Saturday, March 17, 2012
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHEMP HOWARD
Not every classically funny performer is as well known as others. One of the best comedians in that category was dear Shemp Howard, brother of Moe of the incredible Three Stooges. I loved the Three Stooges when I was a kid. Not as much as Laurel and Hardy of course, but those guys were in a different league. Shemp resisted becoming one of the trio until dear Curly had a totally debilitating stroke. From 1939 onwards, Shemp appeared frequently in Columbia's two-reel comedies, co-starring with Columbia regulars Andy Clyde, The Glove Slingers, El Brendel, and Tom Kennedy. Dear Shemp was given his own starring series in 1944; he was working for Columbia in this capacity when his brother Curly was felled by a debilitating stroke on May 6, 1946. Shemp reluctantly replaced Curly in Columbia's popular Stooge shorts, knowing that Moe and Larry would be out of work if he refused. Initially, Shemp rejoined the Stooges on a temporary basis until poor Curly recovered, but as Curly's condition worsened, it became apparent that Shemp's association with the Stooges would be permanent. (Prior to replacing Curly on film, Shemp had substituted for his brother in some personal appearances in the early 1940s.) Shemp's take as the third Stooge was much different from Curly's. While he could still roll with the punches as the recipient of Moe's slapstick abuse, he was more of a laid-back dimwit versus Curly's energetic man-child persona. And unlike Curly, who had many distinct mannerisms, Shemp's most notable characteristic as a Stooge was a high-pitched "bee-bee-bee-bee-bee-bee!" sound, a sort of soft screech done by inhaling. This was rather multi-purpose, as Shemp uttered this sound when scared, sleeping (done as a form of snoring), overtly happy, or dazed. Shemp appeared with Moe and Larry in 73 short subjects and the feature film Gold Raiders. He also suffered a mild stroke in November 1952, though he recovered from it within weeks and without noticeable effect on his remaining films with the Stooges (largely remakes of earlier films that recycled footage to reduce costs). In September 1925, Shemp (age 30) married Gertrude Frank (age 28), a fellow New Yorker. They had one child, Morton (1926–1972). (U.S. Representative Barney Frank is the son of Gertrude's cousin, Sam Frank. Shemp used his somewhat homely appearance for comic effect, often mugging grotesquely or allowing his hair to fall in disarray. He even played along with a publicity stunt that named him "The Ugliest Man in Hollywood." ("I'm hideous," he explained to reporters.) Notoriously phobic, his fears included airplanes, automobiles, dogs and water. According to Moe's autobiography, Shemp was involved in a driving accident as a teenager and thus never obtained a driver's license. On November 22, 1955, while returning home by taxicab from attending a boxing match (one of Shemp's favorite pastimes), Shemp died of a heart attack. He was sixty years old. Shemp was lighting a cigar after telling a joke when he suddenly slumped over on his friend Al Winston's lap. Moe Howard's autobiography states that Shemp died on November 23, 1955 and most subsequent accounts point to that date because of Moe's book. But much of dear Moe's book was finished posthumously by his daughter and son-in-law Don Lamont and some specific details were confused as a result. The Los Angeles county coroner death certificate states that Shemp Howard died on Tuesday November 22, 1955 at 11:35 PST; confirming that, Shemp's obituary appeared in the November 23 afternoon editions of L.A. newspapers, establishing the night of November 22 as the date of death. He was entombed at Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, the same place his brother Curly was buried. Dear Shemp, remembering you this day. Thanks for the laughter. We loved it and we loved you!