|Who is it?||Actor, Soundtrack|
|Medium||Vaudeville, film, television|
|Genres||Farce, slapstick, musical comedy|
|Former members||Moe Howard Shemp Howard Larry Fine Curly Howard Joe Besser Joe DeRita|
Many scholarly studies of motion picture comedy have overlooked the Three Stooges entirely – and not without valid reasoning. Aesthetically, the Stooges violated every rule that constitutes "good" comedic style. Their characters lacked the emotional depth of Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon; they were never as witty or subtle as Buster Keaton. They were not disciplined enough to sustain lengthy comic sequences; far too often, they were willing to suspend what little narrative structure their pictures possessed in order to insert a number of gratuitous jokes. Nearly every premise they have employed (spoofs of westerns, horror films, costume melodramas) has been done to better effect by other comedians. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming artistic odds against them, they were responsible for some of the finest comedies ever made. Their humor was the most undistilled form of low comedy; they were not great innovators, but as quick laugh practitioners, they place second to none. If public taste is any criterion, the Stooges have been the reigning kings of comedy for over fifty years.
In 1993, the Three Stooges won the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.
The act began in the early 1920s as part of a vaudeville comedy act billed as "Ted Healy and His Stooges", consisting originally of Healy and Moe Howard. Over time, they were joined by Moe's brother Shemp Howard, and then Larry Fine. The four appeared in one feature film, Soup to Nuts, before Shemp left to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by his younger brother, Jerome "Curly" Howard, in 1932. Two years later, after appearing in several movies, the trio left Healy and signed on to appear in their own short-subject comedies for Columbia Pictures, now billed as "The Three Stooges". From 1934 to 1946, Moe, Larry and Curly produced over 90 short films for Columbia. It was during this period that the three were at their peak popularity.
The Three Stooges began in 1922 as part of a raucous vaudeville act called "Ted Healy and His Stooges" (also known as "Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen" and "Ted Healy and His Racketeers"). Moe Howard (born Moses Harry Horwitz) joined Healy's act in 1922, and his brother Shemp Howard (Samuel Horwitz) came aboard a few months later. In 1925, violinist-comedian Larry Fine (Louis Feinberg) also joined the group. In the act, lead Comedian Healy would attempt to sing or tell jokes while his noisy assistants would keep "interrupting" him, causing Healy to retaliate with Verbal and physical abuse. Ted Healy and His Stooges (plus Comedian Fred Sanborn) appeared in their first Hollywood feature film, Soup to Nuts (1930), released by Fox Film Corporation. The film was not a critical success, but the Stooges' performances were singled out as memorable, leading Fox to offer the trio a contract, minus Healy. This enraged Healy, who told studio executives that the Stooges were his employees, and the offer was withdrawn. Howard, Fine and Howard learned of the offer and subsequent withdrawal and left Healy to form their own act (billed as "Howard, Fine & Howard" or "Three Lost Souls"). The act quickly took off with a tour of the theater circuit. Healy attempted to stop the new act with legal action, claiming that they were using his copyrighted material. There are accounts of Healy threatening to bomb theaters if Howard, Fine and Howard ever performed there, which worried Shemp so much that he almost left the act; reportedly, only a pay raise kept him on board.
Healy tried to save his act by hiring replacement stooges, but they were inexperienced and not as well-received as their predecessors. Healy reached a new agreement with his former Stooges in 1932, with Moe now acting as Business manager, and they were booked in a production of Jacob J. Shubert's The Passing Show of 1932. During rehearsals, Healy received a more lucrative offer and found a loophole in his contract allowing him to leave the production. Shemp, fed up with Healy's abrasiveness, decided to quit the act and toured in his own comedy revue for several months, and then landed at Vitaphone Studios in May 1933, appearing in movie comedies produced in Brooklyn, New York, for the next four years.
Healy and company also appeared in several MGM feature films as comic relief, such as Turn Back the Clock (1933), Meet the Baron (1933), Dancing Lady (1933) (with Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Robert Benchley), Fugitive Lovers (1934) and Hollywood Party (1934). Healy and the Stooges also appeared together in Myrt and Marge for Universal Pictures.
The Three Stooges appeared in 220 films through their career. Of those 220, 190 short films were made for Columbia Pictures, for which the trio are best known today. Their first Columbia film, Woman Haters, premiered on May 5, 1934. Their contract was extended each year until the final one expired on December 31, 1957. The last 8 of the 16 shorts with Joe Besser were released over the next 18 months. The final release, Sappy Bull Fighters, premiered on June 4, 1959.
