Ted Healy

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Ted Healy
Ted Healy in The Casino Murder Case trailer.jpg
in the trailer for
The Casino Murder Case
Born Earnest Lea Nash
(1896-10-01)October 1, 1896
Kaufman, Texas, U.S.
Died December 21, 1937(1937-12-21) (aged 41)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Nephritis
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles
Nationality American
Occupation Comedian, actor
Years active 1912–1937
Spouse(s) Betty Brown (m. 1922–32)
Betty Hickman (m. 1936–37)
Children 1

Ted Healy (October 1, 1896 – December 21, 1937) was an American vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor. Though he is chiefly remembered as the creator of The Three Stooges and the style of slapstick comedy that they later made famous, he had a successful stage and film career of his own, and was cited as a formative influence by many later comedy stars.

Early life[edit]

Healy was born Earnest Lee Nash on October 1, 1896 in Kaufman, Texas.[1] He attended Holy Innocents' School in Houston before the family moved to New York in 1908. While in New York, he attended high school at De La Salle Institute. Healy initially intended to follow in the footsteps of his father and pursue a career in business, but eventually decided on the stage.[2]

Show business career[edit]

Healy's first foray into show business was in 1912. He and his childhood friend Moses Horwitz (later known as Moe Howard) joined the Annette Kellerman Diving Girls, a vaudeville act that included four boys. The work ended quickly, however, after an accident on stage. Healy and Howard then went their separate ways. Healy developed a vaudeville act and adopted the stage name Ted Healy.

Healy's act was a hit, and he soon expanded his role as a comedian and master of ceremonies. In the 1920s he was the highest paid performer in Vaudeville making $9000 a week. He added performers to his stage show, including his new wife Betty Brown (a.k.a. Betty Braun). His first Stooge was his German Shepherd dog that appeared in his first vaudeville act.[3]

When some of his acrobats quit in 1922, Moe Howard answered the advertisement for replacements. Since Howard was no acrobat, Healy cast his old friend as a stooge (someone who impersonated a member of the audience who is called on stage). In the routine, Howard's appearance on stage would end with Healy losing his trousers.

The Stooges[edit]

Howard's brother Shemp joined the act as a heckler in 1923, and Larry Fine was added in 1928. Healy's vaudeville revues (A Night in Venice, A Night in Spain, New Yorker Nights, and others) included the quartet under various names, such as Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen.

Healy with the Stooges in a 1934 Hollywood on Parade short subject.

Moe Howard took a break from show business in 1926 before the birth of his daughter. The group reconvened in 1929 and appeared in several Broadway productions, leading to their appearance in the 1930 film Soup to Nuts. In 1931 the Stooges broke from Healy after a dispute over a movie contract. They began performing on their own, using such monikers as "The Three Lost Souls" and "Howard, Fine and Howard", and often incorporating material from the Healy shows. Healy attempted to sue the Stooges for using his material, but the copyright was held by the Shubert Theatre Corporation, for which the routines had been produced, and the Stooges had the Shuberts' permission to use it.

Healy hired a new set of stooges, consisting of Eddie Moran (soon replaced by Richard "Dick" Hakins), Jack Wolf (father of sportscaster Warner Wolf), and Paul "Mousie" Garner in 1931. The original Stooges rejoined Healy's act in 1932, but Shemp left shortly thereafter to pursue a solo career and was replaced by his younger brother Curly Howard.[4] In early 1934, Fine and the Howards parted ways with Healy for the last time.

After the Stooges[edit]

Healy in the color La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935)

Healy appeared in a succession of films for 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and MGM between 1935 and 1937, playing both dramatic and comedic roles. Most of his comedies featured new "stooges," including Jimmy Brewster, Red Pearson, and Sammy Glasser. During this period Healy took to wearing a toupée in public.[2] His last film, Hollywood Hotel, was released a few days after his death in 1937.

