|Curly Howard (born Jerome Lester Horwitz) (October 22, 1903 – January 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 of the Stooges . 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!"),
as well as numerous pantomimed "bits of business".
Family members recalled in print that Curly borrowed
(and significantly exaggerated) the "woo woo" from "nervous"
and soft-spoken comedian Hugh Herbert, but was otherwise an original
and inspired performer. In any case, Curly's unique version of "woo-woo-woo"
was firmly established by the time of the Stooges' second film Punch
Drunks in 1934. 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.
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 Jeremy "Babe"
to tease him. The nickname stuck with him all his life.
When Curly was 12, he accidentally 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 Jerry
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.
Jerry was interested in music and comedy, and would
watch his brothers Shemp and Moe perform as stooges in Ted Healy's
vaudeville act. Jerry also 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
“ "In 1932
Shemp got the opportunity to play
the character Knobby in Joe Palooka pictures out on the coast. And
it seemed like a great opportunity for Shemp. And he was reluctant
about leaving, he said 'Well, what are you gonna do for a third
man?' I said 'Shemp, don't worry about that. Grab your opportunity
and we'll get the kid brother Curly in. And Curly was working with
a band called "Orville Knapp and his Band," he was a comedy
guest conductor. And it got a big laugh, so we got in touch with
Curly and said, 'Give your man two weeks notice and come on, you're
gonna join with us.'" ”
- Moe Howard, from 1973 radio interview describing
Curly's recruitment into the Stooges, clip heard on A&E's Biography.
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, Rube Goldberg's 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.)
Curly models a girdle for Moe and Larry in A Plumbing We Will Go.
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
you see, he couldn't talk tough to me because that would be the
wrong thing to do. He'd get a belt in the mouth anyhow if he did.
And Curly was just big enough and strong enough that anything I
said or did, he could break me in half but his only response was
'mmmmm!' (the high-pitched whine Curly was known for) Every time
we were on a personal appearance in the theater, every time I'd
smack Curly someone in the audience would holler 'Hit him back,
Curly! Hit him back!' If we were going through a scene and he'd
forget his words for a moment, you know. Rather than stand, get
pale and stop, you never knew what he was going to do. On one occasion
he'd get down to the floor and spin around like a top until he remembered
what he had to say." ”
Howard from 1973 radio interview describing in part Curly's role
and performance, clip heard on A&E's Biography.
however, destroyed Curly. He began to drink, smoke, and eat excessively,
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".
also had difficulties managing his finances, often spending his
money on wine, food, women, homes, cars, and dogs (he was "mad
about dogs" and rescued many strays as well). 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.
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 developed
hypertension. In May 1945, after suffering a mild stroke, he was
diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity.
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
early 1946, as Curly's health worsened, his voice became coarse
and he had difficulty remembering dialogue. 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 Rhythm and Weep, 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 edition of the 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."
suffered a massive stroke on May 6, 1946, during the filming of
his 97th Three Stooges comedy, Half-Wits Holiday. 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.
Curly soon took residence at the Motion Picture Home and Hospital
in Woodland Hills, California.
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!. It was the only film that featured Larry Fine and all
three Howard brothers (Moe, Shemp, and Curly) simultaneously; director
Jules White later said he spontaneously staged the bit during Curly's
impromptu visit to the soundstage:
was a spur of the moment idea. Curly was visiting the set; this
was sometime after his stroke. Apparently he came in on his own
since I didn't see a nurse with him. He was sitting around, reading
a newspaper. As I walked in, the newspaper, which he had in front
of his face, came down and he waved hello to me. I thought it would
be funny to have him do a bit in the picture, and he was happy to
do it."  ”
second cameo was staged for Malice in the Palace — a lobby card
photo for this film was shot, featuring a considerably slimmer 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.
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. On A&E's
Biography, Janie spoke about Curly and said that he and her mother
had a good marriage and that she regretted that he didn't live long
enough for her to know him as an adult so she could speak to him
as an adult about various things. She also said that he hoped she
found what made her happy as her life progressed because he had
finally found what made him happy. Janie currently resides with
her family in Maryland.
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.
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,
rest of the Stooges were on the set of Booty and the Beast when
Valerie broke the news to
Shemp that their baby brother
had died. Interns at Columbia recalled seeing Larry, Moe, and Shemp
burst into tears with the elder Howard brothers, sobbing: "Babe
is gone! Babe is gone!"
was given a Jewish funeral and was laid to rest at Home of Peace
Memorial Park in East Los Angeles. Jules White postponed the shooting
of Booty and the Beast for four months; production resumed in May
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 Bull Fighters 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.
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 1972 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." 
2000, long-time Stooges 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 of the Stooges.
In the film, Curly was played by Michael Chiklis.
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 unknown.
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
- 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."
In the film Short Circuit three of the Nova Robots are re-programmed
to perform the opening slapstick barrage in Woman Haters. Also,
Johnny 5, the film's robotic protagonist, sometimes does the famous
- Mel Gibson's character Martin Riggs from the Lethal Weapon series,
shares Mel's passion for the Three Stooges and refers to them as
"The Boys". Riggs does several Curly-esque antics in the
four movie series.