The Stooges made occasional guest appearances in feature films, though generally they were restricted to their short subjects. Most of the Stooges' peers had either made the transition from shorts to features films (Laurel and Hardy, The Ritz Brothers) or had been starring their own feature films from the onset (Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello). However, Moe believed that the team's firebrand style of humor worked better in short form. In 1935, Columbia proposed to star them in their own full-length feature, but Moe rejected the idea saying, "It's a hard job inventing, rewriting, or stealing gags for our two-reel comedies for Columbia Pictures without having to make a seven-reeler (feature film). We can make short films out of material needed for a starring feature and then we wouldn't know whether it would be funny enough to click."
Film critics have cited Curly as the most popular member of the team. His childlike mannerisms and natural comedic charm (he had no previous acting experience) made him a hit with audiences, particularly children and women (the latter usually finding the trio's humor Juvenile and uncouth). The fact that Curly had to shave his head for the act led him to feel unappealing to women. To mask his insecurities, he ate and drank to excess and caroused whenever the Stooges made personal appearances, which was approximately seven months of each year. His weight ballooned in the 1940s, and his blood pressure became dangerously high. Curly's wild lifestyle and constant drinking eventually caught up with him in 1945, and his performances suffered.
The World War II era also brought on rising production costs that resulted in a reduced number of elaborate gags and outdoor sequences, Del Lord's stock in trade; as such, the quality of the team's films (particularly those directed by Lord) began to slip after 1942. According to Okuda and Watz, entries such as Loco Boy Makes Good, What's the Matador?, Sock-A-Bye Baby (all 1942), I Can Hardly Wait and A GEM of a Jam (both 1943) are considered to be lesser quality works than previous films. Spook Louder (1943), a remake of Mack Sennett's The Great Pie Mystery (1931), is often cited as the Stooges' worst film because of its repetitious and rehashed jokes. Three Smart Saps (1942), a film considered to be an improvement, features a reworking of a routine from Harold Lloyd's The Freshman (1925), in which Curly's loosely basted suit begins to come apart at the seams while he is on the dance floor.
Other wartime entries have their moments, such as They Stooge to Conga (considered the most violent Stooge short), Higher Than a Kite, Back From the Front (all 1943), Gents Without Cents (1944) and the anti-Japanese The Yoke's on Me (also 1944). However, taken in bulk, the wartime films are decidedly substandard. No Dough Boys (again 1944) is often considered the best of these farces. The team, made up as Japanese Soldiers for a photo shoot, is mistaken for genuine saboteurs by a Nazi ringleader (Vernon Dent, the Stooges' primary foil). The highlight of the film features the Stooges engaging in nonsensical gymnastics (the real spies are renowned acrobats) for a skeptical group of enemy agents.
During a five-month hiatus from August 1945 through January 1946, the trio committed themselves to making a feature film at Monogram, followed by a two-month-long live appearance gig in New York City, with performances seven days a week. Curly also entered a disastrous third marriage in October 1945, leading to a separation in January 1946 and divorce in July 1946. That unhappy union wrecked his already fragile health. Upon the Stooges' return to Los Angeles in late November 1945, Curly was a shell of his former self. They had two months to rest before reporting back to Columbia in late January 1946, but Curly's condition was irreversible. They had only 24 days of work over the next three months, but eight weeks of time off could not help the situation. In those last six shorts, ranging from Monkey Businessmen (1946) through Half-Wits Holiday (1947), Curly was seriously ill, struggling to get through even the most basic scenes.
During the final day of filming Half-Wits Holiday (1947) on May 6, 1946, Curly suffered a debilitating stroke on the set, ending his 14-year career. They hoped for a full recovery, but Curly never appeared in a film again except for a single cameo appearance in the third film after Shemp returned to the trio, Hold That Lion! (1947). It was the only film that contained all four of the original Stooges (the three Howard brothers and Larry) on screen simultaneously. According to Jules White, this Anomaly came about when Curly visited the set one day, and White had him do this bit for fun. (Curly's cameo appearance was recycled in the remake Booty and the Beast, 1953.)
