After Shemp's death from a heart attack in November 1955, he was replaced by comedian Joe Besser, after the use of film actor Joe Palma to film four Shemp-era shorts. Ultimately, Joe DeRita (nicknamed "Curly Joe") replaced Joe Besser by 1958. The act regained momentum throughout the 1960s as popular kiddie fare until Larry Fine's paralyzing stroke in January 1970 effectively marked the end of the act proper. Moe tried unsuccessfully one final time to revive the Stooges with longtime supporting actor Emil Sitka filling in for Larry. Larry ultimately succumbed to a series of additional strokes in January 1975, followed by Moe, who died of lung cancer in May 1975.
Ted Healy and His StoogesThe Three Stooges started in 1925 as part of a raucous vaudeville act called 'Ted Healy and His Stooges' (a.k.a. 'Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen', 'Ted Healy and His Three Lost Souls' and 'Ted Healy and His Racketeers'—the moniker 'Three Stooges' was never used during their tenure with Healy). In the act, lead comedian Healy would attempt to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants would keep "interrupting" him. Healy would respond by verbally and physically abusing his stooges. Brothers Moe and Shemp were joined later that year by violinist-comedian Larry Fine, and Fred Sanborn joined the group as well.
In 1930, Ted Healy and His Stooges (including Sanborn) appeared in their first Hollywood feature film, Soup to Nuts, released by Fox Film Corporation. The film was not a critical success, but the Stooges' performances were singled out as memorable, leading Fox to offer the trio a contract minus Healy. This enraged the prickly Healy, who told studio executives that the Stooges were his employees. The offer was withdrawn, and after Howard, Fine and Howard learned of the reason, they left Healy to form their own act, which quickly took off with a tour of the theatre circuit. Healy attempted to stop the new act with legal action, claiming they were using his copyrighted material. There are accounts of Healy threatening to bomb theaters if Howard, Fine and Howard ever performed there, which worried Shemp so much that he almost left the act; reportedly, only a pay raise kept him on board. Healy tried to save his act by hiring replacement stooges, but they were inexperienced and not as well-received as their predecessors.
In 1932, with Moe now acting as business manager, Healy reached a new agreement with his former Stooges, and they were booked in a production of Jacob J. Shubert's The Passing Show of 1932. During rehearsals, Healy received a more lucrative offer and found a loophole in his contract allowing him to leave the production. Shemp, fed up with Healy's abrasiveness, decided to quit the act and found work almost immediately, in Vitaphone movie comedies produced in Brooklyn, New York.
With Shemp gone, Healy and the two remaining stooges (Moe and Larry) needed a replacement, so Moe suggested his younger brother Jerry Howard. Healy reportedly took one look at Jerry, who had long chestnut red locks and a handlebar mustache, and remarked that he did not look like he was funny. Jerry left the room and returned a few moments later with his head shaved (though his mustache remained for a time), and then quipped "Boy, do I look girly." Healy heard "Curly," and the name stuck. (There are varying accounts as to how the Curly character actually came about.)
In 1933, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) signed Healy and his Stooges to a movie contract. They appeared in feature films and short subjects, either together, individually, or with various combinations of actors. The trio was featured in a series of musical comedy shorts, beginning with Nertsery Rhymes. The short was one of a few shorts to be made with an early two-strip Technicolor process, including one featuring Curly without Healy or the other Stooges, Roast Beef and Movies (1934). The shorts themselves were built around recycled film footage of production numbers cut from MGM musicals, such as Children of Pleasure, Lord Byron of Broadway, and the unfinished March of Time (all 1930), which had been filmed in early Technicolor. Soon, additional shorts followed (sans the experimental Technicolor), including Beer and Pretzels (1933), Plane Nuts (1933), and The Big Idea (1934).
Healy and company also appeared in several MGM feature films as comic relief, such as Turn Back the Clock (1933), Meet the Baron (1933), Dancing Lady (1933), Fugitive Lovers (1934), and Hollywood Party (1934). Healy and the Stooges also appeared together in Myrt and Marge for Universal Pictures.
In 1934, the team's contract with MGM expired, and the Stooges parted professional company with Healy. According to Moe Howard's autobiography, the Stooges split with Ted Healy in 1934 once and for all because of Healy's alcoholism and abrasiveness. Their final film with Healy was MGM’s 1934 film, Hollywood Party. Both Healy and the Stooges went on to separate successes, with Healy dying under mysterious circumstances in 1937.
The Columbia years: Moe, Larry and CurlyIn 1934, the trio – now officially christened "The Three Stooges" – signed on to appear in two-reel comedy short subjects for Columbia Pictures. In Moe's autobiography, he said they each got $600 per week on a one-year contract with a renewable option; in the Ted Okuda–Edward Watz book The Columbia Comedy Shorts, the Stooges are said to have received $1,000 between them for their first Columbia effort, Woman Haters, and then signed a term contract for $7,500 per film, to be divided among the trio.
