Friday, May 07, 2010

More Moe

For everyone who read Friday’s post about driving Moe Howard and wanted to hear more, here’s more.

I wish it had been more memorable. I wish he had poked me the eyes while driving or threatened to “murderize” me. But he just acted…. Normal. He sprinkled in a few Yiddish words in the conversation. I have no memory of him ever saying “farklempt” in any of his films.

A couple of fleeting impressions that stayed with me:

I picked him up at an old duplex around Olympic and La Cienaga (if you have any idea where that is). It was a modest, primarily Jewish neighborhood in mid-town. He was living with his daughter. Or maybe he was just visiting his daughter but I definitely didn’t pick him up at a house. I was a little surprised. If anyone deserved to live in a giant Beverly Hills mansion it was a Stooge.

I also remember that he didn’t complain about being chauffeured in a three-year-old economy car. This was not the case with Zsa Zsa Gabor. “You’ve got to be kidding, darling!” was I believe what she said.

The only two things I can recall from our actual en route conversation:

1) Television made them more popular than they ever had been. When their shorts starting airing on TV in the late 50s they became a national sensation. That never happened during their heyday. Probably because the bulk of their work was in ten-minute shorts and not full-length features but they never received the acclaim and respect that say Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers enjoyed. I got the feeling he really relished the long-overdue appreciation.

2) Curly was a real ladies man. And he was always my favorite Stooge before!

Last thing I remember. His hair was grey by then and he wore it combed back. But just before he was to go on camera he combed it forward and there was that familiar bowl-cut.

It was nice to read all of your comments and see that others who have met him also found him to be lovely and gracious. I got the sense he really cherished the love he got back from the young fans of my generation and that thrilled me because for all the joy and laughter he brought us, it was the least we could do.

22 comments:

Steve B. said...

Great Moe info!

BTW, someone on the previous post mentioned the Tom Bergeron story. He not only did interview Moe, but also recorded it for his high school radio show. He found the tapes recently, and played them on the Howard Stern Show. Here's a sample:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-sItuwCK_s

Walt Mitchell said...

Walt Mitchell said:

At the time you were driving Moe, he lived at 9061 Thrasher Avenue. I don't know exactly where that is, but that's the address to which I wrote letters to him, over a span of more than 10 years. When I made my first trip to Hollywood from my lifelong home in Central New York State, I wrote ahead to ask if I could meet him. While in L.A., I called his home with the number he had sent me. He asked where I was. I replied, "I'm at the Holiday Inn on Figueroa Boulevard." He said, "That's too far to take a cab to my house. Meet me at the apartment of my partner, Larry Fine, in Hollywood." He then called Larry and cleared it with him, then verified everything with me. Sure enough, the next morning between 11 and noon, I was face to face with both of them as they kindly gave me a half-hour private interview plus a wonderful visit. They had never seen me before (Larry didn't know me at all), but the whole time they treated me like I was a friend they'd known for decades! I will remember the date August 23rd, 1969, for as long as I can remember ANYthing!
(wm62676@yahoo.com)

normadesmond said...

sweet.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

A bit over 20 years ago I was at an antiques and collectibles show in Seattle and someone was selling a canceled check Moe Howard had written to the L.A. PBS TV station. I think they wanted $15 for the check. I passed because I didn't collect autographs but I sure wish I had it now.

Walt Mitchell said...

P.S. to my post above: Both Moe Howard and Mel Blanc (who knew each other--their sons were college fraternity brothers)had at least one important trait. Each man was so appreciative of his fans that he answered all of his fan mail--with letters written in his own handwriting! I only met Moe and Larry that one time. But later, my best friend and I obtained a similar private interview with Mel, from which I wrote a 50-page article about his life and performance venues. From that piece, we became close friends with Mel, who always treated us like visiting royalty! That friendship lasted through Mel's remaining 11 years! As for Moe Howard, I was a bit startled to read the last sentences of one of his early letters to me: "This is all I have time for now. I have to answer 40 letters by the weekend." WOW!!!

Bob Claster said...