Personal life[edit]

Healy's first wife was dancer and singer Betty Brown (born Elizabeth Braun), whom he married in 1922[5] one week after they met.[6] The couple worked together in vaudeville, then divorced in 1932[7] after Brown sued heiress Mary Brown Warburton for "alienation of her husband's affections".[8]

Healy's second marriage was to UCLA coed Betty Hickman. After introducing himself, Healy proposed immediately, and the couple became engaged the following day.[9] They were married in Yuma, Arizona on May 15, 1936 after a midnight elopement by plane.[10] Hickman was granted a divorce on October 7, 1936, which was nullified after a reconciliation.[11] Their son, John Jacob, was born on December 17, 1937, four days before Healy's death.[12]


Healy died suddenly on December 21, 1937 at the age of 41. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a matter of some controversy.[13] Initial reports listed the cause as a heart attack,[14] but the presence of recent wounds—a deep cut over his right eye, a "discolored" left eye, and bruising of the head, neck, and trunk regions—combined with stories of an altercation on the night of his death at the Trocadero nightclub on the Sunset Strip, gave rise to speculation that he died as a result of those injuries. Because of the circumstances, Wyantt LaMont, the treating physician, refused to sign his death certificate.[15]

According to one source, quoting Healy's friend, the writer Henry Taylor, an argument broke out between Healy and three men identified only as "college boys". The younger men knocked Healy to the ground and kicked him in the head, ribs and abdomen. United Press reports cited wrestler Man Mountain Dean, who happened to be at Healy's hotel when he stumbled, injured and incoherent, out of a taxi, and helped to locate a doctor for him.[16] At some point in the evening Healy's friend Joe Frisco took him to his apartment, where he was later found dead.[17]

A more recent (and so far uncorroborated) source alleges that the three assailants were not college boys, but actor Wallace Beery, producer Albert R. Broccoli, and Broccoli's cousin, agent/producer Pat DiCicco.[18] While there is no documentation in contemporaneous news reports that either Beery or DiCicco was present, Broccoli admitted that he was indeed involved in a fist fight with Healy a few hours before he died.[19] In other reports, Broccoli admitted to pushing Healy but not striking him.[20] Autopsy findings revealed that Healy died of acute toxic nephritis secondary to acute and chronic alcoholism. The external wounds were specifically ruled out as a cause of death, thus rendering the role of any assailants (and their identities) moot.[20]

Healy was reportedly at the Trocadero celebrating the birth of his son, an event that he had eagerly anticipated, according to Moe Howard: "He was nuts about kids," wrote Howard. "He used to visit our homes and envied the fact that we were all married and had children. Healy always loved kids and often gave Christmas parties for underprivileged youngsters and spent hundreds of dollars on toys."[2]

Despite his sizeable salary, Healy was a prolific spender and died destitute.[21] A trust fund was organized by friends and colleagues to provide financial support for his widow and son.[22] He is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.


In the decades that followed, many comedy stars, including Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Red Skelton, cited Healy as a "mentor", and a significant influence on their careers.[23] "Back in [19]25, Ted Healy took me aside and gave me some wonderful advice," Berle told American newspaper and radio gossip commentator Walter Winchell in 1955. "'Milton, always play to the public. Never mind playing to the theatrical crowd. Don't try to impress the trumpet player in the pit. Entertain the people and you'll get rich and famous.' "[24] A caricature of Healy, drawn by Alex Gard, was the first of several hundred hung at Sardi's restaurant in the New York City Theater District.[25]


Year Title Role Notes
1926 Wise Guys Prefer Brunettes Napoleon Fizz Short film
1930 Soup to Nuts Ted "Teddy"
1931 A Night in Venice Short film
1933 Nertsery Rhymes Papa Short film
1933 Stop, Sadie, Stop Ted Short film
1933 Beer and Pretzels Ted Healy Short film
1933 Hello Pop! Father Short film
1933 Stage Mother Ralph Martin
1933 Bombshell Junior Burns
1933 Plane Nuts Ted Healy Short film
1933 Meet the Baron Head Janitor
1933 Dancing Lady Steve - Patch's Assistant
1933 Myrt and Marge Mullins
1934 Fugitive Lovers Hector Withington, Jr.
1934 Lazy River William "Gabby" Stone
1934 The Big Idea Ted Healy, Scenario Company President Short film
1934 Hollywood Party Reporter Uncredited; last film with the Stooges
1934 Operator 13 Doctor Hitchcock
1934 Paris Interlude Jimmy
1934 Death on the Diamond Terry "Crawfish" O'Toole
1934 The Band Plays On Joe
1934 Forsaking All Others Scenes deleted
1935 The Winning Ticket Eddie Dugan
1935 The Casino Murder Case Sergeant Heath
1935 Reckless Smiley
1935 Murder in the Fleet Gabby O'Neill
1935 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara Himself Color short film
1935 Mad Love Reagan
1935 Here Comes the Band Happy
1935 It's in the Air Clip McGurk
1936 Speed Clarence Maxmillian "Gadget" Haggerty
1936 San Francisco Mat
1936 Sing, Baby, Sing Al Craven
1936 The Longest Night Police Sergeant Magee
1936 Mad Holiday Mert Morgan
1937 Man of the People Joe The Glut
1937 The Good Old Soak Al Simmons
1937 Varsity Show William Williams
1937 Hollywood Hotel Fuzzy Boyle
1938 Love Is a Headache Jimmy Slattery
1938 Of Human Hearts Uncredited