Within their first year at Columbia, the Stooges became wildly popular. Realizing this, Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn used the Stooges as leverage, as the demand for their films was so great that Columbia eventually refused to supply exhibitors with the trio's shorts unless they also agreed to book some of the studio's mediocre B movies. Cohn also saw to it that the Stooges remain ignorant of their popularity. During their 23 years spent at Columbia, the Stooges were never completely aware of their amazing drawing power at the box office. As their contracts with the studio included an open option that had to be renewed every year, Cohn would tell the boys that the short subjects were in decline, which was not a complete fabrication (Cohn's yearly mantra was "the market for comedy shorts is dying out, fellahs.") Thinking their days were numbered, the Stooges would sweat it out each and every year, with Cohn signing the trio up for another year at the last minute. This cruel deception kept the insecure Stooges unaware of their true value, resulting in them having second thoughts about asking for a better contract without a yearly option. Cohn's scare tactics worked for all 23 years the Stooges were at Columbia; the team never once asked for—nor were they ever given—a salary increase. It was not until after they stopped making the shorts in December 1957 did Moe learn of the game Cohn was playing, what a valuable commodity the Stooges had been for the ailing studio, and how many millions more the act could have earned.
The Stooges were required to churn out up to eight short films per year within a 40-week period; for the remaining 12 or so weeks, they were free to pursue other employment. Usually, the Stooges would either spend this time with their families or tour the country promoting their live act. The Stooges appeared in 190 film shorts and five features while at Columbia. Del Lord directed more than three dozen Stooge films; Jules White directed dozens more, and his brother Jack White directed several under the pseudonym "Preston Black".
According to a published report, Moe, Larry, and director Jules White considered their best film to be You Nazty Spy!. This 18-minute short subject starred Moe as "Moe Hailstone", an Adolf Hitler-like character, and satirized the Nazis in a period when America was still neutral and resolutely isolationist. Curly played a Hermann Goering character, replete with medals, and Larry a Ribbentrop-type ambassador. You Nazty Spy! was the first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler, as it was released in January, 1940, nine months before Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Reportedly this film caused the Stooges to be placed on Hitler's so-called "death list" because of its anti-Nazi stance. Chaplin, along with Jack Benny, would also be on this list due to their later anti-Nazi films. The Stooges made occasional guest appearances in feature films, though generally they stuck to short subjects. Columbia offered theater owners an entire program of two-reel comedies (15 to 25 titles annually) featuring such stars as Buster Keaton, Andy Clyde, Charley Chase, and Hugh Herbert, but the Three Stooges shorts were the most popular of all.
Curly was easily the most popular member of the team. His childlike mannerisms and natural comedic charm (he had no previous acting experience) made him a hit with audiences. The fact that Curly had to shave his head for the act led him to feel unappealing to women. To mask his insecurities, Curly ate and drank excessively and caroused whenever the Stooges made personal appearances, which was approximately seven months out of the year. His weight ballooned in the 1940s, and his blood pressure was dangerously high. His wild lifestyle and constant drinking eventually caught up with him in 1945, and his performances suffered. In his last dozen shorts (ranging from 1945's If a Body Meets a Body through 1947's Half-Wits Holiday), he was seriously ill, struggling to get through even the most basic scenes.
It was during the final day of filming Half-Wits Holiday on May 6, 1946 that Curly suffered a debilitating stroke on the set, ending his 14-year career. Curly's health necessitated a temporary retirement from the act, and while the Stooges hoped for a full recovery, Curly never starred in a film again, except for one brief cameo appearance in the third film after Shemp returned to the trio, Hold That Lion! It was the only film that contained all four of the original Stooges (the three Howard brothers and Larry) on screen simultaneously; Jules White recalled Curly visiting the set one day, and White had him do this bit for fun. (Curly's cameo appearance was recycled in the 1953 remake Booty and the Beast.) In 1949, Curly was supposed to play a cameo role in the Stooge comedy Malice in the Palace, but he was physically unable to perform. His chef role was played by Larry.
Moe Howard turned to his older brother Shemp Howard to take Curly's place. Shemp, however, was hesitant to rejoin the Stooges, as he had a successful solo career at the time of Curly's untimely illness. However, he realized that Moe and Larry's careers would be finished without the Stooge act. Shemp wanted some kind of assurance that his rejoining was indeed temporary, and that he could leave the Stooges once Curly recovered. Unfortunately, Curly remained gravely ill after 1950, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by additional strokes on January 18, 1952.
