From vaudeville to the big screen — the Three Stooges at a glance

By JanaLee Stocks Brown

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 6:29 p.m. MDT

“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.”

If a “nyuk” or three can be heard, “The Three Stooges” must be nearby.

And they will be — again — starting April 13 in theaters nationwide.

Originally a vaudeville act called "Ted Healy and his Stooges," the Three Stooges began their entertainment careers in 1925. Five years later in 1930, they produced their first short film, "Soup to Nuts," released by the Fox Film Corp. Since that time there has rarely been a time that the stooges have not graced stage, film or television media.

In classic comedy, a stooge is the straight man who feeds lines to the lead character and takes whatever abuse or fallout results, be it a face full of water or a slip on a banana peel. Initially, the stooges, not the Three Stooges until 1934, played straight man for Ted Healy, creating an act based on extreme slapstick and physical comedy.

When Healy left, the format changed to three stooges who played straight man to each other, though most often Moe Howard played some kind of leader to the misfit band. This format and combination of personalities created Hollywood gold and continues to be emulated in many ensemble comedies.

Over the years, the ensemble of Three Stooges has consisted of several actors, though the most well known is the combination of Larry Fine, Moe Howard and younger brother Jerry (Curly) Howard. This combination would see the stooges from 1934 to 1946. Film historians Ted Okuda and Edward Watz, authors of "The Columbia Comedy Shorts," christened 1934 to 1941 as the stooges' golden years when much of their best work was completed.

This golden age peaked as trouble in their personal lives began to take a toll, particularly when Curly Howard suffered a stroke in 1946 and had to drop out of the act. Curly was replaced by older brother Shemp Howard until 1956, when Joe Besser took over the role until 1958. Yet another combination of actors, Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe), saw the stooges through the remainder of their careers up to 1971.

In 50 years, the stooges appeared in more than 200 films, sticking to a brand of quick laughs, exaggerated gags and slapstick comedy. They created many comedy references in both actions and verbal quotes, including:

"What's the big idea?"

"Why I oughta ..."

"Soitenly!" (certainly)

And "Woo-woo-woo-woo-wooo ..." (A popular stooge reaction to danger while skuttling about the stage or screen.)

Young viewers may not always recognize roots to the stooges. Quotes, slapstick blunders and familiar poses show up in formats from animated shows such as Futurama to popular YouTube pie fights.

Though the stooges have sometimes been criticized for low or obvious humor, they've remained popular, particularly with DVD releases allowing the shorts to be seen in order and contrasting the various styles of the differing ensembles. The Stoogeum, a museum dedicated to all things Stooge, opened in Philadelphia in 2004 and hosts Stooges Fan Club gatherings every spring.

An updated "The Three Stooges" is scheduled to hit theaters on April 13, capturing a classic stooges feel and action while bringing them into modern-day situations. Be it 1934 or 2012, the Three Stooges can still save the day.

The updated “The Three Stooges” is meant to capture a classic Stooges feel and action while bringing them into modern-day situations. Be it 1934 or 2012, the Three Stooges can still save the day.

Jana Brown is a freelance writer, wife and mother. She is an avid reader who resolves one day to have a full database of all the books in the house. Catch her at http://cornabys.wordpress.com or tweet along @Cornabys.

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