Randy's Corner Deli Library

21 October 2008

Today's Birthday - Jerome Lester Horwitz -Curly Howard

Curly Howard (born Jerome Lester Horwitz) (October 22, 1903January 18, 1952), was one of the Three Stooges, along with brothers Moe Howard and Shemp Howard, and actor Larry Fine, although Curly was more or less the breakout character. Curly is generally considered the most popular and recognizable stooge of the trio. He is well known for his high-pitched voice, chuckling laugh (commonly rendered as "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!"), and excited yell (commonly rendered as "woo-woo-woo!"). Family members recalled in print that Curly borrowed the "woo woo" from "nervous" comedian Hugh Herbert, but was otherwise an original and inspired performer. According to Moe, Curly was never very good with written dialogue, and whenever he got stuck, he would improvise some visual or vocal nonsense that the directors usually kept in the finished film.

Early life

Curly was born in Bath Beach, a summer resort in a section of Brooklyn, New York. He was the fifth of the five Horwitz brothers and of Levite and Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. Because he was youngest, his brothers called kid brother Jerry "Babe" to tease him. The nickname stuck with him all his life.

When Jerry was 12, he shot himself in the ankle while playing with a rifle. He suffered a slight limp afterward, and was so frightened of surgery that he never got it fixed. While with the Stooges, he developed his famous exaggerated walk to mask the limp on screen. In scenes where Curly's legs are exposed, one calf is noticeably thinner than the other.

Sometime in his late teens (according to Curly: The Illustrated Biography Of The Superstooge, written by his niece Joan Howard Maurer and published in 1985), Jerry married a young girl, whose name, the book claimed, "remains a mystery to this day." His mother, Jennie Horwitz, was against the idea of Curly's marrying at such a young age and had the marriage annulled. However, in 1995, Bill Cappello (a member of the Three Stooges Fan Club) researched the matter and reported in The Three Stooges Journal that Jerry had married his first wife, Julia Rosenthal, in 1930, when he was 27 years old. They later divorced (the marriage was not annulled as stated in other sources). In 1995, Three Stooges historians discovered that Jerry's family fabricated the story in order to avoid scandal within the strict Jewish family. In actuality Jerry had been expelled from high school around 1920 after he and several fellow male students visted a brothel in Brooklyn during a class field trip.

Only a fair student, and probably because of this incident, Jerry never graduated from high school. He was more interested in music and comedy, and would watch his brothers Shemp and Moe perform as stooges in Ted Healy's vaudeville act. Jerry liked to hang around backstage and get sandwiches for all of the performers in the show, though he never participated in any of the routines.

In 1928, Jerry's break onto the stage was as a comedy musical conductor for the Orville Knapp Band. Moe later recalled that Jerry's performances usually overshadowed those of the band.

The Three Stooges

Vaudeville star Ted Healy had a very popular stage act, in which he would try to tell jokes or sing, only to have his three stooges (show-biz slang for assistants) wander on stage and interrupt him. Larry Fine and brothers Shemp and Moe Howard were Healy's usual stooges, and in 1930 Healy and company appeared in their first feature film, Soup to Nuts. (The film also featured a fourth member, Fred Sanborn.) Shemp left the act in 1932 for a solo career in movies, and Moe suggested that his kid brother Jerry fill the role of the third stooge. In his autobiography, Moe Howard & The 3 Stooges (published in 1977), Moe recalled that Ted took one look at Jerry, with his chestnut-red locks and elegant mustache, and stated he was not a funny character like Moe and Larry. Jerry left the room and returned minutes later with a shaved head and face. The character of "Curly" was born. (According to the 1982 book The Three Stooges Scrapbook, co-written by Joan Howard Maurer with Greg and Jeff Lenburg, Sanborn returned to the act for a couple of weeks to bridge Shemp's departure and Curly's arrival. In the 2006 Larry Fine biography One Fine Stooge, author Stephen Cox also reports that on at least one occasion during this period, the trio of Moe, Shemp, and Curly appeared together for a live performance.)

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Curly models a girdle for Moe and Larry in A-Plumbing We Will Go (1940). This short was reportedly Curly's favorite film.
In 1934, MGM was building Ted Healy up as a solo comedian in feature films, and Healy dissolved the act to pursue his own career. Howard, Fine, and Howard were tired of Healy's reported alcoholism and abrasiveness, anyway, and renamed their act "The Three Stooges." The same year, they signed on to appear in two-reel comedy short subjects for Columbia Pictures. The Stooges soon became the most popular short-subject attraction.

Success, however, destroyed Curly. He began to drink, smoke, and eat heavily, feeling that his shaven head robbed him of his sex appeal. Curly wore a hat in public to convey an image of masculinity, saying he felt like a little kid with his hair shaved off. Jerry however, was successful with women all his life, even after becoming "Curly".