Shemp appeared with the Stooges in 76 more shorts and a quickie Western comedy feature titled Gold Raiders. Upon Shemp's return, the quality of the films picked up; the last few Curly efforts had been marred by his sluggish performances. Entries like Out West, Squareheads of the Round Table, and Punchy Cowpunchers proved that there was life after Curly, and that Shemp could easily hold his own. Though some say he lacked his younger brother's childlike charisma, Shemp was a gifted, professional comedian. More often than not, his astute gift of comedic timing buoys weak material. In fact, one the finest entries in the series, Brideless Groom, was made during this period.Another interesting plus from the Shemp era was that Larry was given more time on screen. Throughout most of the Curly era, Larry was relegated to a background role, only being called upon to break up a potential scuffle between Moe and Curly. By the time Shemp rejoined the Stooges, Larry was allotted equal footage, even becoming the focus of several films (Fuelin' Around, He Cooked His Goose).
During this period, Moe, Larry, and Shemp made a pilot for a Three Stooges television show called Jerks of All Trades in 1949. The series was never picked up, although the pilot is currently in the public domain and is available on home video, as is an early television appearance from around the same time on a vaudeville-style comedy series, Camel Comedy Caravan, originally broadcast live on CBS-TV on March 11, 1950 and starring Ed Wynn. Also available commercially is a kinescope of Moe, Larry, and Shemp's appearance on The Frank Sinatra Show, broadcast live over CBS-TV on January 1, 1952. Frank Sinatra was reportedly a big fan of the Stooges and slapstick comedy in general. On this broadcast, the Stooges are joined by one of their longtime stock-company members, Vernon Dent, who plays "Mr. Mortimer", a party-goer who requests a drink. The Stooges oblige with disastrous results.
Columbia's short-subject division downsized in 1952. Producer Hugh McCollum was discharged and director Edward Bernds resigned out of loyalty to McCollum, leaving only Jules White to both produce and direct the Stooges' remaining Columbia comedies. Production was significantly faster, with the former four-day filming schedules now tightened to two or three days. In another cost-cutting measure, White would create a "new" Stooge short by borrowing footage from old ones, setting it in a slightly different storyline, and filming a few new scenes often with the same actors in the same costumes. White was initially very subtle when recycling older footage: he would reuse only a single sequence of old film, re-edited so cleverly that it was not easy to detect. The later shorts were cheaper and the recycling more obvious, with as much as 75% of the running time consisting of old footage. White came to rely so much on older material that he could film the "new" shorts in a single day.
Three years after Curly's death, Shemp Howard died of a sudden heart attack at age 60 on November 22, 1955. Archived footage of Shemp, combined with new footage of Joe Palma, were used to complete the last four films originally planned with Shemp: Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers, and Commotion on the Ocean.
Joe Besser replaces ShempJoe Besser replaced Shemp in 1956, appearing in 16 shorts. Besser, noting how one side of Larry Fine's face seemed "calloused", had a clause in his contract specifically prohibiting him from being hit too hard (though this restriction was later lifted). Besser was the only "third" Stooge that dared to hit Moe back in retaliation and get away with it; Larry Fine was also known to hit Moe on occasion, but always with serious repercussions. "I usually played the kind of character who would hit others back," Besser recalled.
With Besser on board, the Stooge films began to resemble sitcoms. Sitcoms, though, were now available for free. Television was the new popular medium, and by the time Besser joined the act, the Stooges were generally considered throwbacks to an obsolete era. In addition, Moe and Larry were growing older, and could not perform pratfalls and physical comedy as they once had. The inevitable occurred soon enough. Columbia was the last studio still producing shorts, and the market for such films had all but dried up. As a result, the studio opted not to renew the Stooges' contract when it expired in late December 1957. The final comedy produced was Flying Saucer Daffy, filmed on December 19–20, 1957. Several days later, the Stooges were unceremoniously fired from Columbia Pictures after 24 years of making low-budget shorts. Joan Howard Maurer, daughter of Moe, wrote the following in 1982:
- The boys' careers had suddenly come to an end. They were at Columbia one day and gone the next—no 'Thank yous,' no farewell party for their 24 years of dedication and service and the dollars their comedies had reaped for the studio. Moe Howard recalled that a few weeks after their exit from Columbia, he drove to the studio to say goodbye to several studio executives when he was stopped by a guard at the gate (obviously, not a Stooges fan) and, since he did not have the current year's studio pass, was refused entry. For the moment, it was a crushing blow.
Although the Stooges were no longer working for Columbia, the studio had enough completed films on the shelf to keep releasing new comedies for another 18 months, and not in the order they were produced. The final Stooge release, Sappy Bull Fighters, did not reach theaters until June 4, 1959. With no active contract in place, Moe and Larry discussed plans for a personal appearance tour; meanwhile, Besser's wife had a minor heart attack, and he preferred to stay local, leading him to withdraw from the act. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Stooges hit a dead end.
