Moses Harry Horwitz (June 19, 1897 - May 4, 1975), known professionally as Moe Howard, was an Americanactor and comedian best known as the de facto leader of The Three Stooges, a group that originally started out as Ted Healy and his stooges, an act that toured the vaudeville circuit, the farce comedy team who starred in motion pictures and television for four decades. His distinctive hairstyle came about when he was a boy and cut off his curls with a pair of scissors, producing a ragged shape approximating a bowl cut.
Horwitz was born on June 19, 1897, in the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Bensonhurst, to Solomon Horwitz and Jennie Gorovitz, the fourth-born of five brothers of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. He was named Moe when still very young, and later called himself Harry. Although his parents were not involved in show business, Moe, his older brother Shemp Howard and younger brother Curly Howard all eventually became world-famous as members of the Three Stooges. He loved to read, as an even older brother, Jack, recalled: "I had many Horatio Alger books, and it was Moe's greatest pleasure to read them. They started his imaginative mind working and gave him ideas by the dozen. I think they were instrumental in putting thoughts into his head to become a person of good character and to become successful." This helped him in his acting career in later years, such as in memorizing his lines quickly and easily.
Although his "bowl cut" hairstyle is now widely recognized, Moe's mother refused to cut his hair in childhood, letting it grow to shoulder length. Finally he could not take his classmates' years of teasing any longer, sneaked off to a shed in the back yard and cut his hair. He was so afraid his mother would be upset (she enjoyed curling his hair) that he hid under the house for several hours, causing a panic. He finally came out and his mother was so glad to see him she didn't even mention the hair.
Moe began to develop an interest in acting to the point where his schoolwork suffered. He began playing hookey from school and going to the theater. He said, "I used to stand outside the theater knowing the truant officer was looking for me. I would stand there 'til someone came along, and then ask them to buy my ticket. It was necessary for an adult to accompany a juvenile into the theater. When I succeeded I'd give him my ten cents — that's all it cost — and I'd go up to the top of the balcony where I'd put my chin on the rail and watch, spellbound, from the first act to the last. I would usually select the actor I liked the most and follow his performance throughout the play."
Despite his waning attendance, Horwitz graduated from P.S. 163 in Brooklyn but dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School after only two months, ending his formal education. To please his parents, he took an electric shop course, but quit after a few months to pursue a career in show business.
He started off running unpaid errands at the Vitagraph Studios in Midwood, Brooklyn, and was rewarded at first with bit parts in movies in production there until a 1910 fire destroyed the films, and with it most of Horwitz's work, done there. But already in 1909, he had met a young man named Lee Nash, who was later to provide a significant boost for his career aspirations. In 1912, they both held a summer job working in Annette Kellerman's aquatic act as diving "girls."
Moe continued his attempts at gaining show business experience by singing in a bar with his older brother Shemp until their father put a stop to it, and in 1914 joining a performing troupe on a Mississippi River showboat for the next two summers. In 1921 he joined Lee Nash, now firmly established in show business as Ted Healy, in a vaudeville routine. In 1923, he caught sight of Shemp in the audience and yelled at him from the stage. The two brothers heckled each other, garnering a great response from the audience, and Healy immediately hired Shemp as a permanent part of the act. He then recruited vaudeville violinist Larry Fine to join the troupe in 1925, and billed them as "Ted Healy and His Racketeers" (later changed to Ted Healy and His Stooges).
By 1930, Ted Healy and His Stooges were on the verge of hitting "the big time" and made their first movie, Soup to Nuts—featuring Healy, and his four Stooges (Moe (billed as "Harry Howard"), Shemp, Larry and one-shot Stooge Fred Sanborn) -— for Fox Films (later 20th Century Fox). Shemp had never seen eye-to-eye with the hard-drinking and sometimes belligerent Healy, however, and left the group shortly after their first group of films to pursue a solo movie career. After a short search for a replacement, Moe Howard suggested his youngest brother, Jerome ("Babe" to Moe and Shemp). Healy originally passed on Jerry (whom he disliked), but Jerry was so eager to join the act that he shaved off his luxuriant auburn mustache and hair and ran on stage during Healy's routine. That finally got Healy to hire Jerry, who took the stage name of "Curly."
Healy and the Stooges were hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as "nut" comics, to liven up feature films and short subjects with their antics. After a number of appearances in MGM films, however, Healy was being groomed as a solo character comedian. With Healy pursuing his own career in 1934, his Stooges (now renamed The Three Stooges) signed with Columbia Pictures where they stayed until December 1957, making 190 comedy shorts.
With Healy's departure, Moe Howard assumed Healy's prior role as the aggressive, take-charge leader of the Three Stooges: a short-tempered bully, prone to slapstick violence against the other two Stooges. But despite his outwardly rather cruel demeanor towards his pals, Moe was also very loyal and protective of the other Stooges on film, keeping them from harm and, should it befall them, doing whatever it took to save them. He emphasized in his 1977 book, however, that the ill-tempered aspects of his on-screen persona did not reflect his real personality. He also boasted of being a shrewd businessman by wisely investing the money made from his film career. But the Stooges received no subsequent royalties (i.e., residuals) from any of their many shorts; they were paid a flat amount for each one and Columbia owned the rights (and profits) thereafter.
In 1934 Columbia released its first Three Stooges short, Woman Haters, where their stooge characters were not quite fully formed. It was not a Stooge comedy in the classic sense but rather a romantic farce; Columbia was then making a series of two-reel "Musical Novelties" with the dialogue spoken in rhyme, and the Stooges were recruited to support comedienne Marjorie White. Only after the Stooges became established as short-subject stars were the main titles changed to give the Stooges top billing. The version seen on TV and video today is this reissue print.