The films from the Shemp era contrast sharply with those from the Curly era, largely owing to the individual directing styles of Bernds and White. From 1947 to 1952, Bernds hit a string of successes, including Fright Night (1947), The Hot Scots, Mummy's Dummies, Crime on Their Hands (all 1948), A Snitch in Time (1950), Three Arabian Nuts (1951) and Gents in a Jam (1952). Two of the team's finest efforts were directed by Bernds: Brideless Groom (1947) and Who Done It? (1949). White also contributed a few fair entries, such as Hold That Lion! (1947), Hokus Pokus (1949), Scrambled Brains (1951), A Missed Fortune and Corny Casanovas (both 1952).
The Shemp years also marked a major milestone: the Stooges' first appearance on television. In 1948, they guest-starred on Milton Berle's popular Texaco Star Theater and Morey Amsterdam's The Morey Amsterdam Show. By 1949, the team filmed a pilot for ABC-TV for their own weekly television series, titled Jerks of All Trades. Columbia Pictures blocked the series from going into production, but their slapstick humor was in great demand for television stations looking to fill air time. The team went on to appear on Camel Comedy Caravan (also known as The Ed Wynn Show), The Kate Smith Hour, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Frank Sinatra Show and The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theatre, among others.
The early days of television provided movie studios a place to unload a backlog of short films that they thought otherwise unmarketable, and the Stooge films seemed perfect for the burgeoning genre. ABC had even expressed interest as far back as 1949, purchasing exclusive rights to 30 of the trio's shorts and commissioning a pilot for a potential series, Jerks of All Trades. However, the success of television revivals for such names as Laurel and Hardy, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Tom and Jerry and the Our Gang series in the late 1950s led Columbia to cash in again on the Stooges. In September 1958, Columbia's television subsidiary Screen Gems offered a package consisting of 78 Stooge shorts (primarily from the Curly era), which were well received. April 1959 an additional 40 shorts hit the market, and by September 1959, all 190 Stooge shorts were airing regularly. With so many films available for broadcast, daily television airings provided heavy exposure aimed squarely at children. Parents who had grown up seeing the same films in the theaters began to watch alongside their children and, before long, Howard, Fine and DeRita were in high demand. After it was discovered that the Curly-era shorts were the most popular, Moe suggested that DeRita shave his head to accentuate his slight resemblance to Curly Howard. He adopted first a crew cut and later a completely shaven head, thus becoming "Curly Joe".
Shemp appeared with the Stooges in 76 shorts and a low-budget Western comedy feature titled Gold Raiders (1951) in which the screen time was evenly divided with B-picture Cowboy hero George O'Brien. Shemp's return improved the quality of the films, as the previous few had been marred by Curly's sluggish performances. Entries such as Out West (1947), Squareheads of the Round Table (1948) and Punchy Cowpunchers (1950) proved that Shemp could hold his own. New Director Edward Bernds, who joined the team in 1945 when Curly was failing, sensed that routines and plotlines that worked well with Curly as the comic focus did not fit Shemp's persona, and allowed the Comedian to develop his own Stooge characterization. Jules White, however, persisted in employing the "living cartoon" style of comedy that reigned during the Curly era. White would force either Shemp or Moe to perform similar gags and mannerisms originated by Curly, resulting in what appeared to be lackluster imitation. Most acutely, it created the "Curly vs. Shemp" debate that overshadowed the act upon Curly's departure. The Stooges lost some of their charm and inherent appeal to children after Curly retired, but some excellent films were produced with Shemp, an accomplished solo Comedian who often performed best when allowed to improvise on his own.
In 1952, the Stooges lost some key players at Columbia. The studio decided to downsize its short-subject division, resulting in Producer Hugh McCollum being discharged and Director Edward Bernds resigning out of loyalty to McCollum. Bernds had been contemplating his resignation for some time, as he and Jules White were often at odds. Screenwriter Elwood Ullman followed suit, leaving only White to both produce and direct the Stooges' remaining Columbia comedies. Not long after, the quality of the team's output markedly declined with White now assuming complete control over production. DVD Talk critic Stuart Galbraith IV commented that "the Stooges' shorts became increasingly mechanical...and frequently substituted violent sight gags for story and characterization." Production was also significantly faster, with the former four-day filming schedules now tightened to two or three days. In another cost-cutting measure, White would create a "new" Stooge short by borrowing footage from old ones, setting it in a slightly different storyline and filming a few new scenes often with the same actors in the same costumes. White was initially very subtle when recycling older footage: he would reuse only a single sequence of old film, re-edited so cleverly that it was not easy to detect. The later shorts were cheaper and the recycling more obvious, with as much as 75% of the running time consisting of old footage. White came to rely so much on older material that he could film the "new" shorts in a single day. New footage filmed in order to link older material suffered from White's wooden directing style and penchant for telling his actors how to act. Shemp, in particular, disliked working with White after 1952.
