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Curly Howard

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Curly Howard
Howard c. 1930s
Jerome Lester Horwitz

(1903-10-22)October 22, 1903
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 18, 1952(1952-01-18) (aged 48)
Resting placeHome of Peace Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesJerry Howard
Jerome Howard
  • Comedian
  • actor
Years active1928–1947
  • Julia Rosenthal
    (m. 1930; div. 1931)
  • Elaine Ackerman
    (m. 1937; div. 1940)
  • Marion Buxbaum
    (m. 1945; div. 1946)
  • Valerie Newman
    (m. 1947)
RelativesMoe Howard (brother)
Shemp Howard (brother)
Joan Howard Maurer (niece)

Jerome Lester Horwitz (October 22, 1903 – January 18, 1952), better known by his stage name Curly Howard, was an American comedian and actor. He was a member of the comedy team The Three Stooges, which also featured his elder brothers Moe and Shemp Howard, as well as actor Larry Fine. In early shorts, he was billed as Curley. Curly Howard was generally considered the most popular and recognizable of the Stooges.[1]

He was well known for his high-pitched voice and vocal expressions ("nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!", "woob-woob-woob!", "soiteny!" [certainly], "I'm a victim of soikemstance" [circumstance], and barking like a dog), as well as his physical comedy (e.g., falling on the ground and pivoting on his shoulder as he "walked" in circular motion), improvisations, and athleticism.[1] An untrained actor, Curly borrowed (and significantly exaggerated) the "woo woo" from "nervous" comedian Hugh Herbert.[2] Curly's unique version of "woob-woob-woob" was firmly established by the time of the Stooges' second Columbia film, Punch Drunks (1934).[1]

Howard had to leave the Three Stooges act in May 1946 when a massive stroke ended his show business career. He suffered serious health problems and several more strokes until his death in 1952 at age 48.

Early life[edit]

Curly Howard was born Jerome Lester Horwitz in the Bensonhurst section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, on October 22, 1903. Of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, he was the youngest of the five sons of Jennie (Gorovitz) and Solomon Horwitz. Because he was the youngest, his brothers called him "Babe" to tease him. The name "Babe" stuck with him all his life. However, when his elder brother Shemp Howard married Gertrude Frank, who was also nicknamed "Babe", the brothers called him "Curly" to avoid confusion.[3] His full formal Hebrew name was "Yehudah Leib bar Shlomo Natan HaLevi".[4]

A quiet child, Howard rarely caused problems for his parents (something in which older brothers Moe and Shemp excelled). He was a mediocre student, but excelled as an athlete on the school basketball team. He did not graduate high school; instead, he kept himself busy with odd jobs and constantly following his older brothers, whom he idolized. He was also an accomplished ballroom dancer and singer and regularly turned up at the Triangle Ballroom in Brooklyn, occasionally bumping into actor George Raft.[1]

When Howard was 13, he accidentally shot himself in the left ankle while cleaning a rifle. Moe rushed him to the hospital, saving his life, but the wound resulted in a noticeably thinner left leg and a slight limp. Curly was so afraid of surgery that he never had the limp corrected. While with the Stooges, he developed his famous exaggerated walk to conceal the limp on screen.[1]

Howard was interested in music and comedy, and watched his brothers Shemp and Moe perform as stooges in Ted Healy's vaudeville act. He also liked to hang around backstage, although he never participated in any of the routines.[citation needed]


The Three Stooges[edit]

Curly playing with bubblegum in Disorder in the Court in 1936

Howard's first on-stage appearance was as a comedy musical conductor in 1928 for the Orville Knapp orchestra; Howard would conduct the ensemble with his arms flailing, unaware that he was losing his pants. Moe later recalled that his performances usually overshadowed those of the band.[1] Though he enjoyed the gig, he watched as brothers Moe and Shemp with partner Larry Fine made it big as some of Ted Healy's "Stooges". Vaudeville star Healy had a very popular stage act, in which he would try to tell jokes or sing, only to have his noisy assistants (or "stooges", in show-business parlance) wander on stage and interrupt or heckle him and cause disturbances from the audience. Meanwhile, Healy and company appeared in their first feature film, Rube Goldberg's Soup to Nuts (1930).[5]

Shemp Howard, however, soon tired of Healy's abrasiveness, bad temper, and alcoholism.[1] In 1932, he was offered a contract at the Vitaphone Studios in Brooklyn. With Shemp gone, Moe suggested that his kid brother Jerry could fill the third-stooge role, and Jerry ran through his Orville Knapp act but Healy was unimpressed: "Is that all he can do? Let his pants fall down? Get me a real comedian, not this amateur. He doesn't even look right!"[6] Healy felt that Jerry, with his thick, chestnut hair and elegant waxed mustache, looked too good for a low comedian. Howard left the room and returned minutes later with his head shaven (the mustache remained very briefly). Moe and Larry started improvising with this new character:

Moe: Hey, Curly!
Larry: What did you call him?
Moe: Curly.
Larry: That's all right. I thought you said girlie!

