Six episodes for folks stuck on Stooges

TELEVISION

July 13, 1991|By STEVE McKERROW

They've been the bane of generations of parents, an unfathomable annoyance to anyone who likes to combine the words "comedy" and "sophisticated," and the object of mimicry for countless comics.

Yet a local independent station WNUV-FM, Channel 54, is wondering whether viewers need more of "The Three Stooges" in their lives.

As Curly might say, "soitainly!"

The station has scheduled a "Stooges"-a-thon tonight (beginning 8), airing six episodes of the slapstick trio's two-reel movie shorts that were subsequently packaged into an often-repeated TV series. At midnight comes "Stoogemania," a 1985 feature film which highlights clips from the team's vaudeville-rooted work.

"We want to see the feedback we get from viewers," says programmer Bruce Binenfeld, before he decides whether to find a regular spot for airing syndicated Stooges fare.

"We know there's one strong, extremely borderline-fanatic audience out there that loves the Stooges, but we're not sure whether there is more middle-of-the-road interest," says Mr. Binenfeld, noting, "it seems to be a gender thing, for there aren't that many women who like them."

The Stooges are best known for their broad physical comedy, which includes such routine acts as the two-finger-eye-poke, the neck twist, the noggin knock and the frequent tool torture (as seen especially in tonight's "A-Plumbing We Will Go" episode).

Usually applied by mean Moe to hapless cohorts Larry and Curly, the mock violence was funny to watch but perilous to try in real life.

If their humor was, as film historian Leslie Halliwell writes, "a peculiarly violent form of vaudeville," it was also verbally lowbrow, laden with puns and insulting one-liners. Yet it could be surprisingly satirical,too, as in the splendid title of a 1963 Stooges feature film, "Around the World in A Daze."

How sensitive is your Stooge-o-meter? Here is a quick trivia quiz to help:

1. How many Stooges were there, really, and who were they?

2. How many films did they make?

3. When did they first show up on TV?

4. What was one of their final big-screen appearances? (Hint: It was in a non-Stooges film.)

5. And does anybody know a Baltimore-area local link to the Stooges?

The answers, please: (Sources include "Halliwell's Filmgoers Companion," "Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide" and Alex McNeil's "Total Television.")

1. Over the years there were actually seven members of the act, including three real-life brothers.

Shortly after World War I, brothers Moe and Shemp Howard (the latter was really Samuel and was the oldest) formed a duo vaudeville act, and joined forces a few years later with comic Ted Healy. In 1928 actor Larry Fine (the one with curly hair but not named Curly) was added to the act, then called Ted Healy and his Stooges.

The trio, however, broke from Healy and into films in the early '30s, and soon Shemp left the act to be replaced by a younger Howard brother, Jerry. He, of course, became the act's beloved "nyuck nyuck" knucklehead Curly. So constituted, the trio hit it big and remained stable in makeup until 1946, when Curly suffered a stroke. (He died in 1952 at the age of 48.)

Shemp returned to the act until his death in 1955, and the Stooges kept on into the mid-'60s, with first Joe Besser and later Joe de Rita as the third rotund foil to Moe and Larry. The Stooges have all since passed away, with Moe's 1975 death the last.

2. The trio made 191 film shorts and 24 feature films.

3. The Stooges never had their own show produced specifically for TV. Instead, Screen Gems initially packaged for TV use 78 of the film shorts, and eventually all 191 found their way to the tube. The Stooges, however, were seen as guests on "The Ed Wynn Show," an early kinescope CBS series seen in 1949-1950. And in animated form, they appeared in a kids' weekend cartoon show, "The Three Robonic Stooges," from 1978 to 1981.

4. If memory serves, Moe, Larry and Curly Joe (de Rita) had a non-speaking cameo appearance in the 1963 comedy extravaganza "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." (Remember? They were firefighters awaiting the crash landing of the plane being flown by Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney.)

5. Janie Hanky, a resident of Westminster, is the daughter of Jerry "Curly" Howard. (A Feb. 3 story in The Sun profiled the descendant, who was just 4 years old when her comic father died.) She still attends annual conventions held by Three Stooges fans.

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