  1. ^ Ted Healy Bio Three Stooges net
  2. ^ a b c Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg; Greg Lenburg (2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. pp. 2–9. ISBN 978-1-6137-4074-3. 
  3. ^ Princess Bill is Rich in Comedy The Montreal Gazette 9/30/1924
  4. ^ Ted Healy and his Stooges vaudeville routine from Plane Nuts
  5. ^ "Mrs. Ted Healy Seeks Decree". Rochester Evening Journal. January 27, 1932. p. 4. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ Betty Healys Fairy Tale Cinderellas Legend - The Pittsburgh Press - May 11, 1925
  7. ^ California Girl Bride of Healy Comedian
  8. ^ Comedians Wife Suing Heiress - The Milwaukee Journal - Jan 28, 1932
  9. ^ Mousie Garner: autobiography of a vaudeville stooge. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7864-0581-7.
  10. ^ Ted Healy Wed After Elopement by Plane – The Evening Independent – May 15, 1936
  11. ^ Ted Healy's Wife Granted Divorce - The Milwaukee Sentinel - Oct 8, 1936
  12. ^ "Dead Comedian's Son 10 Days Old". Spokane Daily Chronicle. December 29, 1937. p. 21. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Ted Healy Dies. Autopsy Ordered. Rumors of Cafe Fight Add Some Mystery to Passing of Actor in California Home". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-11. Hints that a fist fight in a Hollywood cafe Sunday night indirectly caused the death of Ted Healy, 41-year-old screen comedian, led today to an order for an immediate autopsy on the actor's body. ... 
  14. ^ "Police Drop Healy Probe". Prescott Evening Courier. December 22, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Police Probe Death of Ted Healy, Motion Picture Star". The Evening Independent. December 22, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Foul Play Ruled Out In Ted Healy's Death". The Pittsburgh Press. December 22, 1937. p. 2. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  17. ^ Howard, Moe; Joan Howard Maurer (2013). I Stooged to Conquer: The Autobiography of the Leader of the Three Stooges. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-6137-4766-7. 
  18. ^ Fleming, EJ: The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. New York: McFarland (2004). pp. 174-7. ISBN 978-0-7864-2027-8.
  19. ^ "Wealthy Sportsman Confesses Fight with Ted Healy". The Oxnard Daily Courier. December 23, 1937. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Ted Healy Died of Toxic Nephritis". Lewiston Evening Journal. December 23, 1937. p. 8. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  21. ^ [Vaudeville, old and new, Volume 1 - Frank Cullen Page 495]
  22. ^ Film Benefit for Mrs. Ted Healy is $12,000, Reported - San Jose News - January 18 1938
  23. ^ The Tragic And Twisted Tale Of The Three Stooges. EmpireOnline archive. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  24. ^ Winchell, Walter (September 17, 1955), "Editorial", The Daytona Beach News-Journal (Daytona Beach, Florida) 31 (223): 4 
  25. ^ The New York Public Library Inventory of Sardi's Caricatures

Further reading[edit]

  • The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion by Jon Solomon, (Comedy III Productions, Inc., 2002).
  • The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Jeff Lenburg, Joan Howard Maurer, Greg Lenburg (Citadel Press, 1994).

External links[edit]