Tag Archives: Laurel and Hardy

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
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Book Review: My Autobiography (1964)

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“Friends have asked how I came to engender this American antagonism. My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them.”


A riveting manuscript blended with the toppling of articulation. An essence of dissemination with a gifted cerebrum which educates the readers the life of an artist who never inclined nor compromised. The quote above is from the thirtieth chapter which confirms the resistance and determination. An institution, an influence; whose artistic brilliance and extracting expressions from the silence won hearts and made him the most beloved entertainer of the 20th century. He was Charlie Chaplin a.k.a. The Tramp.

A verbal but soft revolt over the hatred or a memoir wonderfully constructed like an architect coalescing the whole tabulation with a strong grip. A case study which examines a life structure built from a struggling poverty towards solving the enigma of solemnity. A gracious gentleman with a beautiful heart, a blessing smile which can melt a tart.

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He was respiring in his seventies when the pages of this incredulous book were inked. I am not surprised that the gentleman who wrote his own scripts, directed his own films, would go on write an autobiography; but what astonishes me is the chosen vocabulary. The school of words used as the text defines his individuality and indicates how indulged and fascinated was he to treasure the richness of words and then use as a sword. It is not to my knowledge nor have I quested an answer to what length has the wordings of Mr. Chaplin been edited but the introductory words by his biographer David Robinson confirms that the writing is all done by the tramp himself. The artistry of a performer has his own percussion of conveying his message and reading his life in his own words helps you step into his world and understand him.

 

Being a stage/theater artist, the actor knows how to bring a ‘Vow!’ among the viewers. So as the author who happened to be an artist, he drops the revelation of mystery by beginning the book with precise date, time and place of birth this way;


“I was born on 16 April 1889, at eight o’clock at night, in East Lane, Walworth.”


This is exactly the confession and the first sentence of the book which gives the reader an impression that a grandpa in his rocking chair is about to excite you with the story existed from his universe.

The first 5 chapters are very private, firsthand and tragic which speaks of his grinding poverty and mother’s mental health. Chaplin talks about the couples who were parted and the family comprised of a mother with her two children, Charles and Sydney, depended on his weekly payments of 10 shillings a week. He talks about a failing stage performer whose vocal issues ended her career and her 5-year-old son took the stage in desperation to win the spectators, collected the coins and handed over to his ailing mother.

Chaplin recounts his struggles at such a tender age when his mother was shifted to the medical care for mental sickness. The wait for some good fate and fortunes making you anxious to turn over the pages.

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The quality of eagerly reading this book is that with every chapter, the reader grows his fictional age from childhood to young hood to manhood. When Charlie reaches the age of puberty, he becomes romantic so as the reader. Those readers who have watched his films would realize how romantic was Charlie and how cavernous would he go to convey his utter emotions in the silent films. Plus the account of his love affairs distinguishes in writing to grow the feeling of youngness and maturity. For example, his depiction of love for Hetty Kelly gives a warm look at his boyhood which makes your understanding of ‘love’ a bit emotional but when he speaks about his relation with Paulette and Oona, his third and fourth wife respectively, the reader grows adult like him.

At 19, Chaplin proposes 15-year-old Kelly on which she keeps silent. He determines not to meet her again but he couldn’t resist and feels regret. He meets her at her residence but he couldn’t say more than ‘Goodbye’ twice. His love for Hetty Kelly is what grieved and ached him all his life and at such an old age when he chooses to write this book, he drops a ship of theseus on the readers when he writes in chapter 6 about her;


“Although I had met her but five times, and scarcely any of our meetings lasted longer than twenty minutes, that brief encounter affected me for a long time.”


 

Moving from the affection of love affair, he builds his career in next chapters while landing in the United States; and in space of 10 years, he works for Fred Karno, Keystone Pictures, Essanay Studios and Mutual Films Corp. The amazement is reading an inspiring journey by highlighting his earnings. Fair enough to reveal that his earnings under contract with Karno which stood at 6 pounds/week turn into an extremely rich contract of $670K with Mutual Films Corp. payable at $10K/week. What an accomplishment in few years!

Also, the book has rich details of his life-long friendship with Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks from chapter.13 who later form a partnership business by the name United Artists. Under this banner being a co. owner, Chaplin makes most of his feature films and makes the company one of the leading production companies of that time in Hollywood.

Charlie Chaplin Hanging Out with Famous People (1)

For the reader’s luxury, Chaplin has enriched and highlighted some very interesting episodes from his personal account and professional career. He records many elite names he met and befriended them. In different chapters, Chaplin has covered makings of his various feature films. For me, the most interesting read is about his film The Kid in which child actor Jackie Coogan co. starred. He pens interesting story how he discovered the child and how he approached Coogan’s father.

Monsieur Verdoux is the film which covers three chapters which is quite peculiar and outlandish for me because the film wasn’t received well. There is a whole chapter about the film when it encountered the clearance issue from the Office of Decency by copy pasting their whole letter and writing the whole part of the script which was objected. I find writing this all at length redundant and extraneous; this chapter could have been easily abridged.

