Wednesday, April 8, 2015


As early as 1942, the life of a stooge had begun to take its toll on Curly. Playing a human punchbag day in, day out for years, enduring constant blows to the head — most of which, according to Moe Howard, were every bit as real as they looked — brought on a series of minor cerebral haemorrhages that slowed him down to the point that he was unable to make personal appearances. Shemp, now under contract to Columbia himself, was brought in to replace Curly in live performances. Curly’s doctors insisted that he also take time off from his punishing filming schedule. Cohn flatly refused to give Curly leave of absence, and it was not long before his declining health became evident on screen. His deterioration can first be seen in 1945 short If A Body Meet A Body. By this time, Curly was forgetting his lines, and his balletic physicality and tireless energy, vital components of the Stooges’ comedy, were visibly ebbing away.

There’s no doubt that Curly’s hard-partying lifestyle contributed to his health problems — he was a massive drinker and, pinhead appearances to the contrary, a voracious womaniser — but neither is there any disputing that Harry Cohn forced him to keep working while he was clearly seriously ill, exacerbating his condition until, later in 1945, the inevitable happened and Curly, aged 42, suffered his first major stroke.

This should have signalled, at the very least, an extended period of rest and recuperation. Yet, incredibly, he was back at work within a month, despite physical impairments that rendered his performances so sluggish and lacklustre they’re painful to watch. The team’s directors, most often Del Lord or Edward Bernds, attempted to disguise Curly’s dire state by using old footage and putting more emphasis on Moe and Larry. For their part, the other Stooges took on the extra responsibility willingly, hoping that Curly would eventually recover sufficiently to resume his role. The results of this combined effort were better than might be expected, in spite of Curly’s infirmity and ravaged appearance (his fat cherub look was a thing of the past).

But it was a losing battle and in 1946, between takes on the short Half-Wits Holiday (a remake of the 1935 two-reeler, Hoi Polloi), Curly suffered a massive, paralysing stroke. His days as a Stooge were over, his career and his health wrecked by dedication to the un-gentle art of slapstick and by Harry Cohn’s gross callousness — callousness compounded with stupidity since his treatment of Curly had cost him one of his studio’s most valuable assets.

Naturally, Cohn didn’t see things that way. His opinion of the Stooges, even while they were raking in money, was that their act was so lacking in sophistication that they were effectively interchangeable, and that pretty much any comic performer who looked funny enough could fill Curly’s shoes in a second. In this he was as mistaken as many observers have been since. The Stooges might not have had the finesse of Chaplin or Keaton, the humanity of Laurel & Hardy or the transcendent novelty of the Marx Brothers, but their chemistry was unique. And if it was not immediately apparent to Cohn what replacing Curly entailed, the endless auditions for a new third Stooge alerted him to what Moe and Larry already knew: they were not going to find another Curly. Curly died tragically on January 28, 1952 at the age of 48...


1 comment:

  1. Moe the cheese!!! Many fond memories Moe Horowitz. Your gone but not forgotten. Smiles.