The Arty Semite

Friday Film: Moe Howard, an Honorable Stooge

By Susie Davidson

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

Last August, during President Obama’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, a protest erupted over a T-shirt being sold at the SunStations shop in Oak Bluffs that portrayed Obama as Moe, Vice President Joe Biden as Larry, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Curly. The caption read: “The REAL Stooges.”

The storeowner said no malice was intended, and pointed to other shirts in the shop that praise the President. For us, however, there was no need to explain, as we see the comparison as complimentary. After all, the Three Stooges, who are being honored on December 13 at the Three Stooges Film Festival in Albany, as well as in a forthcoming Three Stooges Movie, were pioneering geniuses of comedy.

Despite his violent made-for-TV antics and persona, Moe, according to his daughter Joan Howard Maurer of Los Angeles, was a devoted family man, married to Helen Schonberger for 49 years. She told The Arty Semite that after her Aunt Fanny warned Schonberger “if you marry an actor, especially in vaudeville, you’ll never have a home,” Moe saw to it that his wife, daughter and son Paul lived in a beautiful English Manor and had a stable family life.

Maurer, whose late husband, artist and producer Norman Albert Maurer illustrated Three Stooges comic books, has written “The Three Stooges Book of Scripts” and “Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge.” She has also co-authored several others, including “Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges,” written by Moe and compiled by Joan after his death at age 77 in 1975.

Moe was born Moses Horwitz, son of tailor Solomon Horwitz, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. Moe’s brothers Curly (Jerome) and Shemp (Samuel) completed the act, as did Larry Fine (Louis Fienberg).

In addition to their success in the early days of television and film comedy, the Three Stooges were unafraid to confront political issues. Their 1940 short “You Nazty Spy,” was the first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler (it was released nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”), and Moe was the first American actor to portray him. The film, directed and produced by Jules White and written by Felix Adler, featured Moe as Dictator Moe Hailstone, Curly as Field Marshall Gallstone, and Larry as Minister of Propaganda Pebble. The trio, who ruled Moronica, resembled Hitler, Göring and a mix of Göebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop in a period when the United States was still officially neutral. The spoof was made possible because although the Hays Code restricted political content in films, shorts were not as tightly regulated.

The Stooges remembered their Jewish roots, and Yiddish often made it into their repartee. 1941’s sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again,” included frequent use of the Yiddish word “beblach” (beans). Maurer tells a tale in her upcoming book, “Stooge Kids,” about a lobster claw that was actually made of sugar, because Moe wanted to remain faithful to the dictates of Judaism.

“Dad had this dislike for most shellfish,” Maurer recalled. “It stemmed from my grandmother’s kosher dietary rules: no crab, no lobster, no shrimp,” she said. “One day, on the set in a scene in a Stooge comedy, Dad’s role was to discard the meat from a lobster claw and eat the claw.” But she said that the thought of putting that claw in his mouth made Moe ill. “To solve this problem, the special effects man on the film had to fashion one out of rock candy,” she said.

Maurer also cast a positive spin on the Stooges T-shirt bearing the faces of Obama, Biden and Pelosi. “Other presidents received this same honor in the past,” she said, citing Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy as two American leaders linked to the Stooges. If anything, the comparison proves how popular and funny the Three Stooges still are.

Listen to an interview with Moe Howard from the 1970s:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: You Nazty Spy, Three Stooges Film Festival, Three Stooges, The Great Dictator, Television, Susie Davidson, Solomon Horwitz, Shemp, Samuel Horwitz, Richard Nixon, Norman Alberg Maurer, Nancy Pelosi, Moses Horwitz, Moronica, Moe Howard, Moe Hailstone, Martha's Vineyard, Louis Fineberg, Larry Fine, Jules White, John F. Kennedy, Joe Biden, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Joan Howard Maurer, Jerome Horwitz, I'll Never Heil Again, Helen Schonberger, Goring, Hays Code, Goebbels, Film, Field Marshall Gallstone, Felix Adler, Curly, Charlie Chaplin, Bensonhurst, Adolf Hitler, Barack Obama

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.