That exchange sold the act to Healy, and Jerry Horwitz became Curly Howard. In one of the few interviews Curly Howard gave in his lifetime, he complained about the loss of his hair: "I had to shave it off right down to the skin."[1]

In 1934, MGM was building Healy up as a solo comedian in feature films, and Moe saw the writing on the wall. Healy alone was under contract to the studio; his Stooges answered to Healy, who paid each of them only $100 a week. When Healy's lucrative MGM contract was up for renewal on March 6, 1934, Moe proposed that Healy and his stooges should split: "Let's just break up. No hard feelings, no sneaking around. Just a good, clean split."[7] Healy agreed, and left to pursue his own career. That same year, with "The Three Stooges" as the act's new name, they signed to appear in two-reel comedy short subjects for Columbia Pictures. Their third short, Men in Black, was nominated for the "Best Short Subject" Academy Award. It lost to the pioneer Technicolor featurette La Cucaracha, but it did establish The Three Stooges as new comedy stars. It also won the Stooges movie-star salaries: Columbia paid each of them $2500 per short subject (an exceptional sum; Columbia usually paid $500 to $1000 per short).[8] The Stooges soon became the studio's most popular short-subject attraction, with Curly playing an integral part in the trio's work.[1]

Prime years[edit]

Left to right: Larry Fine, Howard, and Moe Howard in 1937

Howard's childlike mannerisms and natural comedic charm made him a hit with audiences, particularly children. He was known in the act for having an "indestructible" head, which always won out by breaking anything that assaulted it, including saws (resulting in his characteristic quip, "Oh, look!"). Although Howard had no formal acting training, his comedic skills were exceptional. Often, directors let the camera roll freely and let Howard improvise. Jules White, in particular, left gaps in the Stooge scripts where he could improvise for several minutes.[1] In later years, White commented: "If we wrote a scene and needed a little something extra, I'd say to Curly, 'Look, we've got a gap to fill this in with a "woo-woo" or some other bit of business', and he never disappointed us."[2]

By the time the Stooges hit their peak in the late 1930s, their films had almost become vehicles for Howard's unbridled comic performances. Classics such as A Plumbing We Will Go (1940), We Want Our Mummy (1938), An Ache in Every Stake (1941), Cactus Makes Perfect (1942), and their most violent short, They Stooge to Conga (1943), display his ability to take inanimate objects (food, tools, pipes, etc.) and turn them into ingenious comic props.[1] Moe Howard later confirmed that when Curly forgot his lines, that merely allowed him to improvise on the spot so that the "take" could continue uninterrupted:

If we were going through a scene and Curly forgot his words for a moment, and then, you know, rather than stand, get pale and stop, you never knew what he was going to do. On one occasion, however, he would drop down to the floor and spin around ten times like a top until he finally remembered what he had to say.[9]

Howard also developed a set of Brooklyn-accented reactions and expressions that the other Stooges would imitate long after he had left the act.[10]

On several occasions, Moe Howard was convinced that rising star Lou Costello (a close friend of Shemp's) was stealing material from his brother.[3] Costello was known to acquire prints of the Stooges' films from Columbia Pictures on occasion, presumably to study him. Inevitably, Curly Howard's routines would appear in Abbott and Costello feature films, much to Moe's chagrin.[3] (It did not help that Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn would not allow the Stooges to make feature-length films like contemporaries Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and Abbott and Costello.)[11]

Curly was the only "third Stooge" who never made a series of his short films, without Moe or Larry, either before joining the Stooges or after leaving. Shemp and subsequent Stooges Joe Besser and Joe DeRita (referred to during his stint with the Stooges as "Curly Joe DeRita") each starred in their solo series of theatrical short subjects.


Slow decline[edit]

By 1944, Howard's energy began to wane. Films such as Idle Roomers (1944) and Booby Dupes (1945) present a Curly whose voice was deeper and his actions slower. He may have suffered the first of many strokes between the filming of Idiots Deluxe (October 1944) and If a Body Meets a Body (March 1945). After the filming of the feature-length Rockin' in the Rockies (December 1944), he finally checked himself (at Moe Howard's insistence) into Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, on January 23, 1945, and was diagnosed with extreme hypertension, a retinal hemorrhage, and obesity. His ill health imposed a rest, leading to only five shorts being released in 1945 (the normal output was six to eight per year).