Come on, let's be real here. They may have been lovely guys, but no way were they deserving of the sort of acclaim given to the Marx Brothers, or even to Abbott and Costello. The Marxes were geniuses. The Stooges poked each other in the eye a lot.

den parser said...

I have a question if his hair is original.

gih said...

Bond, James Bond...

Ref said...

Thanks, and thanks to the other posters for their stories.

Ref said...

...And I don't recall anyone saying they were geniuses. They were a group of guys who worked hard in a cutthroat business and never really got the financial returns they deserved based on the people they entertained. Two of them died young before they could see success. Despite that, their (Moe and Larry)inherent gentility overcame any bitterness they may have felt and they ended up in a a mutual bond with legions of fans. That kind of story is nice to hear.

MrEd said...

Billy Idol said it best - "In the midnight hour, she cried Moe Moe Moe"

I grew up with the Stooges on Icky Twerp's Slam Bang Theater here in Dallas. I was always a bit intimidated by Moe. Curly was my favorite. If he wasn't on the show, it was always a letdown (AKA a "Shemp" day").

Michael said...

I'm not going to pretend the Three Stooges were in the genius league. But they worked hard at what they did and provided a lot of entertainment, and always were treated--as most non-superstars then were--badly by the studio. I also have read that Moe really was the serious and responsible one, that Curly was too busy chasing women and Larry was too busy gambling to concentrate on the business end of things.

This also makes me think of Stan Laurel, who is not sufficiently recognized for his genius. Dick Van Dyke said when he moved to Hollywood he kept asking how he could meet Laurel and nobody seemed to know. One day he idly picked up the phone book and ... there he was. He called, went over, and wound up delivering the eulogy at Stan's funeral.

John said...

Moe did do a few of the final Stooges shorts (the Joe Besser ones) in the late 1950s with his hair combed back, so he probably had been itching (so to speak) to get away from the full-time bowl cut look for a while.

Kirk Jusko said...

The Three Stooges had crack comic timing. It was the material they had to work with that was wanting.

Maybe if George S. Kaufmann had written for them.

Todd said...

Thanks for Mo' Moe, Ken.

You turned not much to remember into a nice remembrance.

Todd

P.S. I found it particularly touching that a guy who made a name for himself by being so gruff onscreen turned out to be such a softie.

I wonder if that's even possible anymore, given the glare of media and fan attention?

D. McEwan said...

"Bob Claster said...
Come on, let's be real here. They may have been lovely guys, but no way were they deserving of the sort of acclaim given to the Marx Brothers, or even to Abbott and Costello. The Marxes were geniuses. The Stooges poked each other in the eye a lot."


At last, sanity! The Emperor is wearing no clothes, and The Three Stooges were not gifted comics, let alone geniuses.

"Ref said...
...And I don't recall anyone saying they were geniuses. They were a group of guys who worked hard in a cutthroat business and never really got the financial returns they deserved based on the people they entertained."


Yes they did, because until television, that number of "people they entertained" was quite small. Their theatrical shorts existed to drive people to the lobby to buy popcorn, cokes, ANYTHING to not have to watch them. They stayed employed at Columbia for so long not out of popularity, but because they were cheap. They were VERY lucky.

" Michael said...
This also makes me think of Stan Laurel, who is not sufficiently recognized for his genius."


"If anyone deserved to live in a giant Beverly Hills mansion it was a Stooge."

Stan Laurel lived in a small apartment in Santa Monica his last years. "If anyone deserved to live in a giant Beverly Hills mansion it was" STAN LAUREL, who was roughly 5,000,000,000 times the comic genius Moe Howard ever was. If an apartment was good enough for Stan, it was too good for Moe.

"Kirk Jusko said...
Maybe if George S. Kaufmann had written for them."