The return: Larry, Moe and Curly Joe
Seeing the success of how television, in its early years, allowed movie studios to unload a backlog of short films thought unmarketable, the Stooge films seemed perfect for the burgeoning genre. ABC television had even expressed interest as far back as 1949, purchasing exclusive rights to 30 of the trio's shorts. However, the success of television revivals for such names as Laurel and Hardy, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry and the Our Gang series in the late 1950s led Columbia to cash in again on the Stooges.
In January 1958, Columbia's television subsidiary Screen Gems offered a package consisting of 78 Stooge shorts (mainly from the Curly era), which were well received. Almost immediately, an additional 40 shorts hit the market, and by 1959, all 190 Stooge shorts were airing regularly. Due to the massive quantity of Stooge product available for broadcast, the films were broadcast Monday through Friday, leading to heavy exposure aimed squarely at children. This led parents to watch alongside of their offspring, and before long, Howard and Fine found themselves in high demand. Moe quickly signed movie and burlesque comic Joe DeRita for the "third Stooge" role; DeRita adopted first a a Shemp-like hairstyle, then a crew cut and at last a completely shaven hairstyle and became "Curly Joe" because of his resemblance to the original Curly Howard (also to make it easier to distinguish him from Joe Besser, the earlier Stooge called Joe).This Three Stooges lineup went on to make a series of popular full-length films from 1959 to 1965, most notably Have Rocket, Will Travel, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules and The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze. The films were aimed at the kiddie-matinee market, and most were Farce outings in the Stooge tradition, with the exception of Snow White and the Three Stooges, a children's fantasy in Technicolor. They also appeared as firemen (the role that helped make them famous in Soup to Nuts) in the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Throughout the 1960s, The Three Stooges were one of the most popular and highest-paid live acts in America. The trio also filmed 41 short comedy skits for The New Three Stooges, which features a series of 156 animated cartoons produced for television. The Stooges appeared in live-action color footage, which preceded and followed each animated adventure in which they voiced their respective characters.
In 1969, the Three Stooges filmed a pilot episode for a new TV series entitled Kook's Tour, a combination travelogue-sitcom that had the "retired" Stooges traveling around the world, with the episodes filmed on location.
On January 9, 1970, during production of the pilot, Larry suffered a paralyzing stroke, ending his acting career, as well as plans for the television series.
Plans were in the works for longtime foil Emil Sitka to replace Larry as the "middle stooge" in 1971, but nothing ever came of that idea other than the proposed publicity still reproduced here. Three years later, just before Christmas of 1974, Larry Fine suffered yet another stroke at the age of 72 and four weeks later, suffered a more massive one. Slipping into a coma, he died a week later of a stroke-induced cerebral hemorrhage on January 24, 1975.Devastated by his friend's death, Moe nevertheless decided that the Three Stooges should continue. Several movie ideas were considered, one of which according to critic and movie historian Leonard Maltin, (who also uncovered a pre-production photo) was entitled Blazing Stewardesses. Unfortunately, before pre-production could begin, after a lifetime of smoking, Moe fell ill from lung cancer, and died three months later on May 4, 1975, finally putting to rest the last original surviving member of one of the most famous comedy troupes of the 20th Century.
However, Blazing Stewardesses, the last film idea that the Three Stooges had ever seriously considered, was eventually made, starring the last of the surviving Ritz Brothers comedy troupe and released to moderate acclaim later that year.
Legacy and perspective
Some 50 years after their last short film was released, the Three Stooges remain wildly popular with audiences. Their films have never left the television airwaves since first appearing in 1958, and they continue to delight old fans while attracting a new legion of fervent admirers. A hard-working group of working-class comedians who were never the critic's darlings, the team endured several personnel changes in their careers that would have permanently sidelined a less persistent act. Despite watching two of his brothers die in a brief span of time, the Stooges would not have lasted as long as they did as a unit without Moe Howard's guiding hand.
The Ted Okuda/Edward Watz-penned book The Columbia Comedy Shorts puts the Stooges legacy in critical perspective:
- Many scholarly studies of motion picture comedy have overlooked the Three Stooges entirely—and not without valid reasoning. Aesthetically, the Stooges violated every rule that constitutes "good" comedic style. Their characters lacked the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon; they were never as witty or subtle as Buster Keaton. They were not disciplined enough to sustain lengthy comic sequences; far too often, they were willing to suspend what little narrative structure their pictures possessed in order to insert a number of gratuitous jokes. Nearly every premise they have employed (spoofs of westerns, horror films, costume melodramas) has been done to better effect by other comedians. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming artistic odds against them, they were responsible for some of the finest comedies ever made. Their humor was the most undistilled form of low comedy; they were not great innovators, but as quick laugh practitioners, they place second to none. If public taste is any criterion, the Stooges have been the reigning kings of comedy for over fifty years.
