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The Stooges: Those Fools On The Mean Streets

Born and raised in Jeddah, I had the luxury in my childhood to enjoy many memorable American sitcoms and cartoons on local channels. In the early 90s, Saudi Channel 2 entertained me with countless shows. One of those was The New Three Stooges cartoons, a very popular animated series of the mid-60s. I was hardly seven or eight and wasn’t aware if those three characters in the cartoons were real. I would have never known in my childhood about their being real had my school timings not changed.

In 1994, when I studied in the 5th standard, it was the afternoon shift of my school Pakistan International School Jeddah (PISJ) but my timings shifted from afternoon to morning when I entered into my 6th class. The year was 1995 when Sony Entertainment Television was launched later that year and the channel was airing three American television series one after one in the afternoon. First The Three Stooges (in English), then Dennis The Menace and I Dream Of Jeannie (both dubbed in Hindi). As Paulo Coelho says, Maktub, isn’t it? And I was astonished at the Stooges being real and funnier than the cartoons. I had to return from school and try to catch this show as soon as possible.

The Three Stooges were the vaudeville team in the golden age of comedy which mostly featured Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. The man who made me laugh at that show was that fat bald funny guy Curly but I used to get annoyed sometimes when I return from school and catch the show and notice that someone else than Curly was featuring on that day’s episode. And I asked myself where did that fatty go? With time, I came to understand the backstories of unarguably the most well-known comedy team the world has ever known.

When The Three Stooges came to prominence in the mid-1930s, the golden age of comedy was still on the run with Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel And Hardy, and The Marx Brothers already dominating in the United States for more than twenty years. And this team, along with other greats like Abbott And Castello began to carry the torch.

But those were the sickening times as the world moved towards the second Great War. Sometimes I wonder how the golden age of comedy coincided with those depressing decades. Perhaps the entertainers with a disturbed struggling journey, unhappy life, and the tragic personal tales know the meaning of happiness and have the best of laughs.

How The Team Was Created?

In the early days, Moe and his brother Shemp were seeking work in show-business. Then in 1921, Moe got the chance to work in Ted Healy‘s vaudeville shows. Two years later, Moe was performing in one of Ted’s stage performances when he noticed Shemp in the audience. Moe yelled at him and Shemp responded which led to a funny argumentative performance between the brothers leading to amusing the spectators. Ted took notice of all this and immediately hired Shemp.

Larry’s parents, in his teenage years, were sending him to a European music school to make his professional career as a violinist and he would have joined if the first World War had not interfered. By 1925, Moe had prematurely retired from acting when he got married and focused on his new life. So only Shemp was working under Ted for some years until Larry met them and joined in 1928. By the end of the same year, Ted pulled Moe out of retirement to rejoin him. By 1929, Moe, Shemp, and Larry worked as a unit for the first time.

Readers! this is how Ted Healy created the team or to be more precise, the three stooges were unified to perform with their boss. Moe, Shemp, and Larry were the original line-ups and along with Ted, they were named ‘Ted Healy and his Racketeers’. Later on, they were ‘Ted Healy and his Stooges’. Together they performed for some years until their contract expired in 1934.

It is said that employer Ted Healy was alcoholic and abusive. Shemp gave up on his behavior, quit the team, and focused on his solo career. And then entered the man who carried this team on his own to make them world-famous, Moe’s other brother Jerome Howard.

When Moe introduced Jerome to Healy, he was unimpressed because he thought he doesn’t look funny with long chestnut-red hair and mustache. Jerome left and returned with a shaved head and said “Boy do I look girly”. Healy heard girly as Curly and hired him as Shemp’s replacement with a convincing shaved funny face. Boy, I wonder if Shemp had not given up, this team would have never made the name for which we remember them for. It seems like sometimes giving up is the best idea. It was a golden twist of fate as, after the contract expiry in 1934, Ted Healy departed and they officially became The Three Stooges and signed Columbia Pictures.

Curly’s Peak to Tragic End

Columbia Pictures first offered them $600-a-week for the first year with a renewable option. After the huge success of the first film, they earned $1000 for it and the future offer went lucrative with $7500 per film. This hugely successful journey continued for 23 years with the production company. During the period, the team made 190 short films out of which Curly featured in the first 97 films and is widely considered to be the most successful period for the team.

