Can you imagine what it is like to be the son or daughter of one of the Three Stooges, the most popular comedy team of all time? Paul Howard, son of Moe Howard, certainly knows that feeling. Along with his sister, Joan, Mr. Howard has truly embraced his Stooge heritage and speaks about those years on occasion.
The first time Mr. Howard entertained the notion of speaking was in 1983 at Northern Illinois University during “comedy week.” Author Steve Cox [e.g. One Fine Stooge: Larry Fine’s Frizzy Life in Pictures] graciously recalled how it all came together:
“Paul was one of the featured guests at Northern Illinois University’s ‘Comedy Week’ back in 1983 I think it was, and I’m happy to say I was a part of that appearance. I was helping one of the organizers of that event, even though I didn’t attend NIU.
“Emil Sitka, the Stooge’s longtime costar, was supposed to make the appearance but bowed out for some reason just weeks prior to the event. I suggested Paul Howard as a possibility. Paul was contacted in New York and agreed to do this even though he’d never done this type of thing before.
“On the night of the film festival, the auditorium at NIU was jam-packed with screaming Stooges fans waiting to see the shorts on the big screen. When the lights started to dim, the crowd started chanting and expecting the familiar theme song to start.
“Then, all of a sudden, Paul Howard’s voice broke through the darkness on the speakers and he calmly welcomed them to Comedy Week and without introducing himself, he said: ‘I can’t wait to tell you a few stories about my Uncle Curly, Larry Fine, and my father, Moe…’
“The crowd became unhinged, yelling and applauding. His intro was so perfect. They wanted to see this guy, Moe’s son, and they did. The audience of college age related to Paul beautifully.
“I think that Paul had an excellent time at that appearance—something his father had done a decade earlier with much fanfare. I also think it surprised him in a delightful way and may have illustrated to him first-hand just how popular his old man still was—and still is.”
Mr. Howard is a caricaturist today, but fortunately for us, he took time to discuss his family’s legacy. If you missed Part One of this interview [e.g. “Paul Howard, Son of Moe, Remembers Growing Up with the Three Stooges”], visit it here.
Otherwise, the chat picks up below as Mr. Howard discusses his dad, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita. However, some of his best anecdotes come when he focuses on his two famous uncles…Curly and Shemp. Those tidbits include seeing Curly away from the cameras, visiting a Stooge movie set, tall tales from Shemp, and going on the road with the team.
The Paul Howard Interview (Part Two)
How was each Stooge unique personality-wise?
- Moe Howard…Dad also was a devoted husband and father. He was like “Practical Pig,” of the Three Little Pigs. He built his life with “bricks” instead of “sticks”…with the strength of dedication. At times, Dad had trouble with communication on a personal level, but in between his commitment of touring the country and making eight “shorts” a year, he always found the opportunity to spend time with all of his family.
- Joe Besser…Unlike Curly Joe, for me Joe Besser had a very distinctive shtick. His “Stinky” character (in burlesque & TV) was very funny. But as a Stooge, there was something missing. But overall, he was a nice guy.
- Curly Joe DeRita…During the Curly Joe era, I had graduated from professional art school and moved to NYC. I didn’t get to know him well. But with my limited contact with him, I found him to be humorous and a gentleman.
Did you get to spend much time with Curly?
He didn’t spend much time around our house. And I rarely went to his, even though he lived right around the corner. Off-camera, he seemed to gravitate more to adults than to kids. But when we did interact, he was quite friendly to me.
How did Curly’s personality change post-stroke?
By my observation, Curly was like any extremely talented performer who had had a stroke. Before the stroke, on-stage he was outgoing and wild (keep in mind that even when he was an active performer, off-stage he was a laid-back guy.)
After the stroke, Curly was withdrawn and fairly incapacitated. But after his fourth (and successful) marriage, he lost weight and improved…then had a relapse.
I visited Curly after he became ill, but not often. An event I’ll never forget: Curly was near the end of his life, and I was about 16. I visited him in the hospital. He was severely affected by the stroke.
When I walked into his room, Dad was tending to him like a nurse. Curly turned his head and when he saw me, he tried to say something but couldn’t. Tears just rolled down his cheeks. It was a sad moment in the short life of a very talented man.
Which Stooge, besides your dad, were you closest to?
Shemp. He combined a rubber-faced friendliness with just being a nice guy, especially to kids. He could tell stories that fascinated me as a boy. And I’d bring my friends over, and he’d allow them to listen to his tall tales.
I remember one of his stories quite well. Uncle Shemp was in the US Army during World-War One. He once told me about a combat skirmish he was involved in with a German platoon in France. A “Kraut” bullet ricocheted off a rock and struck him on his shin.
It lodged there and was never removed. He wanted to keep it there to remind him of the dangers of combat and a symbol of his survival.
The reality was that it was a peanut-shell-sized cyst attached to his shin that he was born with, and he was too afraid to have it removed. Furthermore, Uncle Shemp’s active duty time was very short. He was discharged for being an uncontrolled…bed-wetter!
Uncle Shemp also couldn’t sit still in front of the TV while watching a prizefight. He’d bob and weave, grunt and groan when a boxer got hit. His greasy hair would fly when he received an imaginary punch. He was out-of-control, but boy, was he fun to watch!
Were you on the set during the shooting of any of their comedies?
Yes, a few times, as a kid. Once, when I was eight years old I was watching one particular scene where the Stooges were sailors, as spies on a Nazi ship [Back from the Front, 1943]. Suddenly a torpedo crashes through a wall and water splashes all over.
Curly says something like, “Oh, a shark!” and hits it with a sledge-hammer. The director called, “Cut!” The studio crew cleaned up and the same thing happened again. And then again. As an eight-year-old I couldn’t understand this “repetition.”
Did you travel any with the Stooges?
Once. In 1946, during summer vacation, I went with them to Chicago while they performed at Colosimo’s Restaurant. The most exciting part of that trip was that Shemp’s wife, “Aunt Babe,” went to the track and won the “Daily Double” and gave me $50! (Can you imagine what $50 meant to an 11 year-old, sixty-five years ago!?)
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! PART THREE of the Paul Howard interview, entitled “Speak to Me, Kid, Say a Few Syllables!” continues the tantalizing tale, including Paul’s candid take on the Farrelly Brothers ode to the comedy team.
The Complete Paul Howard (son of Moe) Interview: Links
- Part One: “Paul Howard Remembers Growing Up with the Three Stooges”
- Two: “Memories of Curly, Shemp, and the Three Stooges with Paul Howard”
- Three: “Speak to Me, Kid, Say a Few Syllables! Paging Moe Howard”
The Complete Larry Fine / Steve Cox Interview: Links
- Part One: “One Fine Stooge: Steve Cox Remembers The Talented Larry Fine”
- Two: “Caught in the Middle: Larry Fine Finally Gets His Due”
- Three: “Hey, Porcupine! Steve Cox Celebrates the Frizzy-Haired Stooge”
- Four: “A Smart Little Imbecile: Larry Fine Takes Center Stage”
- Five: “Only Fools Are Positive: In Conversation with Three Stooges Author…”
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© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Headlines with links are fine. In addition, posting any links to Twitter or Facebook is sincerely appreciated.