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The Three Stooges

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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 [1]. 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.[2]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.

"But 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."

- Moe Howard from 1973 radio interview describing in part Curly's role and performance, clip heard on A&E's Biography.

Success, 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".

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).[2] 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 developed hypertension. In May 1945, after suffering a mild stroke, he was diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity.[2]

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 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."

Curly 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[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!. 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:

"It 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." [3]

A 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.

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."[2] 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.

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.[2]


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 Larry, Moe, and Shemp burst into tears with the elder 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. Jules 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 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.

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 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." [4]

In 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.[5] 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 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 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."
    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 "nyuk-nyuk" laugh.
  • 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)

Short subjects
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)
Matri-Phony (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)
Micro-Phonies (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)

Further reading

Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge; by Joan Howard Maurer [2] (Citadel Press, 1988).

Moe Howard and the Three Stooges; by Moe Howard [3], (Citadel Press, 1977).
The Columbia Comedy Shorts; by Ted Okuda with Edward Watz [4], (McFarland, 1986).
The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion; by Jon Solomon [5], (Comedy III Productions, Inc., 2002).

One Fine Stooge: A Frizzy Life in Pictures; by Steve Cox and Jim Terry [6], (Cumberland House Publishing, 2006).

"Jerome Howard of Three Stooges Fame Succumbs", Los Angeles Times, January 19, 1952, Part I, Page 4.

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