Curly was the God-gifted mercurial talent of the slapstick comedy. Before joining them, Curly used to hang around behind the backstage and enjoy his brothers performing with Healy and enjoy their acts. For me, he is one of the greatest comedians of all time for one major reason, he was an original performer without formal or professional training. Most of the comedy greats of his time were trained but he was handpicked by his brother to take Shemp’s place and the rest is history. His childish mannerism, funny facial expressions, high-pitch voice, silly noises, and physically nonsensical comic timings were his features making most of his fans entertained.

Change of moods...
Three different expressions in 0.75 SECONDS!!!

This is from their short film Pardon My Scotch, a short film released in 1935 (their 9th of 190 films). Here you see his reaction to the bread as if it is staring him. These are the three different facial reactions he gave to bread in around 0.75 SECONDS! If I include the retakes, I wonder how many times he pulled his muscles to one single shot. And many more in his career. And that was Curly’s greatness in the comedy. He was fast and holds an absolute distinction in physical comedy.

Viewers often remember Jerry Lewis, Rodney Dangerfield, Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers, and many many more in the category of one of the greatest physical comedians from the talking cinema of the 20th century. And Curly is mostly forgotten.

Collectively, the team peaked from 1934 to 1941 which many critics agree that Moe, Larry, and Curly were physically at their best to make the viewers laugh. But to the team’s unfortunate innocence, the team never realized their potential and worth. They could never believe how significant was their rank in the world of comedy that for 23 years of business with Columbia Pictures, they remained underpaid and the salary never increased. The biggest culprit was Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures whose deception to their misjudgment made them realize too late that they were worth millions. All those prime years, Harry Cohn kept lying to them that the market of comedy shorts was meeting downfall.

Harry Cohn’s biggest damage to the team was not taking Curly’s dropping health into a concern for once. In the early 40s, Curly’s physical decline began and suffered minor strokes. His weight increased, wasn’t physically and verbally quick as he used to be. In 1945, Curly was found to have serious hypertension, obesity, and retinal hemorrhage. The doctors had recommended for the rest so that he can regain his health and strength. Moe had pleaded to give him rest for good but Cohn was afraid of losing profits. So he refused to give Curly rest and forced him to continue working leading towards disturbing consequences.

As expected, Curly’s health deteriorated further. In the last few films from 1946 onwards, Moe was coaching him his dialogues as he was forgetting. Frequently collaborated director Jules White had admitted difficulties shooting with Curly. Curly’s voice went deeper and his actions slowed further. A viewer can easily observe the decline in Curly’s comic timing in his final 20 films out of 97. Curly had to prematurely retire from acting when he suffered a stroke during the shooting of Half-Wits Holiday. Shemp was immediately called back to take his place.

Curly's facial difference in 11 years!!
Curly on the left in 1936 picture ‘Disorder In The Court’ and on the right in 1947 picture ‘Half-Wits Holiday’.

Curly being the biggest reason for The Three Stooges’ success faced the most painful years. The miseries hadn’t ended at retirement. After work, he suffered a massive stroke in 1947. A few years later, he was partially paralyzed and was in a wheelchair by 1950. He suffered another stroke the very next year and had to live in the hospital. Later that year, the Howard family was informed to collect him as his mental condition was collapsing and had become a problem for the nursing staff. Moe, being under the contract, was unable to give his family the much-needed time and moved his brother to the other hospital. In early 1952, the Howard family was informed that Curly has died in the hospital. He was only 48.

With Curly’s departure from the films, the team met an obvious decline in humor. It was pretty obvious and predictable that none of his replacements (Shemp, Joe, DeRita) will match his comic timing or fill the gap he left wide open. The weakest of all replacements was Joe Besser. While joining the team, he actually put a clause specifically prohibiting not to hit him. The physical beating was one of the norms of the team’s prime segments of comedy when Moe used to hit the other stooges. In Curly-Joe DeRita‘s time, the team met resurgence when they featured in six films and the animated series ran in the 1960s.