Three years after Curly's death, Shemp died of a heart attack at age 60 on November 22, 1955 during a taxi ride home with a friend after attending a boxing match. Moe was stunned and contemplated disbanding the Stooges. However, Cohn reminded him that the team owed Columbia four additional films with Shemp. Recycled footage, combined with new footage utilizing Columbia supporting player Joe Palma (see also Fake Shemp) as Shemp's double, filmed from behind, was used to complete the last four films originally planned with Shemp: Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers and Commotion on the Ocean (all released in 1956).
Three feature-length Columbia releases were actually packages of older Columbia shorts. Columbia Laff Hour (introduced in 1956) was a random assortment that included the Stooges among other Columbia comedians like Andy Clyde, Hugh Herbert, and Vera Vague; the content and length varied from one theater to the next. Three Stooges Fun-o-Rama (introduced in 1959) was an all-Stooges show capitalizing on their TV fame, again with shorts chosen at random for individual theaters. The Three Stooges Follies (1974) was similar to Laff Hour, with a trio of Stooge comedies augmented by Buster Keaton and Vera Vague shorts, a Batman serial chapter, and a Kate Smith musical.
Over half a century since their last short film was released, the Three Stooges remain popular with audiences. Their films have never left American television since first appearing in 1958, and they continue to delight old fans while attracting new admirers. They were a hard-working group of comedians who were never the critics' darlings, a durable act who endured several personnel changes in their careers that would have permanently sidelined a less persistent act. The Stooges would not have lasted as long as they did as a unit without Moe Howard's guiding hand.
Beginning in 1959, the Three Stooges began appearing in a series of novelty records. Their first recording was a 45 rpm single of the title song from Have Rocket, Will Travel. The trio released additional singles and LPs on the Golden, Peter Pan and Coral labels, mixing comedy adventure albums and off-beat renditions of children's songs and stories. Their final recording was the 1966 Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges Meet the Mad, Mad, Mad Dr. No-No, which incorporated the Three Stooges into the cast of the Yogi Bear cartoons.
The Stooges also tried their hand at another weekly television series in 1960 titled The Three Stooges Scrapbook, filmed in color and with a laugh track. The first episode, "Home Cooking", featured the boys rehearsing for a new television show. Like Jerks of All Trades in 1949, the pilot did not sell. However, Norman Maurer was able to reuse the footage (reprocessed in black and white) for the first ten minutes of The Three Stooges in Orbit.
In addition to the unsuccessful television series pilots Jerks of All Trades, The Three Stooges Scrapbook, and the incomplete Kook's Tour, the Stooges appeared in an animated series, The New Three Stooges, which ran from 1965 to 1966. This series featured a mix of forty-one live-action segments which were used as wraparounds to 156 animated Stooges shorts. The New Three Stooges became the only regularly scheduled television show in history for the Stooges. Unlike other films shorts that aired on television, like the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye, the film shorts of the Stooges never had a regularly scheduled national television program to air in. When Columbia/Screen Gems licensed the film library to television, the shorts aired in any fashion the local stations chose (examples: late-night "filler" material between the end of the late movie and the channel's sign-off time; in "marathon" sessions running shorts back-to-back for one, one-and-a-half, or two hours; etc.) By the 1970s, some local stations showed a Columbia short and a New Three Stooges cartoon in the same broadcast.
In the October 13, 1967 "Who's Afraid of Mother Goose?" episode of ABC's "World-of-Disney"-like anthology series Off to See the Wizard, the Three Stooges made a short appearance as "the three men in a tub".
Also in 1970, Joe Derita recruited vaudeville veterans Frank Mitchell and Mousie Garner to tour as The New Three Stooges. Garner had worked with Ted Healy as one of his "replacement stooges" decades earlier and was briefly considered as Joe Besser's replacement in 1958. Mitchell had also replaced Shemp as the "third stooge" in a 1929 Broadway play and appeared in two of the Stooges' short subjects in 1953. The act fared poorly with minimal bookings. By this time, Moe's wife had prevailed on him to retire from performing slapstick due to his age. For the next several years, Moe appeared regularly on talk shows and did speaking engagements at colleges, while Derita quietly retired.
