The Final Years of The Three Stooges's Curly

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1932, Jerome Howard (soon to be universally known as "Curly") joined The Three Stooges comedy team. He was replacing his older brother, Shemp, as the third Stooge, joining his older brother Moe and frizzly haired Larry Fine.

In 1934, the team signed with Columbia Pictures and began churning out the series of comedy slapstick shorts that brought hilarity to the world. Within a year, Curly had established himself as the comedy star of the act. His "woo-woo"s and "n'yuk nyuk"s, as well as his incredible gift for physical, inventive, surreal comedy, made Curly Howard everyone's favorite Stooge.

From 1934 to 1944, Curly Howard and the other Stooges made 80-odd of the funniest shorts in the history of movie comedy, but by 1945 something was obviously wrong with the brilliant Curly.

Although he was always a bad study, he was having a harder time than usual learning and remember his lines, his once graceful and quick movements now seemed slower and more lethargic, and his voice had lost its high-pitched vitality, now sounding deeper and more like a strained croak.

In early 1945, Moe Howard made an appointment for his kid brother at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. The test results proved shocking: Curly was suffering from high blood pressure, hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity.

FAILED MARRIAGE

Curly loved the good life—drinking, hanging out at clubs, seeing and dating as many beautiful women as possible. Moe, attempting to help his beloved brother settle down, tried to fix Curly up with a glamorous beauty named Marion Buxbaum. Always a sucker for a pretty face, Curly married Marion after only two weeks. Curly was soon to discover that Marion was not a very nice person and was only after his money. The marriage proved a disaster, and the unhappy couple divorced after only three months together. In the terrible divorce proceedings, Marion said of Curly: "He used filthy, vile language, kept two vicious dogs, he shouted at waiters in cafes, struck and kicked me, put out cigars in the sink." These specious accusations were disputed by all who knew Curly as a jovial, good-natured, good-hearted fellow. Curly, always a free spender, had spent a fortune buying gifts for Marion, and the divorce really shook him up. He had his first stroke soon thereafter, in early 1946.

STROKE AFTERMATH

Curly's great vigor and boyish vitality, his comedy trademarks, sank lower and lower. Instead of enabling Curly to rest after his stroke, as Moe requested, studio head Harry Cohn kept Curly churning out new Three Stooges shorts. Sadly, these final Curly shorts show him looking very old and worn, his previously starring roles greatly reduced, and, indeed, they put a bit of a black mark on his body of otherwise amazing comedy performances. Curly's appearance grew worse until finally, while filming his 97th Three Stooges short, "Half Wit's Holiday," on May 6, 1946, the straw finally broke the camel's back. Curly was supposed to participate in the film's final, climactic pie fight, but Moe spotted Curly sitting in his chair on the set. "Come on, Babe," he said. ("Babe" was Curly's nickname among his close friends.) Moe found Curly slumped over in his chair with tears running down his face; Curly had suffered another stroke. He was taken to recover to the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital, his career as a Stooge now effectively over. He was replaced in the act by older brother Shemp.

NEW WIFE

Curly finally got a happy break in 1947, when he met an attractive brunette named Valerie Newman. The two fell in love and married on July 31, 1947. Valerie was to bear Curly a daughter, Janie, the following year. She truly loved Curly and stuck by his side, through his constant downhill ride over the next few years, feeding and even bathing him as his health continued its slow deterioration in the late 1940s.

RETURN TO THE STOOGES

The Three Stooges
Fox Photos/ Getty Images

After his second stroke, Curly was confined to a wheelchair, but soon recovered enough to move around himself.In the days of Curly's slightly improved health, he made a cameo appearance in a Three Stooges short (with his replacement, Shemp) called "Hold That Lion!" Moe, knowing Curly was frail, made sure the set was cleared of all but the absolutely necessary actors and technicians, in order to take any pressure off his brother. Curly, a brilliant comedian to the end, acquits himself quite well in his brief appearance, coming across as very funny, even doing his trademark "woo-woo-woo" sound effects. This brief cameo was to be the only recorded instance of the three Howard brothers—Moe, Curly, and Shemp—appearing together on film. (At left, a photo of all four in "Hold That Lion!")

RENEWED LIFE

In the post-stroke days, Curly loved playing gin rummy, watching the Hollywood Stars (a local baseball team), and going to the fights at the Hollywood Legion. He and Valerie had a swimming pool built in their home, hoping Curly could use it for physical therapy. (Curly had always loved swimming.) Crazy about dogs, he enjoyed playing with his beloved pets, a collie named "Lady" and two other canines named "Salty" and "Shorty." He watched the new device, "television," and loved a little kids' puppet show called "Time for Beany." He also watched and admired a young television comedian named Jackie Gleason.

During these final years, Curly let his thick, wavy hair grow back, instead of the world-famous shaved dome he had sported as a Stooge. He liked to wear a sea captain's hat (he had black and white captain hats) and, like any new father, he loved playing with and doting on his newborn daughter. In his last few years of "health," Curly was still upbeat and seemed happy, not down or sad about all that had happened to him. Contemporary photos show a smiling Curly, happily puffing on his cigar (despite his weak health, Curly still did not give up his beloved cigars), posing around the house, and horsing around with his little daughter.

SHARING HIS GOOD FORTUNE

Tom Emery, a good friend of Curly, recalls going on a drive with Curly one day in the late 1940s. Curly spotted a young girl in a wheelchair and told Tom to pull over. Curly talked to the girl at some length, asking her what she liked, what she needed, etc. Tom and Curly then drove off, and Curly bought the little girl everything she mentioned, dropping all the goodies off at her home with no card.

DECLINING HEALTH

Curly's stay at his home lasted through the late 1940s, but his health deteriorated again, and on August 29, 1950, Curly was returned to the Motion Picture Home. Missing his pal, the collie "Lady," Curly asked Moe if he could bring the dog to stay with him at the hospital. (Curly liked sleeping with the dog when he was at home.) Sadly, when Moe brought Lady to see Curly, the reticent dog refused to enter Curly's hospital room, staying outside in the doorway.

During the next few months, as his health got worse, Curly became confined to bed. He was put on a strict diet of boiled apples and rice. After another stroke, he was moved to the Colonial Home, but it was soon closed down for violating local fire laws. Curly was then moved to the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium.

As a consequence of his strokes, it became harder and harder for Curly to talk and communicate. One visitor during these last years recalls Curly crying because he couldn't communicate during one visit. Curly's sister-in-law remembered a time visiting Curly in the hospital when Curly was very frustrated by not being able to communicate as she and the other visitors tried to understand what he wanted. Finally, after a long and frustrating period of guessing, they realized poor Curly just wanted a bowl of ice cream. Another visitor recalls Curly trying to sit up in a chair and his hand continually falling off the arm of the chair. Moe, too, recalled Curly's tough time communicating as his health ebbed.

By the end, Curly could only communicate with Moe by squeezing his hand, sometimes just by blinking his eyes. The hospital supervisor told Moe that Curly's physical and mental deterioration was causing the hospital inconvenience and suggested that Moe move him to a mental institution. Moe adamantly refused.

LAST DAYS

Burial place for Curly Howard
Arthur Dark, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Curly was soon moved to his last residence, the Baldy View Sanitarium in San Gabriel, California. It was there, on January 18, 1952, that the great Jerome "Curly" Howard passed away. He was just 48 years old. Jules White, a great director of Curly in many Three Stooges shorts, recalls one of his final visits to Curly during Curly's waning days. White never forgot Curly's words to him that day: "Gee Jules, I guess I'll never be able to make the children laugh again."

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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