Curly also had difficulties managing his finances, often spending his money on wine, food, women, homes, cars, and dogs (he was "mad about dogs"). Since income from his successful career was carelessly spent, Curly was often near poverty. Moe eventually handled all of Curly's financial affairs, helped him manage his money, and even completed his income tax returns.

On June 7, 1937, Curly married Elaine Ackerman, who gave birth to Curly's first child, Marilyn, in 1938. In 1940 Elaine filed for divorce. Afterward, he gained a tremendous amount of weight and his blood pressure soared. In May 1945 after suffering a mild stroke on the set of "Monkey Businessman", he was diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity.

Also in 1945, Curly met and married Marion Buxbaum. Moe urged Curly into the marriage, hoping it would improve his health. The marriage, however, was unhappy; friends and family felt Buxbaum was using Curly for his money. After only three months, the couple separated and began a bitter divorce proceeding, ending in July 1946, following Curly's stroke.

By early 1946, as Curly's health worsened, his voice became coarse and he had difficulty remembering dialog. The quality of his performances declined, primarily due to several minor strokes in the previous year. His strength plummeted, and several shorts (most notably Three Loan Wolves and The Three Troubledoers, both 1946) clearly display Curly's diminished energy. Nevertheless, Columbia boss Harry Cohn refused to allow Curly time off to recover and rest. According to an article in the January 18, 1946 New Orleans Times-Picayune, Shemp was already filling in for Curly in live appearances: "Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine, who were the originals in the Three Stooges act, compose the trio to appear here. Curley (sic) Howard, who took Shemp's place after the act had been organized some years and whose appearance is familiar to movie audiences, is not on the current tour because of illness."

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Curly snoring it up during his cameo in Hold That Lion!
Curly suffered a massive stroke on May 6, 1946, during the filming of his 97th Three Stooges comedy, Half-Wits Holiday (1947). Curly had completed most of the film, except for the pie-fight scene which occurred at the end of the film. Moe Howard (who in his autobiography recalled the stroke occurring on May 19 rather than May 6) stated that director Jules White called for Curly, but got no answer. Moe sought out his brother, finding him sitting with his head slumped over on his shoulder. Curly was crying profusely but unable to speak, and Moe knew instantly that his brother had suffered a severe stroke. Curly was driven home, while White quietly scrambled to shoot the final scene around Curly's absence. In his autobiography, Moe recalled that immediately following the day's filming, he drove directly to Curly's home while still wearing his studio makeup and wardrobe[1]. Curly soon took residence at the Motion Picture Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Curly had to leave the team to recuperate. Shemp returned to the trio to replace Curly in the Columbia shorts; an extant copy of the Stooges' 1947 Columbia Pictures contract was signed by all four Stooges, and stipulated that Shemp's joining "in place and stead of Jerry Howard" would be temporary, until Curly recovered sufficiently to return to work full time. That never happened, but Curly did make one brief cameo appearance (doing his barking-dog routine) in the third film after brother Shemp returned to the trio, Hold That Lion! (1947). It was the only film that featured Larry Fine and all three Howard brothers (Moe, Shemp, and Curly) simultaneously; director Jules White spontaneously staged the bit during Curly's impromptu visit to the soundstage. A second cameo was staged for Malice in the Palace—a lobby card photo for this film was shot, featuring an emaciated and mustachioed Curly as a chef—but he did not appear in the short (Larry portrayed the chef character). Curly's cameo appearance from Hold that Lion was recycled in the 1953 remake Booty and the Beast, one year after Curly had died.

Still not fully recovered from his stroke, Curly met a thrice-married widow of 32, Valerie Newman, whom he married on July 31, 1947. A friend later recalled, "Valerie was the only decent thing that happened to Curly and the only one that really cared about him." Although his health worsened after the marriage, Valerie gave birth to a daughter, Curly's second child, Janie, in 1948. Janie currently resides with her family in Maryland.

In 1949, Curly's health took a severe turn for the worse when he suffered a second massive stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. He was confined to a wheelchair by 1950 and was fed boiled rice and apples as part of his diet, doctors hoping weight reduction would diminish the risk of another stroke. Curly's weight dropped dramatically as a result. His physical and mental condition continued to deteriorate, however, and eventually Curly had to be admitted to a series of nursing homes and hospitals. On January 18, 1952, Jerome Howard died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 48 while at the Baldy View Sanitarium in San Gabriel, California. The rest of the Stooges were on the set of "Booty And The Beast" when Valerie broke the news to Moe and Shemp that their baby brother had died. Interns at Columbia recalled seeing Moe, Larry and Shemp burst into tears with the Howard brothers sobbing: "Babe is gone! Babe is gone!" Curly was given a Jewish funeral and was laid to rest at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles. White postponed the shooting of "Booty and The Beast" for four months. Production resumed in May 1952.


