10 Slap-Happy Facts About The Three Stooges

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Few artists have suffered more for their art than Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine, the most recognizable members of the revolving comedy troupe billed as The Three Stooges. For decades, the former vaudeville performers filmed a series of shorts that used pain, pies, and misunderstandings as the basis for their unique style of physical comedy. Check out some facts about their early days, their surprisingly economical salaries, and why Adolf Hitler wanted them dead.

1. THEIR ORIGINAL RINGLEADER DIED OF UNNATURAL CAUSES.

Having an eye for stage work since their childhood days in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, brothers Moses “Moe” Horwitz, Jerome “Curly” Horwitz, and Samuel “Shemp” Horwitz—who were all billed under the last name “Howard”—got their big break when childhood friend and vaudeville performer Ted Healy enlisted them to be slapstick-heavy “stooges” for his comedy act in 1922. (Another performer, Bozo-haired Larry Fine, would join them; Curly was added to the show following Shemp’s departure.) Though they toured with Healy for years, the men grew tired of his abrasive attitude and excessive drinking and eventually parted ways in 1934 to pursue film stardom independent of his influence.

In 1937, Healy’s volatility caught up to him: Following an argument with an associate of mobster Lucky Luciano named Pasquale DiCicco, Healy was beaten to death outside of a bar on the Sunset Strip. Actor Wallace Beery was also believed to be part of the melee, and future James Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was an eyewitness. No one was ever charged with the crime, though, and allegations that Shemp may have had information about the violent encounter were never confirmed, possibly out of fear of reprisal from criminal figurehead Luciano.

2. THEY CO-STARRED WITH LUCILLE BALL.

For a 1934 short titled Three Little Pigskins, the Stooges found themselves starring alongside a new Columbia contract player named Lucille Ball. Ball, who would later become a comedy legend in her own right, was once asked what she learned from working with the formidable comedy team. “How to duck,” she replied.

3. HITLER WANTED THEM DEAD.

Having established their comic personas on film, the Stooges proceeded to make some accidental history. Their 1940 short, You Nazty Spy!, was the first American production to openly make a mockery of Adolf Hitler’s regime. (Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator opened nine months later.) The short was perceived as a great insult by the Führer, who listed the Stooges as favored casualties on his own personal death list. (It’s not known whether he named each one individually.)

4. THEIR SIGNATURE EYE POKE WAS CULLED FROM A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT.

In Stooge body language, nothing says “I despise you” more efficiently than jutting out the ring and index fingers in a “V” formation and jabbing them into someone’s eyes. This trademark maneuver was apparently based on a real incident. Once, when the gang was playing cards, Shemp became enraged when he believed Larry Fine was cheating. Shemp stood up and poked Larry in both eyes. An observant Moe filed it away for future use onscreen.

5. THEY WORKED CHEAP.

Despite their incredible popularity starring in a series of shorts for Columbia Pictures—they worked a total of 23 years for the studio—Columbia boss Harry Cohn was notoriously stingy. Every year, the Stooges would be forced to renegotiate their one-year contract, with Cohn asserting that the shorts division of the company was not profitable. Believing the spin and fearing Cohn’s alleged criminal connections could be problematic if they made waves, the Stooges worked for a relative pittance most of their careers. When Columbia shut down their shorts department in 1957, the men were fired.

6. THEY MADE LIVE APPEARANCES.

Today’s Stooge fan has to be content with the over 200 shorts circulating on television, but there was once a time the group could be seen live and in all their nose-tweaking glory. During and following their stint at Columbia, the gang had time to tour, taking their live act on the road to different cities throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Following the passing of Curly Howard in 1952, the trio’s live show made use of replacement Stooge Joe DeRita. This sometimes confused kids who came out for the shows, and Larry Fine was apparently a little curt in explaining it. One young guest recalled that he had been puzzled by Curly’s absence and asked Fine about it while the performer was shaking hands. “Where’s Curly?” the seven-year-old asked. “Curly’s dead,” Fine replied.

7. A REPLACEMENT STOOGE HAD A NO-VIOLENCE CONTRACT CLAUSE.

Sorting out the musical chairs of Stooges enrollment can be difficult: While Moe and Larry were largely engrained, the trio was originally rounded out with Shemp before he departed for a solo career: Curly was his replacement. Following Curly’s departure due to illness, Shemp stepped back in, but he died in 1955. After briefly considering a run as the Two Stooges, Moe and Larry recruited Joe Besser, a comic actor who already had a deal with Columbia, in 1956. But Besser wasn’t quite as game for the physical comedy as his predecessors. He insisted his contract contain language prohibiting him from being abused to excess, including anything pastry-related. “I never was the type of comic to be hit by a pie,” he said, a mentality that calls into question the decision to become part of The Three Stooges. Following Besser’s departure in 1959, the group roped in Joe DeRita for live shows and several feature films, including 1961's Snow White and the Three Stooges.

8. THERE WAS A LOST STOOGE.

A familiar face in 35 of the Columbia shorts, Emil Sitka played a perennial foil for the Stooges, standing aghast at their manic behavior and uncouth manners. When Larry Fine died in 1974, the remaining original Stooge, Moe Howard, decided to mount a new feature film production and asked Sitka to fill Fine’s shoes. Sitka signed a contract, but Moe died in 1975 before filming could commence.

9. SEAN PENN ALMOST PLAYED LARRY.

For years, filmmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) attempted to mount a big-budget continuation of the Stooges that would replicate their comedy rather than attempt a behind-the-scenes chronicle of their careers. The two came close in 2009, when Sean Penn agreed to play Larry, Benicio del Toro was cast as Moe, and Jim Carrey agreed to play Curly. Carrey even began putting on 40 pounds of extra weight before the project fell apart. The Farrellys eventually made the movie in 2012, with Sean Hayes as Larry, Will Sasso as Curly, and Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe.

10. THERE’S A STOOGES MUSEUM IN PENNSYLVANIA.

The Stooges’ vital contributions to pop culture have always deserved some archival recognition. They got it in 2004, when The Stoogeum opened its doors in Ambler, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia. The museum’s founder is Gary Lassin, who married Larry Fine’s great niece in 1981. A Stooges fan, Lassin acquired over 100,000 items related to their careers and displays roughly 3500 pieces at a time. There’s a Hall of Shemp, a game area (with Whack-a-Moe), as well as countless artifacts.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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