Moe Howard pleaded with Harry Cohn to allow his younger brother some time off upon discharge to regain his strength, but Cohn would not halt the production of his profitable Stooge shorts and flatly refused his request.[5] The Stooges had five months off between August 1945 and January 1946. They used that time to book a two-month live performance commitment in New York City, working shows seven days a week. During their time on the East Coast, Howard met his third wife, Marion Buxbaum, whom he married on October 17, 1945, after a two-week courtship.[1]

Returning to Los Angeles in late November 1945, Howard was a shell of his former self. With two months' rest, the team's 1946 schedule at Columbia commenced in late January, but involved only 24 days' work from February to early May. Despite eight weeks off in that same period, Howard's condition continued to deteriorate.[1]

By early 1946, Howard's voice had become even more coarse than before, and remembering even the simplest dialogue was increasingly difficult. He had lost considerable weight, and lines had creased his face.[1]

1946 stroke[edit]

Curly as the cook, in a still from Curly's cut scene in Malice in the Palace in 1949

Half-Wits Holiday, released in 1947, was Howard's final appearance as an official member of The Three Stooges. During filming on May 6, 1946, he suffered a severe stroke while sitting in director Jules White's chair, waiting to film the last scene of the day. When called by the assistant director to take the stage, he did not answer. Moe looked for his brother; he found him with his head dropped to his chest. Moe later recalled that his mouth was distorted, and he was unable to speak, only able to cry. Moe immediately alerted White, leading the latter to rework the scene quickly, dividing the action between Moe and Larry while Curly was rushed to the hospital,[12] where Moe joined him after the filming. Howard spent several weeks at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills before returning home for further recovery.[1]

In January 1946, Shemp had been recruited to substitute for a resting Curly during live performances in New Orleans.[13] After Curly's stroke, Shemp agreed to replace him in the Columbia shorts, but only until his younger brother was well enough to rejoin the act. An extant copy of the Stooges' 1947 Columbia Pictures contract was signed by all four Stooges and stipulated that Shemp's joining "in place and stead of Jerry Howard" would be only temporary until Curly recovered sufficiently to return to work full-time.[5] However, Curly's health continued to worsen and it became clear that he would not be returning. As a result, Shemp's involvement became permanent.[citation needed]

Howard, partially recovered and with his hair regrown, made a brief cameo appearance in January 1947 as a train passenger barking in his sleep in the third film after brother Shemp's return, Hold That Lion! (1947). It was the only film that featured Larry Fine and all three Howard brothers – Moe, Shemp, and Curly – simultaneously; director White later said he spontaneously staged the bit during Curly's impromptu visit to the soundstage:

It was a spur-of-the-moment idea. Curly was visiting the set; this was sometime after his stroke. Apparently he came in on his own, since I didn't see a nurse with him. He was sitting around, reading a newspaper. As I walked in, the newspaper he had in front of his face came down and he waved hello to me. I thought it would be funny to have him do a bit in the picture and he was happy to do it.[12]

In June 1948, Howard filmed a second cameo as an angry chef for the short Malice in the Palace (1949), but due to his illness, his performance was not deemed good enough, and his scenes were cut. A lobby card for the short shows him with the other Stooges, although he never appeared in the final release.[citation needed]


Still not fully recovered from his stroke, Howard met Valerie Newman and married her on July 31, 1947. A friend, Irma Leveton, later recalled, "Valerie was the only decent thing that happened to Curly and the only one that really cared about him."[1] Although his health continued to decline after the marriage, Valerie gave birth to a daughter, Janie, in 1948.[9]

Later that year, Howard suffered a second massive stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. He used a wheelchair by 1950 and was fed boiled rice and apples as part of his diet to reduce his weight (and blood pressure). Valerie admitted him into the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Country House and Hospital on August 29, 1950. He was released after several months of treatment and medical tests, although he returned periodically until his death.[1]

In February 1951, Howard entered a nursing home, where he suffered another stroke a month later. In April, he went to live at the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium.[1]

Final months and death[edit]

Grave of Curly Howard, at Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California

In December 1951, the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium supervisor told the Howard family that Curly was becoming a problem to the nursing staff at the facility because of his mental deterioration. They admitted they could no longer care for him and suggested he be placed in a mental hospital. Moe refused and relocated him to the Baldy View Sanitarium in San Gabriel, California.[1]