My Favorite The Three Stooges Short Films

1934 – Punch Drunks

1934 – Men In Black

1934 – Three Little Pigskins

1935 – Pop Goes the Easel

1935 – Pardon My Scotch

1936 – Ants in the Pantry

1936 – Disorder in the Court

1936 – False Alarm

1936 – Slippery Silks

1937 – The Sitter Downers

1938 – Tassels in the Air

1939 – We Want Our Mummy

1939 – Calling All Curs

1940 – You Natzy Spy!

1940 – A Plumbing We Will Go

1942 – What’s the Matador?

1942 – Sock-a-Bye Baby

1943 – They Stooge to Conga

1943 – Dizzy Detectives

1943 – Back from the Front

1943 – Three Little Twirps

1943 – Higher Than a Kite

1943 – I Can Hardly Wait

1944 – Idle Roomers

1944 – Gents Without Cents

1944 – No Dough, Boys

1945 – Three Pests in a Mess

1945 – Booby Dupes

1946 – G.I. Wanna Come

Men In Black, release in 1934, is the only Stooge film to reach the Oscars when Jules White got nominated for Best Live Action Short Film.

The Natzy Spy! became the first Hollywood film to satirize Nazis, The Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. Moe Howard was the first actor to play a comic version of Hitler, nine months before Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.


In the past few weeks, I have watched all the 97 short films featuring Curly and I want to sum up that there is no comedy team like The Three Stooges who could perform better surreal humor than them. Their nonsensical slapsticks are a separate dimension of comedyverse. You can pull the same silly actions they attempted but you won’t get that popularity and acceptance which they built in their time. They were unique assembling. They were hardworking and dedicated comedians. In one of the earliest films, Pardon My Scotch in 1935, Moe broke three ribs during one shot. The camera continued to roll, he lifted and walked towards Larry and Curly, and slapped them, and then fainted down.

See, every comedian or a comedy team had the artistry to attract the viewers. But The Three Stooges had no honest quality of presenting comedy of above par standard. They were the stooges who make people of all ages and in every period laugh and burn their bellies out. Entertaining the people by being stupid was their main charisma. They didn’t hold any critical acclaim but watching all those short films make me think about their characters being of lower-class fellas struggling to find work and failing again and again when the Great Depression was alarming at their very pinnacle of comedy.

A bunch of degenerates faking as highly reputed officers, doctors, scientists, and businessmen joining elite parties and ending up throwing pie cakes on each other was a slap on the society. How immoral of those socialites!

Besides Curly, one major reason for the team’s success was that Moe Howard and Larry Fine stayed from the beginning until the end. The Three Stooges lasted for around 50 years in the business, and Moe and Larry featured in almost every single project.

circa 1939: American comedian Moe Howard stabbing his fellow comedians, Larry Fine (left) and Curly Howard with forks. The trio starred in countless films together as ‘The Three Stooges’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

(Links of Pictures Used in this Article)

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  2. https://www.dailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/migration/2015/201511/FEATURES_151129600_AR_0_OSGLEFBUTKLZ.jpg
  3. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/a6/1a/da/a61adaed4721c8047c981583516d0561.jpg
  4. https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BYmIyYTZlZTYtMTA1ZS00ODQ0LTk2OTktNDA4MGJlZDI1YmMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTg2ODExNzA@._V1_.jpg

Book Review: The Diary Of A Young Girl (1947)

The events of the World Wars staging in the planet earth not only brought the highest recorded casualties of the 20th century but brought many historical consequences and incredible stories. People in my community often take Hitler‘s genocide of killing 6 million European Jews as an act of achievement or blessing because they theorize the opinion that it is the Jews being blood-thirsty of the Muslims in Palestine for decades. Hardly they are familiar with Zionism movement and do not recognize the difference between a Jewish religion and a Zionism movement.