Two episodes of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies aired on CBS featuring animated Stooges as guest stars: the premiere, "Ghastly Ghost Town" (September 9, 1972) and "The Ghost of the Red Baron" (November 18, 1972).
Before Larry's death, the Stooges were scheduled to co-star in the R-rated film Blazing Stewardesses, featuring Moe and Curly Joe with Emil Sitka in the middle spot as Harry, Larry's brother. The team was signed and publicity shots were taken, but one week prior to March's filming date, Moe was diagnosed with lung cancer and the Stooges had to back out; he died on May 4, 1975. Producer Sam Sherman briefly considered having former Stooge Joe Besser appear in his place, but ultimately decided against it. The surviving Ritz Brothers replaced the Stooges and performed much of their act's schtick, including the precision dance routine first seen in Sing, Baby, Sing (1936), co-starring original Stooge leader Ted Healy.
Another animated series also produced by Hanna-Barbera, titled The Robonic Stooges, originally seen as a featured segment on The Skatebirds (CBS, 1977–1978), featuring Moe, Larry, and Curly (voiced by Paul Winchell, Joe Baker and Frank Welker, respectively) as bionic cartoon superheroes with extendable limbs, similar to the later Inspector Gadget. The Robonic Stooges later aired as a separate half-hour series, retitled The Three Robonic Stooges (each half-hour featured two segments of The Three Robonic Stooges and one segment of Woofer & Whimper, Dog Detectives, the latter re-edited from episodes of Clue Club, an earlier Hanna-Barbera cartoon series).
In a 1980 episode of M*A*S*H, Charles Winchester shows disrespect for three Korean doctors by calling them "Moe, Larry and Curly", and says that they are "highly-respected individuals in the States". After Winchester throws out his back and is unable to relieve the pain through conventional methods (in real life, Winchester would've received an automatic medical discharge from the United States Army), Colonel Potter has the Korean doctors try acupuncture (much to Winchester's dismay), which cures Winchester. After the treatment, one of the doctors tells Winchester "Not bad for Three Stooges, huh?", having caught on to his mistreatment of them.
In 1984, Gottlieb released an arcade game featuring the Stooges trying to find three kidnapped brides.
A VCR game was released by Pressman Toy Corporation in 1986, which utilized a number of classic Stooges clips.
Later in 1987, game developers Cinemaware released a successful Three Stooges computer game, available for Apple IIGS, Amiga, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Based on the Stooges earning money by doing odd jobs to prevent the foreclosure of an orphanage, it incorporated audio from the original films and was popular enough to be reissued for the Game Boy Advance in 2002, as well as for PlayStation in 2004.
As for the remaining original replacement stooges, Joe Besser died of heart failure on March 1, 1988, followed by Joe DeRita of pneumonia on July 3, 1993. Emil Sitka was announced as a Stooge but never performed as such; he died on January 16, 1998 six months after being disabled by a stroke.
Canadian-American professional Wrestler Curly Moe, whose "gimmick" was based on Curly Howard, was a popular fan favorite in International World Class Championship Wrestling during the early-1990s. The promotion billed Curly Moe as the real-life nephew of Curly and Moe Howard which attracted some attention from the media. He took his gimmick from Chicago Wrestler Curly Rich who did the gimmick in Chicago Championship Wrestling/Pro Wrestling International in 1986 and 1987 and later Windy City Wrestling in 88 and 89
In 1993, the Three Stooges won the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.