Turn Back the Clock (1933)
Broadway to Hollywood (1933)
Meet the Baron (1933)
Dancing Lady (1933)
Myrt and Marge (1933)
Fugitive Lovers (1934)
Hollywood Party (1934)
The Captain Hates the Sea (1934)
Start Cheering (1938)
Time Out for Rhythm (1941)
My Sister Eileen (1942)
Good Luck, Mr. Yates (1943) (scenes deleted)
Rockin' in the Rockies (1945)
Swing Parade of 1946 (1946)
Stop! Look! and Laugh! (1960) (scenes from Stooge shorts)
Hollywood on Parade (1932)
Nertsery Rhymes (1933)
Beer and Pretzels (1933)
Hello Pop! (1933)
Plane Nuts (1933)
Roast Beef and Movies (1934)
Jailbirds of Paradise (1934)
Woman Haters (1934)
The Big Idea (1934)
Punch Drunks (1934)
Men in Black (1934)
Three Little Pigskins (1934)
Horses' Collars (1935)
Restless Knights (1935)
Screen Snapshots Series 14, No. 6 (1935)
Pop Goes the Easel (1935)
Uncivil Warriors (1935)
Pardon My Scotch (1935)
Hoi Polloi (1935)
Three Little Beers (1935)
Ants in the Pantry (1936)
Movie Maniacs (1936)
Screen Snapshots Series 15, No. 7 (1936)
Half Shot Shooters (1936)
Disorder in the Court (1936)
A Pain in the Pullman (1936)
False Alarms (1936)
Whoops, I'm an Indian! (1936)
Slippery Silks (1936)
Grips, Grunts and Groans (1937)
Dizzy Doctors (1937)
3 Dumb Clucks (1937)
Back to the Woods (1937)
Goofs and Saddles (1937)
Cash and Carry (1937)
Playing the Ponies (1937)
The Sitter Downers (1937)
Termites of 1938 (1938)
Wee Wee Monsieur (1938)
Tassels in the Air (1938)
Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb (1938)
Violent is the Word for Curly (1938)
Three Missing Links (1938)
Mutts to You (1938)
Flat Foot Stooges (1938)
Three Little Sew and Sews (1939)
We Want Our Mummy (1939)
A Ducking They Did Go (1939)
Screen Snapshots: Stars on Horseback (1939)
Yes, We Have No Bonanza (1939)
Saved by the Belle (1939)
Calling All Curs (1939)
Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise (1939)
Three Sappy People (1939)
You Nazty Spy! (1940)
Screen Snapshots: Art and Artists (1940)
Rockin' Thru the Rockies (1940)
A Plumbing We Will Go (1940)
Nutty but Nice (1940)
How High Is Up? (1940)
From Nurse to Worse (1940)
No Census, No Feeling (1940)
Cookoo Cavaliers (1940)
Boobs in Arms (1940)
So Long Mr. Chumps (1941)
Dutiful but Dumb (1941)
All the World's a Stooge (1941)
I'll Never Heil Again (1941)
An Ache in Every Stake (1941)
In the Sweet Pie and Pie (1941)
Some More of Samoa (1941)
Loco Boy Makes Good (1942)
What's The Matador? (1942)
Cactus Makes Perfect (1942)
Three Smart Saps (1942)
Even As IOU (1942)
Sock-a-Bye Baby (1942)
They Stooge To Conga (1943)
Dizzy Detectives (1943)
Spook Louder (1943)
Back From the Front (1943)
Three Little Twirps (1943)
Higher Than a Kite (1943)
I Can Hardly Wait (1943)
Dizzy Pilots (1943)
Phony Express (1943)
A Gem of a Jam (1943)
Crash Goes the Hash (1944)
Busy Buddies (1944)
The Yoke's on Me (1944)
Idle Roomers (1944)
Gents Without Cents (1944)
No Dough Boys (1944)
Three Pests in a Mess (1945)
Booby Dupes (1945)
Idiots Deluxe (1945)
If a Body Meets a Body (1945)
Beer Barrel Polecats (1946)
A Bird in the Head (1946)
Uncivil War Birds (1946)
The Three Troubledoers (1946)
Monkey Businessmen (1946)
Three Loan Wolves (1946)
G.I. Wanna Home (1946)
Rhythm and Weep (1946)
Three Little Pirates (1946)
Half-Wits Holiday (1947)
Hold That Lion! (1947, cameo appearance)
Malice in the Palace (1949, cameo appearance filmed, but not used)
Booty and the Beast (1953, recycled footage from Hold That Lion)
Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge; by Joan Howard
Maurer  (Citadel Press, 1988).
Moe Howard and the Three Stooges; by Moe Howard , (Citadel Press,
The Columbia Comedy Shorts; by Ted Okuda with Edward Watz , (McFarland,
The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges
Companion; by Jon Solomon , (Comedy III Productions, Inc., 2002).
One Fine Stooge: A Frizzy Life in Pictures; by Steve Cox and Jim
Terry , (Cumberland House Publishing, 2006).
"Jerome Howard of Three Stooges Fame Succumbs", Los Angeles
Times, January 19, 1952, Part I, Page 4.