The complexity of the subject lies in the tragic state where the Jews were the prime target in The Holocaust. In my life, I personally came to realize that Jews have been war or political victims ever in the timeline when I happened to watch Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist back in 2003. I was familiar with the face of the young Anne Frank as I happen to see in some tribute videos played on the TV a few years ago and I calculated the prominence of her picture in the history section that there is something very memorable about this girl.  Later on, through various sources on the internet, I learned her personal and posthumous achievement as a teenage diarist revealing some very critical details of the existing chaos in Nazi Germany and the Netherlands, and her very tragic conclusion of giving up life in one of the concentration camps in Germany at a minor age of 15.

Anne Frank rose to posthumous fame globally when her diary was published with the sharp details of her personal life and the war disturbances during her two-year hiding with her family. It is not just an impression of reading a girl’s diary speaking of the world war but it is a deep psychology of understanding one of the 6 million casualties that how a normal person of any age shapes in the historic or political chaos. How a girl of 13 with all the luxury of a domestic and school life lives an unfortunate life in the two-year hiding with her family?

Everyone in the Europe was affected by the world war and Anne Frank is one of the most discussed Jewish victims of that time. As a reader, when you read the first dozens of the letter, you become a child like her. With her writing and your reading, you begin to create and develop an understanding with her, her ideology, her opinion, her social behavior and attitude towards her parents, her sister, her friends (among which couple of them became more than a friend for a short period), and other people with whom she was hiding in the concealed rooms. Diary was Anne’s best and most loyalist friend but the reading mentally convinces if you are the diary’s replacement and the deceased is talking, admitting and confessing to you.

Anne wasn’t a childish immature diarist as I was expecting. To my surprise, she was a mature girl who had a treasure of words to describe in details her physical and emotional developments. She was impressive in giving detail about the structure of the house where the whole family was hiding which is known as Secret Annex (Achterhuis in Dutch). She has spoken about her relation with Peter in much of the detail that draws your attention. Peter was a 16-year-old son of the van Pels family, the family who joined the Franks in the hiding. Besides, she expresses her love towards history and literature and set her ambition to become a journalist when the war is finished.

To my reading experience, the dozens of books which I have read so far, this is the book which gives me more pain and grief. I have to admit that when I was reading this book, I was traveling the time and wanting that bad to save the entire family from the evils of invasion. It breaks my heart to understand how much people have to suffer from the decisions made by the people in power. I began thinking while reading her letters about my honest opinion that the whole world, its existence, the life, the timeline and every creature arriving at the surface is all scripted by the God. He is the author, a writer to the fate of the earth and its inhabitants. Anne was bestowed with the diary, a present she got on her 13th birthday by her father. A month later, the hiding began and the diary gifted a month ago became Anne’s keeper of the secrets. The next two years, she began writing in rich details a lot of things until she is arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp. It was Miep Gies who hid the Franks and van Pels in the Secret Annex. Months after Anne’s tragic death, Miep found the papers and the diaries on the floor of the concealed room. She didn’t read but forwarded to Anne’s father Otto Frank after the war, when her death was confirmed in the Autumn of 1945. If there was no war, there would have been no hiding and this book would never be written nor reach to us. It is all scripted, Anne wasn’t brought in this world to live a normal life. She was born in the most disturbed timeline at the unfortunate place to write the diary and do us a favor to read her. It is all scripted. 

Miep Gies died a few years ago at the age of 100. One of Anne’s friends, Hanneli Goslar, is still alive at 88 who now lives in Jerusalem with her family. Goslar has appeared in several Anne Frank documentaries. Had Anne not died in the camp, she might have fulfilled her ambition to become a journalist and would have been 88 to date. Anne and her sister Margot were buried in an unknown mass grave but the reading of her memoir is buried in our hearts and we have sympathies and respect for the poor little girl. 

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Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

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Fahrenheit 451 is the first colorful and the only English-language film of François Truffaut’s illustrious directional career. Produced in 1966, the film is based on Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name. For me, it is one of the strangest films I have ever experienced watching.

The film shows a fictional world where some totalitarian government controls general people’s life by dissuading them from books. For this purpose, this government employs a group of firemen who detect books from every corner and burn to ashes. Among these firemen, there is Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) who gets reading inspiration from his neighbor, a 20yo schoolteacher Clarisse (Julie Christie). Once he reads, he tries to motivate his wife and her friends. Time passes by and he begins growing hatred towards his book-burning job. When he becomes a book-burning rebel, the government makes an attempt to seize him and he tries to escape and survive.