Beginning in the 1980s, the Stooges finally began to receive long-overdue critical recognition. More often than not, the praise was directed at Curly, usually at the expense of his castmates, most especially Shemp. With the advent of cable television and the burgeoning home video market, the praise was eventually spread more evenly throughout the team. Critics began to realize that Moe and Larry were gifted performers; though less flamboyant than Curly, they were by no means less talented. Curly was indeed brilliant and a one-of-a-kind, but taken for long periods of time, he could also be irritating and exhausting without Moe and Larry present to provide a counterbalance. This balance would be handled better after Shemp returned to the act, with Larry in particular receiving more screen time. The release of nearly all their films on DVD by 2010 has allowed critics of Joe Besser and Joe DeRita—often the recipients of significant fan backlash—to appreciate the unique style of comedy both comedians brought to the Stooges. In addition, the DVD market in particular has allowed fans to view the entire Stooge film corpus as distinct periods in their long, distinguished career instead of comparing one Stooge to the other (the Curly vs. Shemp debate continues to this day).
The team appeared in 220 films. In the end, it is the durability of the 190 timeless short films the Stooges made at Columbia Pictures that acts as an enduring tribute to the comedy team. Their continued popularity worldwide has proven to even the most skeptical critics that their films—quite simply—are funny. American television personality Steve Allen went on record in the mid-1980s saying "though they never achieved widespread critical acclaim, they achieved exactly what they had always intended to do: they made people laugh."
Real Name: Moses Harry Horwitz
Born: June 19, 1897
Died: May 4, 1975 (aged 77)
Stooge years: 1922–1927, 1928–1971
Real Name: Louis Feinberg
Born: October 5, 1902
Died: January 24, 1975 (aged 72)
Stooge years: 1928–1971
Real Name: Jerome Lester Horwitz
Born: October 22, 1903
Died: January 18, 1952 (aged 48)
Stooge years: 1932–1946
Real Name: Samuel Horwitz
Born: March 4, 1895
Died: November 22, 1955 (aged 60)
Stooge years: 1922–1927, 1928–1932, 1946–1955
Born: August 12, 1907
Died: March 1, 1988 (aged 80)
Stooge years: 1956–1958
Real Name: Joseph Wardell
Born: July 12, 1909
Died: July 3, 1993 (aged 83)
Stooge years: 1958–1971
- Main article: The Three Stooges filmography
The Three Stooges appeared in 220 films throughout their career. Of those 220, 190 short films were made for Columbia Pictures between 1934 and 1959, for which the trio are best known. Their contract was extended each year from 1934 until the final one expired on December 31, 1957. The last 8 of the 16 shorts with Joe Besser were released soon afterward.
The Three Stooges also made appearances in many feature length movies in the course of their careers
From all six members of the Three Stooges, only Joe Besser who never appeared with the Stooges in a feature film.
Three feature-length Columbia releases were actually packages of older Columbia shorts. Columbia Laff Hour (introduced in 1956) was a random assortment that included the Stooges among other Columbia comedians like Andy Clyde, Hugh Herbert, and Vera Vague; the content and length varied from one theater to the next. Three Stooges Fun-o-Rama (introduced in 1959) was an all-Stooges show capitalizing on their TV fame, again with shorts chosen at random for individual theaters. The Three Stooges Follies (1974) was similar to Laff Hour, with a trio of Stooge comedies augmented by Buster Keaton and Vera Vague shorts, a Batman serial chapter, and a Kate Smith musical.
Home video release and public reception
Between 1984 and 1985, RCA Columbia Pictures Home Video released a total of thirteen Three Stooges volumes on VHS, Beta and Laserdisc, each containing three shorts. These titles were later reissued on VHS by its successor, Sony Pictures Entertainment, between 1995 and 1997, with a DVD reissue between 2000 and 2004.On October 30, 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a two-disc DVD set entitled The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One: 1934–1936. The set contains shorts from the first three years the Stooges worked at Columbia Pictures, marking the first time ever that all 19 shorts were released in their original theatrical order to DVD. Additionally, every short was remastered in high definition, a first for the Stooge films. Previous DVD releases were based on themes (wartime, history, work, etc.), and sold poorly. Fans and critics alike praised Sony for finally giving the Stooges the proper DVD treatment. One critic states "the Three Stooges on DVD has been a real mix'n match hodgepodge of un-restored titles and illogical entries.
This new...boxset...seems to be the first concerted effort to categorize their huge body of work chronologically with many shorts seeing the digital light for the first time." Videolibrarian.com critic added "finally, the studio knuckleheads got it right! The way that the Three Stooges have been presented on home video has been a real slap in the face and poke in the eye to fans. They’ve been anthologized, colorized, and public domain-ed, as their shorts have been released and re-released in varying degrees of quality. Highly recommended." Critic James Plath of DVDtown.com added, "Thank you, Sony, for finally giving these Columbia Pictures icons the kind of DVD retrospective that they deserve. Remastered in High Definition and presented in chronological order, these short films now give fans the chance to appreciate the development of one of the most successful comedy teams in history."