A handful of Three Stooges shorts first aired on television in 1949, on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network. It was not until 1958 that Screen Gems packaged 78 shorts for national syndication; the package was gradually enlarged to encompass the entire library of 190 shorts. In 1959, KTTV in Los Angeles purchased the Three Stooges films for air, but by the early 1970s, rival station KTLA began airing the Stooges films, keeping them in the schedule until early 1994. The Family Channel ran the shorts as part of their Stooge TV block from February 19, 1996, to January 2, 1998. In the late 1990s, AMC had held the rights to the Three Stooges shorts, originally airing them under a programming block called "Stooges Playhouse". In 1999, it was replaced with a program called N.Y.U.K. (New Yuk University of Knuckleheads), which starred actor/comedian Leslie Nielsen. The program would show three random Stooge shorts. Nielsen hosts the program as a college instructor, known as the Professor of Stoogelogy, who teaches to the students lectures on the Three Stooges before the Stooges' shorts air. The block aired several shorts often grouped by a theme, such as similar schtick used in different films. Although the block was discontinued after AMC revamped their format in 2002, the network still ran Stooges shorts occasionally. The AMC run ended when Spike TV picked them up in 2004, airing them in their Stooges Slap-Happy Hour. By 2007, the network had discontinued the block. Although Spike did air Stooges shorts for a brief period of time after the block was canceled, as of late April 2008, the Stooges had disappeared from the network's schedule entirely. The Three Stooges returned on December 31, 2009, on AMC, starting with the "Countdown with the Stooges" New Year's Eve marathon. AMC planned to put several episodes on their website in 2010. The "Stooges" shorts were best known in Chicago as a part of a half hour late afternoon show on WGN-TV hosted by Bob Bell as "Andy Starr" in the 1960s.
In 2000, long-time Stooge fan Mel Gibson executive-produced a TV film (The Three Stooges) about the lives and careers of the comedians. Playing Moe was Paul Ben-Victor, Evan Handler was Larry, John Kassir was Shemp, and Michael Chiklis was Curly. It was filmed in Australia and was produced for and broadcast on ABC. It was based on Michael Fleming's authorized biography of the Stooges, The Three Stooges: From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. Its unflattering portrayal of Ted Healy led Healy's son to give media interviews calling the film inaccurate. Additional errors of fact included the portrayal that Moe Howard was down on his luck after Columbia cancelled their contract and worked as a gofer at the studio, where he, his brothers and Larry had formerly worked as actors. In reality, Moe was the most careful with his money, which he invested well. He and his wife Helen owned a comfortable house in Toluca Lake, in which they raised their children.
Gary Lassin, grand-nephew-in-law of Larry Fine, opened the Stoogeum in 2004, in a renovated architect's office in Spring House, Pennsylvania, 25 miles (40 km) north of Philadelphia. The museum-quality exhibits fill three stories 10,000 square feet (930 m), including an 85-seat theater. Peter Seely, Editor of the book Stoogeology: Essays on the Three Stooges said that the Stoogeum has "more stuff than I even imagined existed." 2,500 people visit it yearly, many during the annual Three Stooges Fan Club gathering in April.
On October 30, 2007, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a two-disc DVD set entitled The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One: 1934–1936. The set contains shorts from the first three years the Stooges worked at Columbia Pictures, marking the first time ever that all 19 shorts were released in their original theatrical order to DVD. Additionally, every short was remastered in high definition, a first for the Stooge films. Previous DVD releases were based on themes (wartime, history, work, etc.), and sold poorly. Fans and critics alike praised Sony for finally giving the Stooges the proper DVD treatment. One critic states "the Three Stooges on DVD has been a real mix'n match hodgepodge of un-restored titles and illogical entries. This new...boxset...seems to be the first concerted effort to categorize their huge body of work chronologically with many shorts seeing the digital light for the first time." Videolibrarian.com critic added "finally, the studio knuckleheads got it right! The way that the Three Stooges have been presented on home video has been a real slap in the face and poke in the eye to fans. They've been anthologized, colorized, and public domain-ed, as their shorts have been released and re-released in varying degrees of quality. Highly recommended." Critic James Plath of DVDtown.com added, "Thank you, Sony, for finally giving these Columbia Pictures icons the kind of DVD retrospective that they deserve. Remastered in High Definition and presented in chronological order, these short films now give fans the chance to appreciate the development of one of the most successful comedy teams in history."
The chronological series proved successful, and Sony wasted little time preparing the next set for release. Volume Two: 1937–1939 was released on May 27, 2008, followed by Volume Three: 1940–1942 three months later on August 26, 2008. Demand exceeded supply, proving to Sony that they had a hit on their hands. In response, Volume Four: 1943–1945 was released on October 7, 2008, a mere two months after its predecessor. The global economic crisis slowed down the release schedule after Volume Four, and Volume Five: 1946–1948 was belatedly released on March 17, 2009. Volume Five is the first in the series to feature Shemp Howard with the Stooges and the final volume to feature Curly Howard. Volume Six: 1949–1951 was released June 16, 2009, and Volume Seven: 1952–1954 was released on November 10, 2009. Volume Seven included 3-D glasses for the two shorts: Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire. As of 2013, the 3-D versions of the two shorts in this volume have been removed. Volume Eight: 1955–1959 was released on June 1, 2010. This was the final volume of the Stooges collection, bringing the series to a close. Instead of two discs, Volume Eight includes three discs. It is also the final volume to feature Shemp Howard and the first and only volume to feature Joe Besser. For the first time in history, all 190 Three Stooges short subjects became available to the public, uncut and unedited.
