His trademark blend of improvised physical comedy, slapstick, and over-the-top catchphrases made Curly the most popular Stooge.
Today marks the 110th birthday of one Jerome Lester Horwitz, better known as “Curly” of the Three Stooges. His trademark blend of improvised physical comedy, slapstick, and over-the-top catchphrases made Curly the most popular of the Stooges, and his antics continue to win him new fans today.
Between 1934 and 1959, the Three Stooges created a lasting legacy of laughter, thanks to the 190 short films produced by Curly, his brothers Moses and Sam, or “Moe” and “Shemp,” and their friend Louis “Larry” Feinberg. Throughout decades of personal and professional struggles, lineup changes, and family tragedies, the Stooges made their name onscreen by delighting young and old alike with their particular brand of absurd comedy.
The trio started out in 1925 as Moe, Larry and Shemp, playing second banana to comedian Ted Healy in vaudeville. They quickly moved to the movies and found success as Hollywood’s newest clowns. Offscreen, the group was torn apart by Healy’s hard drinking and abusive manner, as well as fights about money and credit. When Shemp left to pursue a solo career, Curly took his older brother’s place. “Ted Healy and His Stooges” produced several shorts and made appearances in a handful of MGM films.
In 1934, the Stooges signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and became immediate audience favorites. They were nominated for an Academy Award for 1934’s Men in Black and even lampooned Adolph Hitler in 1940’s You Nazty Spy! and I’ll Never Heil Again in 1941. Their work in this period, from 1935 to 1941, is what we think of as “classic Stooges,” with films like Hoi Polloi, Disorder in the Court, and A Plumbing We Will Go. It is these films that cemented their star status and kept them in high demand for years.
But that popularity came at a great price. Under their contract with Columbia, the Stooges were required to put out eight films each year with just a 40-week production schedule. The workload proved too much for Curly, who developed hypertension and other health problems that ultimately led to a stroke in 1946. Original member Shemp replaced his brother with the understanding that it would be a temporary arrangement only until Curly could return. Sadly, Curly was never able to rejoin the group, although he did make a cameo in a later film, Hold That Lion! It was his last appearance in a Stooge film, and marked the only time Curly shared the screen with both of his brothers and Larry.
Here he is, with hair, in his last Stooges appearance:
While his health did not improve with retirement, his love life took a positive turn in 1947 when he met Valerie Newman and the pair were married on July 31, 1947. And while his physical state continued to deteriorate during the marriage, he and Valerie welcomed a daughter, Janine, in 1948.
That same year, the Stooges made their first television appearances and produced a pilot for ABC the next year. The show failed to catch on, so the team turned their attention back to films.
While their pilot didn’t connect with audiences, television syndication in the late 1950s brought their old films to an entirely new generation of fans. Unfortunately, Curly would not survive to enjoy this revival of their popularity. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in January 1952, at 48. But his legacy survives to this day through the generations of fans who continue to find joy in the wacky adventures of Curly, his brothers, and the rest of the Three Stooges.
Written by Seth Joseph