The chronological series proved very successful and wildly popular, and Sony wasted little time preparing the next set for release. Volume Two: 1937–1939 was released on May 27, 2008, followed by Volume Three: 1940–1942 three months later on August 26, 2008. Demand exceeded supply, proving to Sony that they had a hit on their hands. In response, Volume Four: 1943–1945 was released on October 7, 2008, a mere two months after its predecessor. The global economic crisis slowed down the release schedule after Volume Four, and Volume Five: 1946–1948 was belatedly released on March 17, 2009. Volume Five is the first in the series to feature Shemp Howard with the Stooges. Volume Six: 1949–1951 was released June 16, 2009, and Volume Seven: 1952–1954 was released on November 10, 2009.
The eighth and final volume was released on June 1, 2010, bringing the series to a close. For the first time in history, all 190 Three Stooges short subjects became available to the public.
- Several instrumental tunes were played over the opening credits at different times in the production of the short features. The most commonly used themes were:
- The verse portion of the Civil War era song "Listen to the Mockingbird", played in a comical way, complete with sounds of birds and such. This was first used in Pardon My Scotch, their ninth short film, in 1935. (Prior to that comedic short, the opening theme varied and was typically connected to the storyline in some fashion.)
- "Three Blind Mice", beginning in 1939 as a slow but straightforward presentation (dubbed the "sliding strings" version), often breaking into a "jazzy" style before ending. In mid-1942, another more driving version, complete with accordion was played fast all the way through.
- The Columbia short subject Woman Haters was done completely in rhyme, mostly recited (not sung), in rhythm with a Jazz-Age underscore running throughout the film, but with some key lines sung. It was sixth in a Musical Novelties short subject series, and appropriated its musical score from the first five films. The memorable “My Life, My Love, My All,” was originally “At Last!” from the film Um-Pa.
- "Swinging the Alphabet" (a.k.a. B-A-bay, B-E-be, B-I-bicky-bi…) from Violent Is the Word for Curly is perhaps the best-known song performed by the Stooges on film.
- The “Lucia Sextet” (Chi mi frena in tal memento?), from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (announced by Larry as “the Sextet from Lucy”), is played on a record player and lip-synched by the Stooges in Micro-Phonies. The same melody re-appears in Squareheads of the Round Table as the tune of “Oh, Elaine, can you come out tonight?”. Micro-Phonies also includes the Johann Strauss II waltz “Voices of Spring” ("Frühlingsstimmen") Op. 410. Another Strauss waltz, "The Blue Danube", is featured in Ants in the Pantry and Punch Drunks.
- The song “Fredric March” (named after the actor) was a favorite of director Jules White; it appeared in at least seven different Columbia shorts:
- Termites of 1938 - the Stooges "play" this song on a violin, flute, and string bass at a dinner party in an attempt to attract mice.
- Dutiful But Dumb - Curly is hidden inside a floor-standing radio, and plays the song on a modified harmonica.
- Three Little Twirps - heard as background music at the circus while Moe and Curly sell tickets.
- Idle Roomers - Curly plays the song on a trombone to calm a wolf man.
- Gents Without Cents - three girls perform acrobatics on stage while this song is playing
- Gents in a Jam - Shemp and Moe have a problem with a radio that will not stop playing this song
- Pardon My Backfire - the song plays on a car radio
- The Moe–Larry–Curly Joe lineup of the Stooges recorded several musical record albums in the early 1960s. Most of their songs were adaptations of nursery rhymes. Among their more popular recordings were "Making a Record" (a surreal trip to a recording studio built around the song "Go Tell Aunt Mary"), "Three Little Fishes", "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", "Wreck the Halls with Boughs of Holly", "Mairzy Doats" and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas".
- In 1983, a group called the Jump 'N the Saddle Band recorded a track called "The Curly Shuffle", which featured the narrator singing about his love of the Stooges mixed with a chorus of many of Curly's catchphrases and sound effects. In the mid-1980s, the song became a popular mid-game hit for New York Mets fans in the Shea Stadium bleachers, who would dance in small groups to the tune whenever the song was played between innings. The music video, which featured clips of the classic Stooges shorts, was also included as a bonus feature on one of the 1984 VHS releases.
In other media
Over the years, several Three Stooges comics were produced.
- St. John Publications published the first Three Stooges comics in 1949 with 2 issues (Curly as the third stooge), then again in 1953–54 with 7 issues (Shemp as the third stooge).
- Dell Comics published a Three Stooges series first as one-shots in their Four Color Comics line for five issues, then gave them a numbered series for four more issues (#6–9). With #10, the title would be published by Gold Key Comics. Under Gold Key, the series lasted through issue #55 in 1972.
