Shemp Howard, a Forgotten Stooge
A Boomer’s quest for Stooge history, the golden key of nostalgia
The author of “Much More Than a Stooge: Shemp Howard,” Geoff Dale, offers an overview of this lesser-known comedic actor who counts “The Three Stooges” among one of many accomplishments.
To capture the essence of a Baby Boomer, one only need explore his or her inert creativity, innovative passionate drive for life, the sense that age is but a number, and then mix it with a generous nostalgic longing for that better bygone era.
Add to those inviting ingredients a simple trio of words – The Three Stooges – and one has assembled the classic Baby Boomer model.
For me, a writer with 51 years experience and an author, it was a bonus knowing no one had ever written a book about the so-called Forgotten Stooge – Shemp Howard. Everyone knew about Curly, Larry, and Moe but little of him.
A century has passed since superstar of the day Ted Healy laid roots for the comedic ensemble back in 1923. Yet of the 40+ Stooges tomes penned over the years, nary a one was written about diverse physical comedian and top notch ad-libber Shemp.
In addition to younger brother Moe, other entertainers like Lou Warren, Sam “Moody” Braun, Bobby Pinkus, Freddie Sanborn, and others were onboard as Healy stooges, but it was Shemp who was the true constant in those early years.
Shemp had made it all his way to the entertainment pinnacle – the Great White Way – as part of an ensemble team under Healy in “A Night in Venice” and “A Night in Spain.” Both enjoyed impressive stays delighting Broadway audiences.
Guided by respected publisher Ben Ohmart and his eclectic company BearManor Media, my task was set. Carve out a slice of comedy history writing the first book on the original member of the world-famous slapstick trio The Three Stooges.
Discovering Shemp Howard
Born Samuel Horwitz on March 11, 1895, he was recognized as the family’s natural comedian. His quirky name came from his mom’s pronunciation of Sam as she called him home for dinner. With her distinct Lithuanian accent, it sounded like Shemp.
While always demonstrating his considerable skills as an integral part of comedic teams – whether under a towering Healy or alongside Stooge associates Moe and Larry – he also succeeded in a solo career boasting roles in 105 “known” films.
There he shone brightly on the silver screen with superstars of the Golden Age of Hollywood like John Wayne in “Pittsburgh,” James Stewart in his uncredited movie debut in a Shemp short “Art Trouble,” provided drinks and chuckles with W.C. Fields in the classic “The Bank Dick,” and worked his magic with Martha Raye and others in Olsen and Johnson’s surrealistic masterpiece “Hellzapoppin.”
As a bogus Indian Fakir in “Murder Over New York,” he reduced Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan to giggles; stole the spotlight from witty, debonair William Powell (“Another Thin Man”); hit his mark with Bert Lahr and Jack Haley before they found fame as a Lion and Scarecrow in the “Wizard of Oz,” and was a recurring player in five Abbott & Costello films.
Somewhat reluctantly, Shemp returned to the Stooges fold when Curly was stricken by a series of strokes. While it was to be a temporary arrangement, it became permanent after his brother’s untimely death at the age of 48.
A happy family man with wife Getrude (Babe) and son Mort, Shemp willingly stepped back from further individual fame, returning to the Stooge fold in place of ailing brother Curly – a move that ultimately saved the trio from an early demise.
Boomers shouldn’t be surprised, but Gen Xers, Millennials, Zoomers, and even those from Generation Alpha will be delighted to learn Shemp is still remembered and admired by present-day followers.
Those include the likes of:
- Ultra-Shemp fan Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller
- The late, great comedic actor Gilbert Gottfried
- Quick-witted monologist Paula Poundstone
- Actor/stand-up comic Robert Klein
- The legendary 97-year-old star Shecky Greene
Accolades for Shemp
“One of the funniest men in the business…” – Lou Costello’s partner Bud Abbott
“He was such a greatly, gifted actor/comedian.” – The thinking person’s TV talk show host Dick Cavett
The 396-page book features introspective peeks at Shemp’s personal life with wife Babe and son Mort, spotlighted by numerous photos along with marvellous illustrations by famed illustrator Drew Friedman and original artwork from Tristan Yonce and Darin McGowan.
For those curious Boomers and later generations, “Much More Than a Stooge Shemp Howard” is available through a variety of outlets including my publisher BearManor Media, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, the official Three Stooges store Shop Knuckleheads, Walmart.com, and many others.
As an Amazon Associate, Boomer Magazine earns from qualifying purchases of linked books and other products.