Sirius XM Radio aired a special about the Stooges hosted by Tom Bergeron on Friday, July 31, 2009, at 2:00PM on the Sirius Howard 101 channel. Bergeron had conducted the interviews at the age of 16 back when he was still in high school in 1971. The television host had the tapes in storage for many years and was convinced on-air during an interview with Howard Stern to bring them in and turn it into a special.
A film about the Three Stooges, titled The Three Stooges, started production on March 14, 2011, with 20th Century Fox and was directed by the Farrelly brothers. The film had been in what one critic has dubbed "development hell". The Farrellys, who wanted to make the film since 1996, said that they were not going to do a biopic or remake, but instead new Three Stooges episodes set in the present day. The film is broken up into three continuous episodes that revolves around the Stooges characters.
Casting the title characters proved difficult for the studio. Originally slated were Sean Penn to play Larry, Benicio del Toro to play Moe, and Jim Carrey to play Curly. Both Penn and del Toro left the project but returned while no official confirmation had been made about Jim Carrey. When del Toro was interviewed on MTV News for The Wolfman, he spoke about playing Moe. He was later asked who was going to play Larry and Curly in the film and commented that he still thought that Sean Penn and Jim Carrey were going to play them, though he added, "Nothing is for sure yet." A story in The Hollywood Reporter stated that Will Sasso would play Curly in the upcoming comedy and that Hank Azaria was the front Runner to play Moe. Sasso was ultimately cast as Curly; Sean Hayes of Will & Grace was cast as Larry Fine, while Chris Diamantopoulos was cast as Moe. Jane Lynch later joined the cast, playing a nun. The film was released on April 13, 2012, and grossed over $54 million worldwide.
Within their first year at Columbia, the Stooges became very popular. Realizing this, Columbia Pictures President Harry Cohn used the Stooges as leverage, as the demand for their films was so great that he eventually refused to supply exhibitors with the trio's shorts unless they also agreed to book some of the studio's mediocre B movies. Cohn also saw to it that the Stooges remained ignorant of their popularity. During their 23 years at Columbia, the Stooges were never completely aware of their amazing drawing power at the box office. Their contracts with the studio included an open option that had to be renewed yearly, and Cohn would tell the boys that the short subjects were in decline, which was not a complete fabrication (Cohn's yearly mantra was "the market for comedy shorts is dying out, fellas"). The Stooges thought that their days were numbered and would cruelly sweat it out each year, with Cohn renewing their contract at the eleventh hour. This deception kept the insecure Stooges unaware of their true value, resulting in them having second thoughts about asking for a better contract without a yearly option. Cohn's scare tactics worked for all 23 years that the Stooges were at Columbia; the team never once asked for a salary increase – nor were they ever given one. It was not until after they stopped making the shorts in December 1957 that Moe learned of Cohn's underhanded tactics, what a valuable commodity the Stooges had been for the studio and how many millions more the act could have earned. Columbia offered theater owners an entire program of two-reel comedies (15-25 titles annually) featuring such stars as Buster Keaton, Andy Clyde, Charley Chase and Hugh Herbert, but the Stooge shorts were the most popular of all.
On May 7, 2015, a sequel was announced, with Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso all reprising their roles. Cameron Fay has been hired to write the script. Production is scheduled to begin in 2018.
On February 3, 2016, C3 announced a new action/adventure film titled The Three Little Stooges. It will star Gordy De StJeor, Liam Dow, and Luke Clark as 12-year-old versions of Moe, Larry, and Curly. The first film, which will set the foundation for Future films and television spin-offs, is set to begin production in November 2017, and expected to be released in Summer 2018. The screenplay was written by Harris Goldberg, with Sean McNamara set to direct. The film's budget is 5.8 million. On July 19, C3 began seeking crowdfunding to pay for a portion of the budget. In August 2017, they exceeded their minimum goal of $50,000.