- Gold Key Comics then published the Little Stooges series (7 issues, 1972–74) with story and art by Norman Maurer, Moe's son-in-law. This series featured the adventures of three fictional sons of the Three Stooges, as sort of modern-day teen-age versions of the characters.
- Eclipse Comics published the Three-D Three Stooges series (3 issues, 1986–1987) which reprinted stories from the St. John Publications series.
- Malibu Comics did a couple of one-shot comics, reprinting stories from the Gold Key Comics in 1989 and 1991.
Beginning in 1959, the Three Stooges began to appear in a series of novelty records. Their first recording was a 45 rpm single of the title song from Have Rocket, Will Travel. The trio released additional singles and LPs on the Golden and Coral labels, mixing comedy adventure albums and off-beat renditions of children's songs. Their final recording was the 1966 Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges Meet the Mad, Mad, Mad Dr. No-No, which incorporated the Three Stooges into the cast of the Yogi Bear cartoons.
The Stooges are referenced in the video for Weird Al Yankovic's Like a Surgeon with a hospital PA system asked for "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard."
Sirius XM Radio aired a special about the Stooges hosted by Tom Bergeron on Friday, July 31, 2009, at 2:00PM on the Sirius Howard 101 channel. Bergeron had conducted the interviews at the age of 17 back when he was still in high school in 1971. The television host had the tapes in storage for many years and was convinced on air during a Howard Stern Radio interview to bring them in and turn it into a special show by Howard Stern himself, upon learning how much of a fan Bergeron was of the Three Stooges, as is he. Bergeron agreed.
After finding "the lost tapes," Bergeron brought them into Howard Stern's production studio. He stated that the tapes were so old that the tapes with the Larry Fine interviews began to shred as Howard Stern's radio engineers ran them through their cart players. They only really had the one shot, and fortunately for Three Stooges fans, the tapes were saved.
"The Lost Stooges Tapes" were hosted by Tom Bergeron with modern commentary on the almost 40 year old interviews that he had conducted with Larry Fine and Moe Howard. At the times of these interviews, Moe was still living at home and Larry had suffered a stroke and was living in a Senior Citizen's home.
In addition to the unsuccessful television series pilot Jerks of All Trades and The Three Stooges Scrapbook, also the incomplete Kook's Tour, the Stooges appeared in a show called The New Three Stooges which ran from 1965 to 1966. This series featured a mix of thirty-nine live-action segments which were used as wraparounds to 156 animated Stooges shorts. That cartoon program became the only regularly scheduled television show in history for the Stooges. Unlike other films shorts that aired on TV like the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye, the film shorts of the Stooges never had a regularly scheduled national television program to air in, neither on network nor syndicated. When Columbia/Screen Gems licensed the film library to television, the shorts aired in any fashion the local stations chose (examples: late-night "filler" material between the end of the late movie and the channel's sign-off time; in "marathon" sessions running shorts back-to-back for one, one-and-a-half, or two hours; etc.)
Two episodes of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies aired on CBS featuring animated Stooges as guest stars: the premiere, "Ghastly Ghost Town" (September 9, 1972) and "The Ghost of the Red Baron" (November 18, 1972). There also was a short-lived animated series, also produced by Hanna-Barbera, titled The Robonic Stooges, originally seen as a featured segment on The Skatebirds (CBS, 1977–1978), featuring Moe, Larry, and Curly (voiced by Paul Winchell, Joe Baker and Frank Welker, respectively) as bionic cartoon superheroes with extendable limbs, similar to the later Inspector Gadget. The Robonic Stooges later aired as a separate half-hour series, retitled The Three Robonic Stooges (each half-hour featured two segments of The Three Robonic Stooges and one segment of Woofer And Whimper, Dog Detectives, the latter re-edited from episodes of Clue Club, an earlier Hanna-Barbera cartoon series). There are also many Stooges references in the sitcom ALF.
In the episode "Beware The Creeper" of The New Batman Adventures. the Joker retreats to his hide-out after a quick fight with Batman. He yells out for his three henchmen "Moe? Larr? Cur?" only to find that they are not there. Shortly after that, Batman comes across these three goons in a pool hall; they have distinctive accents and hair styles similar to those of Moe, Larry, and Curly. These henchmen are briefly seen throughout the rest of the season.
In 1984 Gottlieb released an arcade game featuring the Stooges trying to find three kidnapped brides. Later in 1987, game developers Cinemaware released a successful Three Stooges computer game, available for Apple IIGS, Amiga, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Based on the Stooges earning money by doing odd jobs to prevent the foreclosure of an orphanage, it incorporated audio from the original films and was popular enough to be reissued for the Game Boy Advance in 2002, as well as for PlayStation in 2004.
