The Jewish Side of The Three Stooges

December 6, 2012 5:24 pm 2 comments

The Three Stooges are ubiquitous at "The Stoogeum" memorabilia museum in Ambler, Pa. Photo: Gary Lassin.

To the average fan, The Three Stooges’ shenanigans may obscure how their Jewish backgrounds shaped their lives and work. But not for Gary Lassin—president of The Three Stooges Fan Club, editor of The Three Stooges Journal and curator of The Stoogeum (a museum of Three Stooges memorabilia).

“As a Jewish fan of The Three Stooges, I’ve always been fascinated with the boys’ use of Yiddish in their films,” Lassin told JNS.org. “Non-Jewish fans are intrigued by this as well.”

The Stooges were back in the news in 2012 with the Farelly Brothers’ “The Three Stooges: The Movie.”

That feature film is based on the Stooges’ early to mid-20th century short films. Regarding the Stooges’ legendary shorts, Lassin’s research has revealed that no fewer than 38 shorts utilized a Yiddish term or expression. The Stooges made 190 shorts during their careers, and forty percent of them included either Hebrew or Yiddish, according to Lassin.

Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp were born Jewish. Moses Horwitz was born on June 19, 1897, in Brooklyn to Solomon Horwitz and Jennie Gorovitz, the fourth of five brothers of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. Although his parents were not involved in show business, Moe, his older brother Samuel (Shemp) and younger brother Jerome (Curly) all eventually became world-famous as members of The Three Stooges. Larry was born to a Jewish family as Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia. His father, Joseph Feinberg, was a Russian Jew and his mother, Fanny Lieberman, owned a watch repair and jewelry shop.

Lassin said, “There’s little doubt that Yiddish was the language spoken in the Horwitz and Feinberg homes during Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp’s formative years.”

For example, the map of “Jerkola” from the 1955 short “Stone Age Romeos” shows five locations that have their origins in Yiddish: Shmow Lake, The Schnozzle Mountains, Borscht Island, Mish Mosh and Ferblongent.

Originally known as “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen,” The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy act of the early to mid–20th century best known for their numerous short subject films. Using physical farce and extreme slapstick, the Stooges were commonly known by their first names: “Moe, Larry, and Curly” or “Moe, Larry, and Shemp,” among other lineups. The original trio did one feature film entitled “Soup to Nuts,” after which Shemp left the group to pursue a solo career and was replaced by his brother Curly. This incarnation of the team was the first to be known on film as The Three Stooges.

The 2012 movie—starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso—recreates the characters played by Moe, Larry and Curly. The film’s story places the Stooges in a modern setting.

Although most fans rank Curly as their favorite stooge—mostly because of his sound effects and child-like demeanor—the Farrellys enjoy Larry the most.

“The Farrelly brothers have always categorized Larry as the great reactor and that’s what made him their favorite,” Larry Fine’s grandson Eric Lamond told JNS.org. “He was also quite an accomplished violinist and an amateur boxer.”

Lamond is the marketing director of C3 Entertainment, the company originally founded by The Three Stooges. Today, C3 is a diversified entertainment company involved in television and motion picture productions, retail and product development and sales, and the licensing, merchandising and promotion of brands worldwide.

In Ambler, Pa., Lassin runs the 10,000-square-foot, three-story Stoogeum—which contains 100,000 artifacts dubbed “Stoogeabilia” from 1918 to the present. The museum includes several interactive displays, a research library, a 16mm film storage vault, and an 85-seat theater used for film screenings, lectures and special presentations.

The Stoogeum is also the headquarters of The Three Stooges Fan Club, one of the nation’s oldest and largest clubs with 2,000 members worldwide. An annual meeting of the fan club brings together Stooges relatives, supporting actors, impersonators and fans.

So, what exactly makes the Stooges funny?

“There are plenty of theories,” Lassin said. “They dealt with a lot of themes of the boss versus the worker and the lower class versus society folks. Those are universal themes.”

Lassin said the boys did a lot of fundraisers for synagogues and donated their time for the less fortunate.

With the onset of World War II, the Stooges also released several entries that poked fun at the rising Axis powers. “You Nazty Spy!” and its sequel “I’ll Never Heil Again” burlesqued Hitler and the Nazis at a time when America was still neutral and resolutely isolationist. Moe is cast as “Moe Hailstone,” an Adolf Hitler-like character, with Curly playing a Hermann Goering character (replete with medals), and Larry a von Ribbentrop-type ambassador.

Though revered by Stooges fans, as well as the Stooges themselves (Moe, Larry and director Jules White considered “You Nazty Spy!” their best film), the efforts indulged in a deliberately formless, non-sequitur style of verbal humor that was not the Stooges’ forte, according to Ted Okuda and Edward Watz, authors of The Columbia Comedy Shorts.

Lon Davis, author of Stooges Among Us, said the subject of Judaism never came up in conversations he had with Moe Howard and Larry Fine.

“Still, I know that each man identified himself as being of the Jewish faith,” Davis told JNS.org. “The impact of that faith on their lives was their style of humor. Yiddish comedy was highly prevalent in vaudeville.”

Davis said Larry spoke Yiddish at times and sprinkled various expressions into his observations.

“Larry loved to tell jokes. One had to do with a mink that had died and was greeted at the gates of Heaven by St. Peter. ‘For being such a fine mink, and for siring hundreds of offspring, the Almighty will grant you anything your heart desires,’” Davis said, recalling Fine’s joke. “‘Delighted,’ the mink responded. ‘Well, I’ve always wanted a full-length Jewish lady.’”

With shopping season for Hanukkah and Christmas gifts in full swing, the Stooges’ still-high DVD sales trigger the question: Why has their comedy stood the test of time?

“I’ve been asked this a lot,” Lamond said. “People tend to overthink it. They lasted because what they did was funny. They did it incredibly well, and they were able to do it incredibly well because they worked so hard at it.”

2 Comments

  • There is a particular instance of the use of Yiddish by the Three Stooges that, ever since I first saw it as a child many, many years ago, has always struck me as a truly magnificent statement by them, and not merely a vehicle for laughs.

    This specific use of Yiddish was in the episode entitled “You Nazty Spy.” This episode was referred to in the above article, but no mention was made of the particular use of Yiddish I describe below.

    Near the beginning of the episode, as the Three Stooges are propositioned to serve as dictator of “Moronica” by the three corrupt businessmen, the Stooges greet the businessmen, all loudly saying in unison “Sholom Aleichem!” (They also all make a small hop as they say it!) They use the Yiddish, and not the Hebrew, pronunciation.

    Given the subject matter of the film, i.e., the Nazi threat, I have always thought of this scene as their proud assertion to the world, and to the anti-semites in particular, that they were Jews, and proud of it.

    For each of Moe, Larry Curly and Shemp, I say:

    זיכרונו לברכה

  • The headstone of Curly or Jerome is the only one of the Stooge that clearly identifies him being Jewish. His headstone refers to him as HaLevi.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.