The reason I am pondering it too lengthy a chapter is because a critically acclaimed film like Modern Times has surprisingly very short details as compared to the others. A film based on The Great Depression and rise of the machines was a hard hitting subject but to my discouragement, Chaplin wrote only a few pages.

Two films whose omission from the book hugely astound me are The Circus and A King In New York. The former, being one of my favorite Chaplin films, was a prominent film which depicted the rise and fall of a circus while the latter was produced after Chaplin was barred from the United States and he showed his anger and criticism over McCarthyism in the film.


“All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.”


 

Chapter.23 is among the gripping chapters of the book which details Chaplin’s tour of Japan and describes how fortunate was he to escape the assassination of the then Japanese PM, Inukai Tsuyoshi, which was committed by 11 young naval officers who revealed the plan that Chaplin’s murder would facilitate war against the US.

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Also has Chaplin filled few pages about meeting very notable, established and prominent personalities like Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, Mr. and Mrs. Einstein, business tycoon William Hearst, the then Premier of Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and his Defense Minister Nikolai Bulganin, India’s preeminent leader Mahatma Gandhi and first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, first premier of People’s Republic of China Zhou Enlai and few more.

The most critical readings are the last six chapters when Charlie’s life meets severe turnaround when WWII begins. He has one whole chapter on his speeches for Russian War Relief. While Hoover and his FBI team begin scanning him after being accused of being the father of Joan Barry‘s child, his image meets a downfall. Also, the last phase of the book has heavy details on Chaplin’s final moments in the US and early days of settlement in Europe.

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So Charlie Chaplin has covered most of his life in 477 pages but somehow he still has missed leaking or providing few details. He speaks nothing about his second wife, Lita Grey nor does he mention his half-brother Wheeler Dryden. The readers will not find any details about his children especially Sydney and Geraldine. Nor is there any word about Arthur Jefferson, his understudy while working with Fred Karno. Arthur Jefferson is Stan Laurel most celebrated for his partnership with Oliver Hardy in a world famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

 

 

Another major surprise is that Chaplin mentions nothing about his frequent collaborators like Henry Bergman, Mark Swain, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin and Roland Totheroh who was Chaplin’s most regular cameraman for more than 30 films. Perhaps chapters may exceed more details in writing on these gentlemen or perhaps some other reasons. Chaplin talks about Limelight but didn’t speak about his novel Footlights which was unreleased for next six decades until it published in 2014. Footlights is considered a prequel and a fictional book which laid the foundation of producing this film.


“Loneliness is repellent. It has a subtle aura of sadness, an inadequacy to attract or interest; one feels slightly ashamed of it. But, to a more or less degree, it is the theme of everyone.”


Two things I would like to inform the readers about this book. The first point to remember is that Chaplin wrote this book in 1964, so obviously, the readers won’t have the luxury to read about his emotional return to the US eight years later when he received an honorary award for his contribution and outstanding achievements in the industry at the Oscars.

The second point is that the book should not be compared with Attenborough‘s film Chaplin produced in 1992 due to the fact that the details of the film are not precisely accurate as Chaplin has described in his literature.

But above all ‘My Autobiography‘ is a pure gift of The Tramp to his fans. Those readers who are curious to know how the silent cinema functioned in the beginning of the twentieth century should read this book and further realize how a pauper from England revolutionize the industry when the silent comedy was more focused on whacky vehicle races and pieing. His writing eloquence will melt you. A blatantly honest and easily one of the greatest autobiographies written and published.

Thank you, Charlie…

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Chaplin’s Wives:

Ch#16 – Mildred Harris (1st wife)

Ch#24 – Paulette Goddard (3rd wife)

Ch#27 – Oona O’Neil

 

Chaplin’s Love Affairs:

Ch#5 – Marie Doro

Ch#6 – Hetty Kelly

Ch#26 – Joan Barry

 

Chaplin’s association with the companies:

1899 – The Eight Lancashire Lads (Ch#3, Age.10)

1906 – Karno Company (Ch#6, Age.17)

1914 – Keystone Pictures (Ch#10)

1915 – Essanay Studios (Ch#11)

1916 – Mutual Film Corporation (Ch#11)

1918 – First National (Ch#14)

1919 – United Artists (Ch#15 – Co.owner with Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks)

 

Chaplin’s Earnings:

1906 – 6 Pounds/Week (Karno company)

1916 – $10K/Week (Mutual Film Corp)

 

Chaplin’s Films:

Ch#14 – A Dog’s Life, The Immigrant

Ch#15 – Shoulder Arms

Ch#16 – The Kid

Ch#19 – The Gold Rush

Ch#21 – City Lights

Ch#24 – Modern Times

Ch#25 – The Great Dictator

Ch#27 – Monsieur Verdoux

Ch#29 – Limelight

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