- Maltin, Leonard, Movie Comedy Teams (1970, revised 1985) New American Library
- Maltin, Leonard, Selected Short Subjects (first published as The Great Movie Shorts, 1972) Crown Books, (revised 1983) Da Capo Press
- Fine, Larry (with Carone, James), Stroke of Luck (1973) Siena Publishing Co. (Larry Fine's autobiography, transcribed from interviews toward the end of his life)
- Fericano, Paul, Stoogism Anthology (1977) Poor Souls Printing
- Howard, Moe, Moe Howard and the Three Stooges (1977) Citadel Press (Moe Howard's autobiography, completed and released posthumously by his daughter)
- Maltin, Leonard, The Great Movie Comedians (1978) Crown Books
- Forrester, Jeffrey, The Stooges Chronicles (1981) Contemporary Books, Inc. (Comprehensive overview of the team's career; also discusses the various Ted Healy stooges)
- Forrester, Jeffrey, The Stoogephile Trivia Book (1982) Contemporary Books, Inc.
- Lenburg, Jeff, with Maurer, Joan Howard, and Lenburg, Greg, The Three Stooges Scrapbook (1982, revised 1994, 2000) Citadel Press
- Besser, Joe (with Lenburg, Jeff, and Lenburg, Greg), Not Just a Stooge (1984) Excelsior Books, Inc. (reissued 1987 as Once a Stooge, Always a Stooge) Roundtable Publications (Autobiography of Joe Besser, including anecdotes about Abbott and Costello and Olsen and Johnson)
- Feinberg, Morris, Larry: The Stooge in the Middle (1984) Last Gasp of San Francisco (Biography of Larry Fine, attributed to his brother but actually ghostwritten by Bob Davis)
- Hansen, Tom and Forrester, Jeffrey, Stoogemania: An Extravaganza of Stooge Photos, Puzzles, Trivia, Collectibles and More (1984) Contemporary Books, Inc. (Overview of Three Stooges memorabilia)
- Maurer, Joan Howard (ed.), The Three Stooges Book of Scripts (1984) Citadel Press
- Flanagan, Bill, Last of the Moe Haircuts (1986) McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, Inc.
- Forrester, Jeffrey, and Forrester, Tom, The Stooges' Lost Episodes (1988) Contemporary Books, Inc. (Discussion of obscure Stooges appearances, including solo films by individual Stooges)
- Maurer, Joan Howard, Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge (1985, revised 1988) Citadel Press
- Maurer, Joan Howard and Maurer, Norman (eds.), The Three Stooges Book of Scripts, Volume II (1987) Citadel Press
- Smith, Ronald L., The Stooge Fans' I.Q. Test (1988) Contemporary Books, Inc.
- McGarry, Annie, The Wacky World of the Three Stooges (1992) Crescent Books
- Bruskin, David N., Behind the Three Stooges: The White Brothers: Conversations with David N. Bruskin (1993) Directors Guild of America (In-depth interviews with producer-directors Jules White, Jack White, and Sam White)
- Kurson, Robert, The Official Three Stooges Cookbook (1998) Contemporary Books, Inc.
- Okuda, Ted and Watz, Edward, The Columbia Comedy Shorts (1998) McFarland & Co. (Comprehensive history of the Columbia short subject department; Stooge colleagues Edward Bernds and Emil Sitka are quoted extensively)
- Garner, Paul, Mousie Garner: Autobiography of a Vaudeville Stooge (1999) McFarland & Co.
- Koceimba, Bill, with Kaufman, Eric A., and Sack, Steve, The Three Stooges Golf Spoof and Trivia Book (1999) Gazelle, Inc.
- Kurson, Robert, The Official Three Stooges Encyclopedia: The Ultimate Knucklehead's Guide to Stoogedom, from Amalgamated Association of Morons to Ziller, Zeller, and Zoller (1999) McGraw-Hill
- Solomon, Jon, The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion'’ (2000) Comedy III Productions
- Comedy III Productions, Inc., Pop, You’re "Poifect!": A Three Stooges Salute to Dad (2002) Andrews McMeel
- Fleming, Michael, The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, from Amalgamated Morons to American Icons (2002) Broadway Publishing
- Forrester, Jeff, with Forrester, Tom, and Wallison, Joe, The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time (2004) Donaldson Books (Revised, updated edition of The Stooges Chronicles)
- Cox, Steve and Terry, Jim, One Fine Stooge: Larry Fine's Frizzy Life in Pictures (2005) Cumberland House Publishing
- Longley, Maximillian, The Conservative In Spite of Himself: A Reluctant Right-Winger's Thoughts on Life, Law and the Three Stooges (2007) Monograph Publishers
- Seely, Peter and Pieper, Gail W., Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges (2007) McFarland & Co.
- Davis, Lon and Davis, Debra (eds.), Stooges Among Us (2008) BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-300-2