Living down the block from school as a kid in the late 1950’s and early 60’s enabled me to come home early enough to catch some quality afternoon tv for children. This was before the era of do-gooders trying to offer diversity-based educational stuff like The Electric Company or Sesame Street. We did have early education staples such as Ding Dong School with Miss Frances and Romper Room (“I see Jimmy and Mary and Bobby”) but a lot of it was electronic babysitting.
School let out at 3:15pm and I’d rush home in less than ten minutes to watch the last half hour of the Three Stooges Shorts show on WGN-TV Channel 9 Chicago hosted by Bob Bell. He’d suit up as a worn-out but likable old watchman at a run-down vaudeville theater. It was his job to keep us interested and not change the channels or forget to come back the next day and watch again. Bob went on to lasting fame on local television as the main star of the hit lunchtime Bozo the Clown Show. It was the flagship production for more than thirty years in Chicago. Twenty-five years later, Dan Castellaneta , a native of Oak Park, created the voice of Krusty the Clown for The Simpsons by admittedly mimicking Bob Bell’s Bozo.
Although Bob was the anchor that encouraged kids to return daily to watch the Three Stooges short films, it was the comedy trio that was the real attraction. Everyone had their favorite among Moe, Larry, Curly and later Shemp. There was something to be said for each although Larry probably would come up with the lowest vote count.
Curly was the most natural comedian of the bunch- surely the most inventive. Just looking at Shemp made you laugh. But, for me, Moe was the essence of the Stooges. He had something more than the others- pathos. The other two numbskulls would be caught in a no-win situation with him. It was usually their mock outrageous behavior in response to getting the short end of the stick that made our bellies hurt from laughing so hard. With Moe, there was that exasperated plea for sympathy. Without that, I think most of us would have treated them as silly and gone on to other interests as we outgrew childish habits.
More than fifty years later, we still go along for the ride and watch their frantic episodes. Not even the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello nor Laurel and Hardy have such staying power.
I had a chance to watch them once again as I had so many years earlier when they made a comeback in popularity on Saturday night Chicago television. I would visit with my father five to six nights a week when he was confined to a nursing home for the last seven years of his life. Each Saturday night, we would sit there in his room and watch the Stooges. It was difficult for Dad to express emotion because they had him taking anti-depressants that they thought he needed. He really didn’t because he knew that Ma and I would be there practically every day to spend time with him.
In one Stooges short, Curly was given a pill to swallow by a nurse. He goes through the motions but as soon as the nurse leaves the room, he slips the pill hidden underneath his tongue out of his mouth and does his patented nyuk, nyuk. Dad almost fell out of his wheelchair laughing so hard. I told Ma and she mentioned that he had perfected the same trick on numerous occasions.
The two Stooge episodes that stuck in the recesses of my irreverent mind were the classic World War Two vintage “Niagara Falls” bit and the 1937 Cash and Carry. I believe the second dealt with the boys seeking their fortune in what they thought was a gold mine and along the way they tried to help a young lady and her sick brother. This was one film that did a good job of realistically portraying the down-and-out despair many Americans experienced during the Depression. It ended with a scene in the White House with the trio saluting President Roosevelt and promoting a positive look to the future.
Moe always seemed to wear well that tough guy, heart-of-gold bravado that Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney parlayed into Academy Awards. Maybe if he were three or four inches taller, he could have had his chance in feature films. The term “stooge” referred to the bumbling idiot on stage who would make the star look better by comparison. Moe and the boys were nobody’s fools but their own.