On the internet, the general description or summarized explanation of the novel is a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. For me, my theory and basic understanding towards the novel/film are broad. What inspires me is the theme and content of the film.

Generally what we see in the film is a foundation of the ground realities clouding our brain. The film does show you an oppressive future but questions numerous objects co. existing in the same sorry state universe. Truffaut made this film in the 60s but I see this way advanced to the-then existence. The plot is easily applicable today. We see many totalitarian governments controlling people’s life. Last century, the world witnessed the same style of leadership in Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam and II-sung.

Next aspect, the book is a source of objection by such government in the film. The firemen search everywhere to every length to dig the books; and when they find, they collect and gather all the materials and burn these all. In the film, exaggeration is tremendous. Firemen are shown digging books even in public parks, stopping people and checking their dresses. One fireman even checks shirt-pocket of an infant crying in the pram, finds a book and naively discourages the infant not to read books. This scene shows tremendous hatred and point of exaggeration where the director conveys his entire message in one shot.

There have been numerous book-burning incidents in the past. The one which particularly reminds me is from the McCarthy era when the books written by the authors favoring communism were disposed and burned under Eisenhower’s presidency. Bradbury has also stated his concerns about the above-mentioned events being the base of writing Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit451

Why books? In the film, this question will give you a lot of answers. Especially in one scene where the home of Clarisse’ friend is raided for an understood reason, the captain of all firemen (Cyril Cusack) spots a room full of books and gets some space of more than five minutes with Montag to present his hatred and forward his explanation/opinion about the literature. One of the lines the captain speaks to Montag in the film goes this way, Go on, Montag, all this philosophy, let’s get rid of it. It’s even worse than the novels. Thinkers and philosophers, all of them saying exactly the same thing: “Only I am right! The others are all idiots!” This captain’s ideology hit me for a second and showed a different perspective for a book-reading habit. Is this an ego which turns you a writer and makes you think that people will avoid others and listen to you?

About fictional novel, the captain discourages the viewers that people in such books never existed but by reading, they tend to assume such characters leading their lives towards unhappiness by thinking that they can never live that life described in such books. I must admit, this lengthy scene was one of the best in the film.

Montag the leading character has another explanation that the books make the readers unhappy and anti-social! How come? Because according to Montag, books change the people, their ideology, their way of living and thinking; and them reading people tries to become better than the others. How true is this? If you really begin judging the reading habit from Montag and captain’s angle, you will think twice.

Truffaut’s depicted future-world looks highly realistic and fashionable. I am very impressed with the heavy detailing of Montag’s place of residency. The color of walls, interactive TV program, wall telephones, and furniture was outstanding. Then we see monorail which was not frequently watched in the films those days.

Last 20 minutes of the film takes the viewers to a different dimension. The dystopian state turns into utopian. Montag shifts from one world to the other. While escaping from the cruel book-burning world, he unintentionally enters the world of hope where people from different communities and walks of life are named by some famous books. These individuals are learning by heart and repeating every word of their books to spread the literature to the future generations and avoid ignorance. There is one striking scene where a dying old man is filling/feeding the words of Weir of Hermiston to his nephew.

From a religious point of view, it reminds me the time when knowledge was to overtake ignorance in the times of Prophet Muhammad PBUH with time by learning and repeating the verses of Holy Quran and his Sahabah (Prophet’s companions and disciples) by recording the testimonies what the prophet said. It is just my understanding from those particular book-people scenes.

The film overall is a wake-up call to save the books, the literature, the treasure of knowledge from various categories of books and defeat ignorance. Truffaut’s artistic direction is yet again the winner. Very very ostentatious and fascinating work! This is like someone presents a theory in cinematic format and brings the world to knees. The film is sci-fi in some sense but also very humanistic theoretically. But his work plays on you, hypnotizes and manipulates you. Although there are some differences and missing elements from the film as compared to the novel but overall I believe Fahrenheit 451 is easily one of Truffaut’s most impressive works.

Ratings: 8.4/10

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