Oh please. George S. Kaufmann couldn't have been bribed to slum that far down. There's a reason why there are volumes full of Groucho's sparkling correspondence with the great literary lights of his age, just as there's a reason why there is no such corresponding book featuring the letters between Curly Howard or Larry Fine and George Bernard Shaw or TS Eliot. (Moe was too busy writing to children backward enough to like his films.) It's one thing for Kaufmann to write a brilliant quip, only to have it replaced on the day of the shoot by an ad-lib from Groucho Marx; it's another thing entirely to for Kaufmann to write a superb quip, and have it replaced by Moe Howard with "Why I oughta....", especially when the reason Moe gives is "I didn't get your fancy-pants joke."

"1) Television made them more popular than they ever had been. When their shorts starting airing on TV in the late 50s they became a national sensation. That never happened during their heyday. Probably because the bulk of their work was in ten-minute shorts and not full-length features but they never received the acclaim and respect that say Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers enjoyed."

Vastly more popular. They weren't "popular" before. That they did shorts isn't the reason. That they did bad shorts is the reason. Laurel & Hardy were HUGE the world over based on 20 minute shorts.

When they hit it big on TV, they started doing features. Their features did not increase their respect, because they are, like their shorts, ghastly and unwatchable if you're over 10. I remember when they first hit TV. I asked my mother who the hell they were. She made that face that women make when you mention The Three Stooges. She was right.

Joe Besser thought his year with the Stooges was a come-down gig. After all, he had worked extensively with Abbott & Costello, who were a Cadillac next to the broken-down comedy jalopy that was the Stooges. He was very surprised in his later years to find his most-lasting fame (with some. To me he is always, first and last, Stinky, the over-40-years-old little brat who lived down the hall from Abbott & Costello on TV. "I'll harm you!") came from his one year as a Stooge.

(My too-long reply continues below)

D. McEwan said...

(Part 2)

"Ref said...
Two of them died young before they could see success."


Who? Curley, who lived to be 49 (But spent many years incapcitated by a stroke), or Shemp, who died at 60? Dying young is something that happens in your 20s or 30s. Shemp's non-stooge career is the interesting one. He worked with WC Fields, Abbott & Costello, Olson & Johnson, Wheeler & Woolsey. He's in some great comedies, like The Bank Dick and Buck Privates, a claim that can not be made for Moe. He worked with some great actors, like John Barrymore and William Powell, before Curley's stroke forced him back into the Family Business he had escaped years before, and sidelined his career into crap for the rest of his life.

When they hit it big on TV, I got to see them perform live (with Curley Joe, of course) on stage. No sound effects. Without sound effects, they were just three old, old men, hitting each other. Even at 10, this was too stupid to entertain me.

Was Moe a swell old guy in person? You bet. He could tell an anecdote with the best of them. And he knew a lot about surviving in the business. But he's simply not worthy to share pages with the likes of Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers, or WC Fields.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

You've flogged that horse before, Doug, but I'm unconvinced. I've loved the Stooges since the first time I saw them on TV and still laugh at their antics. Ditto L&H and the Marx Brothers (all of whom were in lousy movies, BTW).

Dwacon® said...

Didn't he live on the appropriately named THRASHER LANE ???

Baylink said...

What an interesting collection of comments.

:-)

For whatever, it seems to me pleasant to hear that at least they knew they had an audience, however much Doug's not impressed by its taste, and that they appreciated it; so many current day performers -- even one's as bad as Doug thinks the Stooges were -- don't.

And I believe it's "verklempt", Ken.

Dwacon® said...

I am ferschmoyle by verkakte haters of the Stooges.

Julie Evans said...

Whenever someone like D. McEwan criticizes the Three Stooges, especially in such a vitriolic and spiteful manner, it just makes me love them even more. (I also think Mr. McEwan's sneering comment about Moe writing to 'backward children' offensive and unnecessary, but that's by the by.) A big thank you to Ken Levine for his warm and generous article about chauffeuring the genius Moe Howard in his car. Moe, Larry, Curly et al will always have legions of fans who understand their brand of comedy. Bitter critics like D. McEwan can slate Moe and his colleagues all they want, but they will never, ever be as loved as the Stooges are, or remembered for so many years after they are gone. Which is fitting, I think. God bless you Moe Howard, and thank you!