Once described as "The Ugliest Man in Hollywood" as part of a publicity stunt concocted by his agent, comic actor Shemp Howard was an integral member of The Three Stooges for more than 70 films. Recei...
This weekend, with critical fanfare ranging from scathing to drunkenly enthusiastic, directing duo the Farrelly Bros. The Three Stooges overperformed at the domestic box office, grossing a tremendous $17 million against the juggernaut The Hunger Games (the movie was estimated to deliver around $10 million). With buzz for the movie focused mostly on scantily-cald nuns and Catholic League controversy, the money-making comedy is a surprise. So how'd it happen? According to Hollywood.com Box Office Analyst Paul Dergarabedian, the PG rating helped direct families to the movie theater — but those driving the minivans may have been part of the massive Stooge fanbase to begin with.
As owner of the "Stoogeum" — a 10,000 square-foot, three-story building that houses Stooge memorabilia, a Stooge research library, a 16mm film vault and a screening room for all things Stooge — Gary Lassin is tapped directly into the vein of Stooge fandom. After finding his way into the Stooges genealogical tree ("I grew up with them as a kid, but my mistake was marrying into Larry Fine's family"), Lassin created the Stoogeum in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, as a home for his vast collection of memorabilia. This weekend was something unprecedented for Lassin and the dedicated fans of Larry, Curly and Moe. Of course, the Stoogeum curator caught the film opening weekend.
"My expectations were low. The film was behind the eight ball from the get-go for hardcore fans. The Stooges were black & white shorts on a $30,000 budget. This is a color feature film on a $30 million budget." Lassin's skepticism echoed the Stooge devotees, a "built in" fanbase the comedic historian admitted would be provoked into theaters either way.
"Half thought it was blasphemy to try and make the movie, half were eager looking forward to it. Now that people have seen it, the people looking forward to it liked it, the people who weren't looking forward to it weren't going to see or didn't like it."
Lassin hits the nail on the head: babyboomers who grew up on Stooges aren't that different than the target demographic that clamors for the latest comic book movie or installment of Twilight. They just haven't had a movie to flock to the last few decades. The box office history is supportive of Lassin's theory; in the last seven years, the Farrelly Bros. (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) haven't had a movie gross more than $50 million dollars — they're not exactly pitching a perfect game. Stooges marks their third highest grossing weekend, behind Me, Myself and Irene and Shallow Hal, two films headlined by bonafide stars. What made Stooges a success? Stooge fans like Lassin.
According to Lassin, the latest incarnation of Stooge comedy "sounded like a Stooges script, it looked like a Stooges film" and was a fitting tribute. He had reservations: "There's a reason why the Stooges did shorts. The violence is funny, but in small doses. This was a big dose. I don't want to say there was too much violence and slapping… but there was. I think they realized they were up against this problem and they divided it into the three segments. They realized Stooges can't sustain taste for an hour and a half.
"The dialogue was very Stooge-like. Too many references to 2012. There were some inconsistencies. They knew what Geico and Heineken were, but they didn't know what an iPhone was. They were almost time travelers, like the convent was cut off from reality. But in the real Stooges, there were things that didn't make sense if you thought about it. The original ones were so fast-paced, you didn't have time to think about what didn't make sense. You can't sustain that pace for an hour and a half, and I think for a hardcore fan, that's what was missing. "
Lassin admitted the movie was crafted by true fans, for fans, and it works for those who have loved Stooges and for newcomers who could enjoy the slapstick humor. But what about Shemp fans? "There's no room for Shemp. If you're going to pick three Stooges, you're obviously going to pick Curly. For most of the babyboomers it was Curly Howard. They identified with him. His childlike innocence. The face that he was picked on by Moe, who was a father figure. Not so much with Shemp. He was an acquired taste. There was a lot that didn't make it. No Shemp cameo, no pie fight — there was a lot that wasn't Stooge-like. But the Farrellys' heart was in it."
For more information on The Stoogeum, see the museum's official website.
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Landed featured role in comedy feature "Hellzapoppin!"
Performed at various dance halls and in amateur theater shows
Began solo career when Healy, Moe Howard and Larry Fine left "Passing Show" over a contract dispute with Shubert
Replaced brother Curly as member of Three Stooges beginning with the short "Fright Night"; made total of 77 two-reelers with the Stooges
Replaced Jimmy Durante as promoter Knobby Walsh in "Joe Palooka" film series
Suffered a mild stroke; continued making shorts with the Stooges
Signed by Columbia to appear in a series of comedy shorts
Co-starred, along with Moe and Fine, opposite George O'Brien in the Western feature "Gold Raiders"
Final film appearance, "Columbia Laff Hour"; released posthumously
In partnership with Wally Vernon, opened nightclub Stage One
Left act for several years after his marriage
Co-starred in "The Bank Dick"
Reteamed with Healy for the Broadway production "The Passing Show of 1932," produced by J J Shubert
Played vaudeville circuit and showboats in blackface comedy act with brother Moe Howard on the RKO circuit and performed without makeup on the Loew's circuit
Drafted into the U.S. Army; later discharged
Appeared on stage in "A Night in Spain" and "A Night in Venice"
Without Healy, Fine and the Howard brothers performed as Three Lost Souls
Performed in Vitaphone shorts and on vaudeville circuits
Rejoined brother Moe, Healy and Larry Fine to appear in feature film "Soup to Nuts"
Joined with Ted Healy and brother Moe Howard in sketch comedy act later to evolve into The Three Stooges
Portrayed by John Kassir in the ABC TV-movie "The Three Stooges"
Once described as "The Ugliest Man in Hollywood" as part of a publicity stunt concocted by his agent, comic actor Shemp Howard was an integral member of The Three Stooges for more than 70 films. Receiving his start on the vaudeville circuit, Shemp performed with his brother Moe and violinist Larry Fine alongside popular comedian Ted Healy on Broadway and in the two-reel short "Soup to Nuts" (1930) prior to venturing on to a solo career. Over the 15 years that followed, Shemp established himself as a film comedian opposite players like W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello until the failing health of his younger brother Curly brought him back into the Stooges fold with the comedy "Fright Night" (1947). Less hyper-kinetic and childlike than Curly, Shemp's shameless mugging and trademark utterance of "Bee-bee-bee-bee!" - in addition to his willingness to take a mallet to the head or a pair of fingers to eyes - easily made him a welcome addition to the line-up. After appearing in dozens of shorts that included "I'm a Monkey's Uncle" (1948) and "Corny Casanovas" (1952), he died of a heart attack in 1955. And while replaced onscreen, the stringy-haired funny man would never be supplanted in the hearts of Stooge fans who truly appreciated what Shemp Howard and his fellow Stooges gave to the world of comedy, even if the critics did not.
married in 1925
born in 1903; died in 1952
born in 1897; died in 1975
born in 1927; died of cancer on January 13, 1972
Baron DeHirsch Trade School
P S 163
New Utrecht High School
Howard had numerous phobias. He was afraid of heights, driving or being driven in a car, and also had a fear of water.