Long before film scholars argued the relative merits of Sean Connery and Roger Moore as 007 or George Reeves and Christopher Reeve as Superman, Three Stooges savants debated the relative merits of Curly Howard and Shemp Howard as a Stooge.
On one thing they agree: Shemp — the stringy-haired, pockmarked goon best known for his high-pitched ”heep heeps” — came first. Born Samuel Horwitz in Brooklyn in 1895, the elder brother of Moses (Moe) and Jerome (Curly) began performing with his former schoolmate, vaudeville comedian Ted Healy, in 1922. Soon Moe joined the act, and then they added a bug-eyed guy called Larry Feinberg. The quartet caught on big — but it was Healy’s show, and a frustrated Shemp left in 1932 to work on his own. That’s when baby brother Curly stepped in.
Soon, Moe, Larry, and Curly broke away from Healy as well and began appearing in their own Columbia shorts — first as Howard, Fine and Howard and finally as the Three Stooges. After 97 short films, Curly suffered a series of strokes, and in 1947 Shemp filled the void; Curly made one cameo appearance with the guys in Hold That Lion (1947), the only film in which all three brothers appeared together, before his death in 1952.
On Nov. 22, 1955, Shemp died at the age of 60. (Moe and Larry died in 1975.) Although Joe Besser replaced him, many fans believe the soul of the Stooges perished with Shemp; in 1957, their Columbia contract was not renewed. Still, Stooge popularity lives on in millions of nyuk-nyuk diehards. ”I think they make you feel smart,” says Gary Lassin, president of the Three Stooges Fan Club. ”You do a lot of dumb stuff in this world, but when you see these guys, you feel like a genius.”
Nov. 22, 1955
Roger Williams’ ”Autumn Leaves” was raking it on the top of charts. TV viewers were stumped by The $64,000 Question. Moviegoers were choked up by Marlon Brandon’s singing in Guys and Dolls.