number of Horatio Alger books. The stories he read set his imagination to work and from that, dozens of ideas would fill his mind.
As a boy, Moe created the classic bowl-cut hairstyle he was known by during the Stooges years. His mother had a thing for letting his hair grow to shoulder length. During the time Moe was a child, long hair on boys was seldom seen, so as a result, he endured years of teasing from his classmates. The day finally came when he tired of the teasing and took matters into his own hands. Sneaking off with a friend to the shed in his parents’ backyard, armed with a mixing bowl and scissors, a large portion of Moe’s hair soon littered the floor of the shed.
Though he felt better about having the shorter hair, Moe was also concerned about how his mother would react when she saw him and his nervousness caused him to hide under the house. Panic set in when he could not be found after several hours, so Moe returned to the house. His mother was so happy to have him back safe and sound; she did not mention one word about his hair.
As Moe grew older, his fascination with acting intensified. Numerous times he played hooky from school to attend the theater and consequently, his schoolwork suffered. Moe described his fascination this way – “I used to stand outside the theater, knowing the truant officer was looking for me. I would stand there ‘til someone came alone and then asked them to buy my ticket. It was necessary for an adult to accompany a juvenile into the theater. When I succeeded, I’d give him my ten cents and go up to the top of the balcony. There I put my chin on the rail and watch, spellbound, from the first act to the last. I would usually select the actor I liked most and follow his performance throughout the play.”
Despite Moe's bad attendance record, he managed to graduate from PS 163 in Brooklyn. His formal education ended two months after he enrolled in Erasmus Hall High School when he dropped out to pursue a career in show business.
Moe’s first taste at acting took place in Brooklyn at the Vitagraph Studios. Here he would run errands free of charge. In return, he would be rewarded with bit parts in some of the movies the studio recorded. His efforts, though noble, were short-lived due to the studio burning down in 1910.
Thankfully, all was not lost. In 1909, Moe had met a young man named Lee Nash. His relationship with Nash would bear significant fruit in the future. During the summer of 1912, the two friends were hired to work as diving ‘girls’ in Annette Kellerman's aquatic act.
Moe continued to rack up show business experience by singing in a bar with big brother Shemp (Samuel). When Dad found out about it, his singing came to a screeching halt. During the summer of 1914, he headed down the Mississippi River on a showboat and did so again during the following summer.
By 1921, Lee Nash had a firmly established vaudeville routine and invited Moe to join him. Two years later during one of their routines, Moe spotted brother Shemp in the audience and yelled at him from the stage. Shemp returned a comment and the two brothers began to heckle each other back and forth. This behavior drew applause from the audience, so Nash added Shemp to the act on a permanent basis.
In 1925, violinist Larry Fine was recruited by Healy. After Larry joined the act, Healy changed the name of the group to “Ted Healy and His Racketeers”, which later became Ted Healy and his Stooges.
1925 also saw Moe relinquish the mantle of bachelorhood when on June 7th, he married Helen Schonberger, a first cousin to Harry Houdini. A year later, Helen began to pressure Moe to quit the act due to the fact she was pregnant and wanted him closer to home. He did as she requested and attempted to earn a living through a number of ‘normal’ jobs, but his success rate in these endeavors would be classified as ‘slim to none'. Thus, he returned to show business and Ted Healy.
It was now 1930 and Ted Healy’s crew was on their way to the big time. The movie, Soup to Nuts, featured Healy with four Stooges (Moe, Shemp, Larry and Fred Sanborn). Shortly after the movie was filmed, Shemp left the act due to personality conflicts with Healy. As a replacement, Moe mentioned his younger brother, Jerome, to Healy. Jerome, known as ‘Jerry’ to his friends and ‘Babe’ to his brothers, had originally been passed on by Healy. His determination to be part of the act, however, had grown in intensity – so much so he shaved off his auburn mustache and hair and ran onto the stage during one of Healy’s routines. His efforts paid off. Healy hired Jerry and changed his name to “Curly”.
The act now found itself hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to liven up feature films with short comic skits. After a few of these skits, MGM began to groom Healy for a solo act. Without Healy in the group, the Three Stooges arrived at the door of Columbia Pictures. Here they would remain until December 1957, during which time they made 190 short films.
During the time Healy worked with the Stooges, his character was that of an aggressive, take-charge leader of the group. With him now out of the picture, that role was assumed by Moe. For those who knew Moe well, the character they saw on the screen was the antithesis of the one in real life. Moe's true personality was quiet and loving, someone who was a shrewd businessman.
The movie Punch Drunks was the only movie to be written entirely by the Three Stooges. In this film, Curly’s role is that of an unenthusiastic boxer who goes ballistic each time he hears the song, Pop Goes the Weasel. This was followed by Men in Black (years before Will Smith was a name in his mother’s vocabulary) – a spoof on Men in White, a hospital drama. Men in Black was the only film for which the Stooges were nominated for an Academy Award. Throughout the film is heard the catchphrase, “Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard”. (When they made “Three Little Pigskins” a very young Lucille Ball is seen among the characters.)
The Stooges were filming Half-Wits Holiday in 1946 when Curly suffered a stroke on May 6th. Shemp agreed to fill his brother’s role while Curly recovered. Later in Hold that Lion, Curly did a brief cameo, making this the only Stooge film to include all three of the Howard brothers.
When Columbia head Harry Cohn died, short subject films went the way of the passenger pigeon. Moe now began to work as a gofer at Columbia. All was not lost, however. Screen Gems had purchased the Stooges’ short film library from Columbia and introduced their version of slapstick to a new audience. At the same time, businessman Moe put together another act, replacing Curly with Joe DeRita, and the group recorded six films. By 1965, however, the Stooges had aged too much to continue doing slapstick and Moe now began to sell real estate.
One last attempt to record a film occurred in 1969 with Kook’s Tour. Basically an early version of ‘reality TV’, Kook’s Tour showed the Stooges touring the country and interacting with their fans.
Moe was the last of the Stooges to die. Curly suffered a series of strokes which led to his death on January 18, 1952. Shemp was next on November 22, 1955, due to a heart attack. During the filming of Kook’s Tour in 1969, Larry suffered a major stroke and later died on January 24, 1975. A lifetime smoker, Moe died of lung cancer on May 4, 1975, one month prior to his 78th birthday. At the time of his death, Moe was writing his autobiography, I Stooged to Conquer. In October of that same year, Moe’s wife, Helen, died and was buried next to him in Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California. In 1977, Moe’s book was released under the title, Moe Howard and the Three Stooges.
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“Keep laughing. As long as you’re laughing you still have hope.”