On January 7, 1952, Moe was contacted on the Columbia set while filming He Cooked His Goose to help move Curly for what would be the last time. This proved unsuccessful, and Curly died eleven days later, on January 18, 1952.[14] He lived the shortest life of the Stooges, dying at the age of 48. He was given a Jewish funeral and was buried at the Western Jewish Institute section of Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California.[1] His older brothers Shemp and Benjamin would also be interred there in 1955 and 1976 respectively, near parents Jennie and Solomon.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Howard's offscreen personality was the antithesis of his onscreen manic persona. He generally kept to himself and was an introvert, rarely socializing with people unless he had been drinking (a habit to which he would increasingly turn as the stresses of his career grew). Howard refrained from engaging in the antics for which he became famous unless he was with family, performing for an audience, or intoxicated. He was known for his kindness to stray dogs.[1]

Howard had four marriages and two children:

  • Julia Rosenthal (m. August 5, 1930 – divorced January 6, 1931)
  • Elaine Ackerman (m. June 7, 1937 – div. July 11, 1940)
    • Marilyn Howard Server (daughter, b. 1938)
  • Marion Buxbaum (m. October 17, 1945 – div. July 22, 1946)
  • Valerie Newman (m. July 31, 1947 – January 18, 1952; his death)
    • Janie Howard Hanky (daughter, b. 1948)

Howard's first marriage ended in divorce five months after the union occurred and before he achieved fame with the Stooges. Howard married his second wife, Elaine Ackerman, on June 7, 1937 (Which was the twelfth anniversary of his brother Moe's wedding to his wife Helen.). Their union produced one child, Marilyn, the following year. The couple divorced in June 1940, after which he gained weight and developed hypertension. He was insecure about his shaved head, believing it made him unappealing to women. He increasingly drank to excess and caroused to cope with his feelings of inferiority. He took to wearing a hat in public to convey an image of masculinity, saying he felt like a little kid with his hair shaved off. Despite his low self-esteem, he was popular with women, particularly with those who wanted to take advantage of him.[5]

Moe's son-in-law Norman Maurer noted "he was a pushover for women. If a pretty girl went up to him and gave him a spiel, Curly would marry her. Then she would take his money and run off. It was the same when a real estate agent would come up and say 'I have a house for you'; Curly would sell his current home and buy another one."[1]

During World War II, for seven months each year, the trio's filming schedule went on hiatus, allowing them to make personal appearances. The Stooges entertained service members constantly, and the intense work schedule took its toll on Howard's health. He never drank while performing in film or on stage (Moe would not permit it), but after the work day had ended, he would head out to nightclubs where he ate, drank, and caroused to excess to cope with the stress of work. He was a profligate spender, especially on wine, food, women, and homes, and was often near bankruptcy. Moe eventually helped him manage his finances and even filled out his income tax returns.[1]

Howard found constant companionship in his dogs and often befriended strays whenever the Stooges traveled. He would pick up homeless dogs and take them with him from town to town until he found them a home somewhere else on the tour.[5] When not performing, he usually had a few pet dogs waiting for him at home, as well.[15]

Moe urged Curly to find himself a wife, hoping it would persuade his brother to finally settle down and allow his health to improve somewhat. After a two-week courtship, he married Marion Buxbaum on October 17, 1945, a union that lasted nine months. The divorce proceeding was bitter, exacerbated by exploitative, sensationalist media coverage, which worsened his already fragile health. The divorce was finalized in July 1946, two months after he suffered his career-ending stroke.[1]

On July 31, 1947, he married Valerie Newman. They had one daughter, Janie (born in 1948), and remained married until his death.[1]


Curly Howard is considered by many fans and critics alike to be their favorite member of the Three Stooges.[5] In a 1972 interview; Larry Fine recalled, "Personally, I thought Curly was the greatest because he was a natural comedian who had no formal training. Whatever he did, he made up on the spur of the moment. When we lost Curly, we took a hit."[16] Curly's mannerisms, behavior, and personality along with his catchphrases have become a part of American popular culture. Steve Allen called him one of the "few true but seldom recognized comedy geniuses."[15]

The Ted Okuda and Edward Watz's book The Columbia Comedy Shorts puts Howard's appeal and legacy in critical perspective:

Few comics have come close to equaling the pure energy and genuine sense of fun Curly was able to project. He was merriment personified, a creature of frantic action whose only concern was to satisfy his immediate cravings. Allowing his emotions to dominate, and making no attempt whatsoever to hide his true feelings, he would chuckle self-indulgently at his own cleverness. When confronted with a problem, he would grunt, slap his face, and tackle the obstacle with all the tenacity of a six-year-old child.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The titular character of the Hanna-Barbera Saturday-morning cartoon series, Jabberjaw, is modeled after Curly. the character was voiced by Frank Welker.
  • John Candy played Curly in three sketches on the TV series SCTV, these being Curly as part of a 'Three Dummies' short that aired in the 'Muley's Roundhouse' sketch about a techy host of an afternoon kids show (Season 1, episode 23, airing November 21st and 25th, 1977), a parody commercial for a mail-order record of Curley 'singing' songs like 'The Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet", "Theme from The Graduate' (actually 'Mrs. Robinson' by Simon & Garfunkel), "The Godfather", and 'The Thomas Crown Affair' (actually 'The Windmills of Your Mind') (Season 5, episode 4, airing on November 26, 1982), and as Curly being picked up by Melvin Dumar and being forced to sing in a parody promo for 'Melvin and Howards' (Season 4, episode 3, airing May 29, 1981.)
  • The ABC television sketch comedy series Fridays (ABC, 1980-82) featured an occasional skit of "The Numb Boys" – essentially a Three Stooges routine related to a recent news topic – with John Roarke playing Curly (and Bruce Mahler as Moe and Larry David as Larry).
  • Curly's legend far outlived him when the otherwise-obscure country-pop Jump 'n the Saddle Band scored one of the biggest novelty hits of the 1980s with their 1983 single, "The Curly Shuffle". The video featured some of Curly's best scenes. One band member claimed they had watched hundreds of hours' worth of Three Stooges films to find the right clips.
  • In 2000, longtime Stooges fan Mel Gibson produced a television film for ABC about the lives and careers of the Stooges. In an interview promoting the film, he said Curly was his favorite of the Stooges.[17] In the film; Curly was played by Michael Chiklis.
  • In the 2012 Farrelly brothers' film The Three Stooges, Will Sasso portrays Curly Howard. Robert Capron portrays young Curly.
  • In the children's novel series Captain Underpants and its film adaptation, the elementary school that the main characters attend is named Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, in Howard's honor.
  • One of Curly's grandsons, Bradley Server, performs at Stooge tribute shows under the moniker "Curly G", and has a YouTube channel named "Curly's Grandson".



All are guest appearances except the compilation feature Stop! Look! and Laugh!; the Stooges never starred in their own feature film during Curly Howard's lifetime.

Short subjects[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg; Greg Lenburg (1982). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0946-5.
  2. ^ a b c Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 63. ISBN 0-89950-181-8.
  3. ^ a b c Howard, Moe; Joan Howard Maurer (1977). Moe Howard and the Three Stooges. Citadel Press. pp. 21–23, 25, 33, 49–50.
  4. ^ Curly has a traditional Jewish gravestone with his full formal Hebrew name engraved on it in Hebrew script, directly transliterated from the Hebrew inscription contained there.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Fleming, Michael (2002) [1999]. The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. New York: Broadway Books. pp. 22, 21, 23, 25, 33, 49, 50. ISBN 0-7679-0556-3.
  6. ^ Morris Feinberg with Bob Davis, Larry, The Stooge in the Middle, San Francisco: Last Gasp Publishing, 1984, p. 101.
  7. ^ Feinberg and Davis, p. 110.
  8. ^ Okuda and Watz, p. 49.
  9. ^ a b A&E Network's Biography
  10. ^ Seely, Peter; Gail W. Pieper (2007). Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 9. ISBN 978-0786429202.
  11. ^ Bob Bernet My Pal Moe web2.airmail.net/willdogs Archived May 22, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward; (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts, p. 69, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 0-89950-181-8
  13. ^ "Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine, the originals in the Three Stooges act, compose the trio to appear here. Curley [sic] Howard, who took Shemp's place after the act had been organized some years and whose appearance is familiar to movie audiences, is not on the current tour because of illness." The Times-Picayune; January 18, 1946 edition
  14. ^ Lenburg, Jeff; Maurer, Joan Howard; Lenburg, Greg (2012). Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer, Greg Lenburg - Google Books. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613740859 – via books.google.ca.
  15. ^ a b The Making of the Stooges VHS Documentary, narrated by Steve Allen (1984)
  16. ^ The Three Stooges Story, (2001) www.amazon.com, accessed 22 February 2021
  17. ^ TV Guide.com[dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cox, Steve and Terry, Jim (2006) One Fine Stooge: A Frizzy Life in Pictures. Cumberland House Publishing
  • Howard, Moe (1972 Moe Howard & The 3 Stooges Citadel Press
  • Maurer, Joan Howard (1988) Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge. Citadel Press
  • Solomon, Jon (2002) The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion. Comedy III Productions

External links[edit]