Their next film, Punch Drunks, was the only short film written entirely by the Three Stooges, with Curly as a reluctant boxer who goes ballistic every time he hears "Pop Goes the Weasel." Their next short, Men in Black (a parody of the hospital drama Men in White) was their first and only film to be nominated for an Academy Award (with the classic catchphrases "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard" followed by their reiterated unison declaration as young doctors, "FOR DUTY AND HUMANITY!!"). They continued making short films at a steady pace of eight per year, such as Three Little Pigskins (with a very young Lucille Ball), Pop Goes the Easel, Hoi Polloi (where two professors make a bet trying to turn the Three Stooges into gentlemen), and many others.
The Three Stooges in "Malice in the Palace". From left to right, Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine
On May 6, 1946, during the filming of Half-Wits Holiday, brother Curly suffered a stroke. He was replaced by Shemp, who agreed to return to the group but only until Curly would be well enough to rejoin. Although Curly recovered enough to appear in Hold That Lion! in a cameo appearance (the only Three Stooges film to contain all three Howard brothers; Moe, Curly and Shemp), he soon suffered a series of strokes which led to his death on January 18, 1952.
After Shemp rejoined the act, Moe, Shemp and Larry shot a television pilot for ABC in 1949, apparently intended to lead to a weekly sitcom series, on the premise that the Stooges would try a different job or business every week, hoping that eventually one of their attempts would be successful. Anything they tried turned out to be a fiasco, which was the source of the comedy. It was shot live in front of a studio audience, and the surviving kinescope indicates that it was intended to be presented live on a weekly basis. Although ABC didn't pick up the program as a series for the 1949-50 season, at least one kinescope of the pilot episode has survived and is posted on the YouTube website, so it can be viewed substantially in its entirety today. That episode compares favorably with The Stooges' short theatrical films of the time, and with most of the early network TV sitcoms before "I Love Lucy". There is no record of any subsequent effort to build a situation comedy around the Stooges, although they would eventually gain wide exposure on TV through the syndication of their old Columbia shorts.
The Three Stooges' series of shorts continued to be popular through the 1950s; Shemp co-starred in 73 comedies. (The Stooges also co-starred in a George O'Brien western, Gold Raiders, in 1951.) Moe also co-produced occasional western and musical films in the 1950s.
On November 22, 1955, Shemp died of a heart attack, necessitating the need for another Stooge. Producer Jules White used old footage of Shemp to complete four more films with Columbia regular Joe Palma filling in for Shemp (thus creating the Fake Shemp phenomenon), until Columbia head Harry Cohn hired Joe Besser in 1956. According to Moe's autobiography Howard wanted a "two-stooge" act, and it was Cohn's idea, not Howard's, to replace Shemp as part of the act. The Stooges replaced Shemp with Joe Besser, already an established Columbia comedy shorts star in his own right and frequent movie supporting player. Joe, Larry and Howard filmed 16 shorts through December 1957. Shortly before Cohn's death in February 1958, the making of short subjects came to an end. Keeping himself busy, Moe was hired by Harry Romm as associate producer. According to Howard, stories that he was forced to take a job as a gofer at Columbia are completely false.
Howard, Larry and Curly Joe continued to make live appearances, many notable "guest appearances", particularly in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (as three firemen who appear for only a few seconds) and a longer appearance in 4 for Texas starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The men tried their hand at a children's cartoon show titled The New Three Stooges, with the cartoons sandwiched between live action segments of the boys. But by 1965, they were close to 70 years old and could no longer risk serious injury while performing slapstick comedy. The men were paid residually for their later efforts and continued to receive the bulk of the profits from sales of Stooges merchandise.
Moe Howard in February 1975, three months before his death
Moe sold real estate when his show-business life slowed down, although he still did minor roles and walk-on bits in movies (Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title, Dr. Death: Seeker of Souls) and television appearances (Here's Hollywood, Toast of the Town, Masquerade Party, Truth or Consequences and several appearances on The Mike Douglas Show). In one of Douglas' episodes, Moe, his hair in a style popular at the time, made a surprise appearance during an interview of the writer of a "where-are-they-now" book. When the audience was given the chance to ask the writer about famous people, Howard asked "What ever happened to the Three Stooges?" Finally recognized by Douglas, he then combed his hair into his trademark style.[episode needed] The Stooges also made several appearances on late night television, particularly The Tonight Show.[episode needed]
The Stooges attempted to make a final film in 1969, Kook's Tour, which was essentially a documentary of Howard, Larry and Curly-Joe, out of character, touring the US and meeting with fans. But production abruptly halted when on January 8, 1970, Larry suffered a major stroke during filming, paralyzing the left side of his body. He died on January 24, 1975 at 72. Enough footage of Larry was shot so that Kook's Tour was eventually released in a 52-minute version to home video. After Fine's stroke, Howard asked longtime Three Stooges supporting actor Emil Sitka to replace Larry, but this final lineup never recorded any material.
On June 7, 1925 Moe Howard married Helen Schonberger, a cousin of magician Harry Houdini. The next year, Helen pressured Moe to leave the stage, since she was pregnant and wanted Moe nearer to home. Moe attempted to earn a living in a succession of "normal" jobs, none of which was very successful, and soon returned to working with Ted Healy.
Moe and Helen had two children, Joan Howard(born 1927) and Paul Howard (born 1935).