The Three Stooges made 190 short subjects over 23 years, the longest such series in history. (The Stooges' Columbia shorts contract expired at the end of 1957; the final short filmed was Flying Saucer Daffy, which wrapped December 20, 1957; Sappy Bullfighters was the final short to be released to theaters, on June 4, 1959.) Though their movies were perennial favorites in theaters, the Stooges' height in popularity came when their short comedies were first broadcast on television in 1959, introducing them to a new generation of fans. The shorts are still shown on U.S. television on the Rich Koz's syndicated "Stooge-A-Palooza" show which is broadcast from Chicago's WCIU on Saturday evenings.

Today, Curly is considered by many Stooge fans to be their favorite of the Three Stooges. Even Larry said Curly was his favorite Stooge. In a 1970 interview, Larry recalled, "Personally, I thought Curly was the greatest because he was a natural comedian who had no formal training. Whatever he did he made up on the spur of the moment. When we lost Curly, we took a hit."

In 2000, long-time stooge fan Mel Gibson produced a TV-movie for ABC about the life and careers of the Stooges. (In an interview promoting the film, Gibson revealed that Curly was his favorite stooge.[2]) In the film, Curly was played by Michael Chiklis.


  • Early on, his name appeared as "Curley" on marquees. That spelling also was used in the opening titles of the first 14 Columbia Three Stooges shorts (from Woman Haters through Half-Shot Shooters).
  • He never made a public or on-camera appearance out of character, which means he seldom used his real voice on screen. It could be heard on occasion, mostly in the first eight Columbia shorts they made and in the early, pre-Columbia shorts like Plane Nuts (with Moe, Larry and Ted Healy) and in the bizarre, Technicolor short Roast Beef And Movies, a solo appearance with dialect comic George Givot. Even after his character was fully developed in the familiar Columbia series, he would occasionally drop his high, comic voice. In one instance he played his own father (speaking in his normal voice) with long sideburns (3 Dumb Clucks), and in his last films of 1946, filmed during his illness, Curly sometimes lapsed into his own lower-pitched speaking voice.
  • In the feature film Swing Parade Of 1946, a film featuring The Stooges as comic relief (made for Monogram in between their Columbia shorts), Curly is billed in the end credits as "Jerome Howard." Why the billing under his real name at this late date is open to speculation.
  • At times Curly would thwart Moe's poke in the eyes, with a defensive maneuver: Curly would position his hand in front of the bridge of his nose, splitting the two fingers with the hand and stopping them short of his eyeballs.
  • Curly's movements were said to have inspired Disney animators for some of the choreography in the mushroom dance in Fantasia.
  • Curly purchased a house from child star Sabu and later sold it to Joan Leslie. Curly also bought a lot next door to Moe Howard's palatial home on Toluca Lake, expecting to build on it, but never did. It was eventually sold to film director Raoul Walsh.
  • The 1983 song "The Curly Shuffle," recorded by the Chicago-based Jump 'N The Saddle Band, expressed admiration for the Stooges and included several Curly imitations in the chorus. The song originally was released in 1983 by Chicago-based Acme Records, but was reissued by Atlantic Records and became a national hit in 1984 (A recording of the song by The Knuckleheads was released simultaneously in Canada by Attic Records in 1983). A portion of the song's lyrics ("Well, me and my friends, we all love to see Comedy Classics on late-night TV") make specific reference to the Three Stooges shorts airing on Chicago television (WFLD-TV Channel 32 aired the shorts in a late-night timeslot under the title Comedy Classics).
  • The cartoon character Jabberjaw is based heavily on Curly, including an imitation of Curly's voice, his "woo-woo" sound when alarmed, and the famous "nyuk-nyuk" laugh.
  • Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama makes Curly's trademark "Woo, woo, woo" sound when running away from trouble (sometimes after squirting ink).
  • On the MTV show Celebrity Deathmatch, Curly is the only survivor of a fight between The Three Stooges and The Three Tenors, and is thus declared the winner.
  • According to the Hebrew inscription on Curly's gravestone, his full Hebrew name was "Yehudah Lev son of Shelomo Natan the Levite."
  • A Far Side cartoon showed Curly's mother getting an ultrasound while she was pregnant with Curly. The ultrasound showed him spinning around and saying "woo! woo! woo!"
  • The school in the Captain Underpants books is named "Jerome Horwitz Elementary School" in his honor.
  • Homer Simpson, Bart Simpson and Bill Clinton have done imitations of Curly on "The Simpsons."



Short Subjects

Further reading


External links

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