The Sad Life and Times of Mo Howard

 

There are some obvious differences between men and women, but arguably the most definitive is The Three Stooges - men think the Stooges are funny, women don't. For men, the most beloved Stooge is Curly.

He was funny, but sad.

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Curly's offscreen personality was the antithesis of his onscreen manic persona. An introvert, he generally kept to himself, rarely socializing with people unless he had been drinking (which he would increasingly turn to as the stresses of his career grew). In addition, he came to life when in the presence of brother Shemp. Curly could not be himself around brother Moe, who treated his younger brother with a fatherly wag of the finger. Never an intellect, Curly simply refrained from engaging in "crazy antics" unless he was in his element: with family, performing or intoxicated.

On June 7, 1937, Curly married Elaine Ackerman, who gave birth to their only child, Marilyn, the following year. The couple divorced in 1940, after which he gained a lot of weight and developed hypertension. He was also 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, even though he was popular with women all his life.[1] In fact, many who knew him said women were his main weakness. Moe's son-in-law Norman Maurer even went so far as to say he "was a pushover for women. If a pretty girl went up to him and gave him a spiel, Curly would marry them. 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."

During World War II, for seven months of each year, the trio's filming schedule would go on hiatus, allowing them to make personal appearances. The Stooges entertained servicemen constantly, and the intense work schedule took its toll on Curly. He never drank while performing in film or on stage; Moe would not allow it. But once away from Moe's watchful eye, he would find the nearest nightclub, down a few drinks, and enjoy himself. His drinking, eating, and carousing increased. He had difficulties managing his finances, often spending his money on wine, food, women, homes, cars, and especially dogs, and was often near poverty. Moe eventually helped him manage his money and even filled out his income tax returns.

Curly at home with two of his many canine friends. Curly found constant companionship in his dogs and often befriended strays whenever the Stooges were traveling. 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. When not performing, he would usually have a few dogs waiting for him at home as well.

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 which lasted approximately three months. The divorce proceeding was a bitter one, exacerbated by exploitation in the local media. After the divorce, his health fell into rapid and devastating decline.

By early 1946, Curly's voice had become even more coarse than before, and it was increasingly difficult for him to remember even the simplest dialogue. He had lost a considerable amount of weight, and lines had creased his face.

Half-Wits Holiday would be Curly's final appearance as an official member of the Stooges. The film was a remake of the comedy Hoi Polloi. During filming on May 6, 1946, Curly suffered a severe stroke while sitting in director Jules White's chair, waiting to film the last scene of the day. When Curly was called by the assistant director to take the stage, he did not answer. Moe went looking for his brother: he found Curly with his head dropped to his chest. Moe later recalled that his mouth was distorted and he was unable to speak, only cry. Moe quietly alerted White to all this, leading the latter to rework the scene quickly, dividing the action between Moe and Larry. Curly was then rushed to the hospital, where Moe joined him after the filming. After his discharge, Curly went to live at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Curly makes a cameo in Hold That Lion! after his career-ending stroke. This marked the only instance in which brothers Curly, Moe, and Shemp appeared together on screen. Curly's cameo appearance from Hold That Lion was recycled in the 1953 remake, Booty and the Beast, a year after his death.He had to leave the team to recuperate. Shemp returned to the trio, replacing him in the Columbia shorts; 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.

During the last two years of Curly's career, Shemp had been recruited occasionally to substitute for him during live performances, but now the replacement became permanent.

Curly, now with his hair fully regrown, made a brief cameo appearance (doing his dog-bark routine) in the third film after brother Shemp's return, Hold That Lion!. 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."

Curly filmed a second cameo as an irate chef two years later for the short Malice in the Palace, but his illness eventually caused his scenes to be cut. A lobby card for the short shows him with the other Stooges, although he never appeared in the final product

Still not fully recovered from his stroke, Curly 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." Although his health continued to decline after the marriage, Valerie gave birth to a daughter, Janie, in 1948.

Later that year Curly 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 Country House and Hospital on August 29, 1950. He was released after several months of treatment and medical tests, although he would return periodically until his death.

In February 1951, he was placed in a nursing home, where he suffered another stroke a month later. In April, he went to live at the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium.

In December 1951, the North Hollywood Hospital and Sanitarium supervisor advised 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.

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. Eleven days later, on January 18, Curly died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at 48. He was given a Jewish funeral and laid to rest at Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

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