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Moe Howard was the first of The Three Stooges, with a sugar-bowl haircut and penchant for gouging eyes and slapping heads. He managed their business affairs for many years, and kept them going long after they would have fallen apart. He was the heart and soul of the Stooges.

Born Harry Moses Horwitz, on June 19, 1897, in Bensonhurst, New York, a Jewish section of Brooklyn, he was the fourth of five boys born to Solomon and Jennie Horwitz. A very bright child, he could memorize things very quickly, an ability that would benefit him throughout his life as an actor.

Moe took an early interest in the theatre, often skipping school to catch shows. Unfortunately, this led to poor grades, and eventually he dropped out of high school. He would never receive his high school diploma, but this would never stop him from following his dream. In 1909 he began running errands for performers at the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn. His persistence paid off with bit parts in silent films with such stars of the time as John Bunny and Flora Finch. It was also in 1909 that he met Ted Healy, who shared his love of the stage, but more from a business standpoint. Nevertheless, three years later found both boys as members of the Annette Kellerman Diving Girls, until one girl broke her neck misjudging a dive. After this, Moe and Ted split up, not to cross paths again for another ten years.

Moe continued on in show business, eventually putting together a blackface act with his older brother, Shemp. The two of them toured the country, for several years performing in various theatre circuits, including RKO and Loews. They continued off and on this way until 1922, when Moe answered an ad in the trade papers from a familiar name: Ted Healy. Healy needed a replacement act for some acrobats that had just walked out on him. Although Moe wasn't an acrobat, he felt that his previous relationship with Ted could be worth something, and so they met. Together, the two devised an act where Moe would be a shill sitting in the audience, and Ted would call him up to participate. The act culminated in Ted losing his pants. The audience loved it. Moe soon asked his brother, Shemp, to join in, and the chemistry between the three was unmistakable. There was still a little something missing, however, and that something surfaced in the form of a highly talented violinist, Larry Fine.

On June 7, 1925, Moe married Helen Schonberger (cousin of the late Harry Houdini), the woman who would change his life. In late 1926, Helen was expecting a baby, so Moe left show business to spend more time with her. He took a job in real estate (which he wasn't very good at) and not long after, his daughter, Joan, was born.

Unhappy, and unable to support his burgeoning family, Moe returned to the act in 1929, when Ted Healy and his Stooges were to appear in a Broadway show called "A Night in Venice." They also later appeared together in the Metro Goldwyn Mayer comedy feature, Soup to Nuts, written by Rube Goldberg. Although the jobs were good, the money wasn't, and Shemp constantly felt the pressure - both from a financial standpoint, and the stress of working for an alcoholic. Finally, after the boys had wavered back and forth a few times, Shemp called it quits in 1932. Moe was not ready to leave Ted just yet - he still saw potential for the act, so he invited his younger brother, Jerome, to step in. Jerome, who had to shave his head for the act, renamed himself Curly, and the classic trio was born.

The Stooges were still receiving very little for their very hard work, and Ted's constant drinking and womanizing made it even more difficult for them to work, so in 1934, when Columbia offered them a contract without Healy, they seized the opportunity. Officially dubbed, "The Three Stooges," they began filming short films and appeared in a number of features. Things were going really well for the Stooges - until 1946, when Curly (whose health had been declining), suffered a stroke on the set. Since there had to be three Stooges, Moe invited his brother Shemp back into the fold, and Shemp agreed. The reunion lasted until 1955, until he died suddenly of a heart attack. Moe was running out of brothers!

Casting around for replacements, Moe at first wanted to hire Joe DeRita, a popular burlesque actor, but as he was on contract still, Moe settled for Joe Besser. The chemistry wasn't there, however, and when the head of the Short Subjects department at Columbia died, taking the entire department with him, all seemed lost for the Stooges. Besser went back to taking care of his wife, and Moe went back to work as an errand boy at the studio.

All was not lost however. Screen Gems decided that the time was ripe to release the Stooges for television. 78 episodes with Curly were shown, and a sudden upsurge in popularity (dubbed "Stoogemania") was suddenly seen. Eager to capture the audience while he could, Moe turned back to his original choice as a replacement for Shemp: Curly Joe DeRita. But the Golden Years of the Stooges were almost over. In 1970, during filming of "Kooks on Tour," Larry suffered a massive stroke. The show was finally over. The Three Stooges would never perform again.

Moe Howard died on May 4, 1975 of lung cancer, just prior to his 78th birthday, leaving behind his wife and two children. As Moe's son-in-law, Norman Maurer, said, "When Moe died, the act died with him."


Sources:

The Official Three Stooges Website - http://www.threestooges.com/
The Three Stooges Archive - http://www.three-stooges.net/
ThreeStooges.Net - http://www.threestooges.net/
Ted Healy: King of Stooges - http://www.tedhealy.com/
The Three Stooges (a made-for-TV movie) - http://us.imdb.com/Title?0214698

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