The Three Stooges may not seem very culturally relevant today, but they ‘soitenly’ were for the better part of the 20th century. The vaudeville and comedy team were active from 1922, when they got their start as Ted Heeley and his Stooges. To 1972, when they made their last short subject film. Their unique brand of slapstick humor featured in 190 short and feature-length films produced by Columbia Pictures.
Throughout that 5-decade run, six actors portrayed Stooges, although only three ever active at any given moment. Moe Howard and Larry Fine were mainstays throughout the comedy trio’s history. The third Stooge would initially played by Shemp Howard, then Curly Howard.
After Curly left the comedy team, Shemp Howard would take another turn as a Stooge before Joe Besser called in to replace him. Besser was by far the least popular actor to ever hold the Stooge title. But his contributions are still historically significant. The sixth and final Stooge was ‘Curly Joe’ DeRita, who replaced Besser for a new Stooges series and feature film.
Several attempts have made to revive The Three Stooges franchise in the last several decades – the most notable reboot of the once-beloved franchise being the Farrelly brother’s 2012 Three Stooges film. While that film considered to be a box office success. And a sequel is rumored to in the works, fans of The Three Stooges don’t consider it to be canon. As such, we’re not going to consider the actors who played the title characters in it as official ‘Stooges’ in this video.
While we could easily devote several facts-packed videos to covering the life and times of each actor who played a Stooge over the years. Today we’re going to be discussing these actors’ significant others. Join us as we take some time to look at the astonishing real-life wives of what just might be the most iconic and influential comedy trio of all time.
Moe Howard’s Wife – Helen Schonberger Howard
Moe Howard married Helen Schonberger on June 7, 1925. Interestingly, Schonberger was the cousin of the world-famous illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini.
The year after the couple tied the knot, Schonberger convinced Howard to retire from performing after discovering that she was pregnant. Howard went on to attempt to make an honest living working a series of ‘normal jobs’, but found very little success. Eventually, he returned to working with his old buddy Ted Healy.
Moe and Helen had two children together, Joan Howard who was born on April 2, 1927 and passed away just last year on September 21, 2021. And Paul Howard, who was born on July 8, 1935 and is still alive as of writing this.
Shemp Howard’s Wife – Getrude Frank
Shemp and fellow New Yorker Gertrude Frank married in September of 1925. They ended up having one child together, Morton, who was born on February 26, 1927, and passed away on January 13, 1972.
Getrude remained married to Shemp for over 30 years and ended up outliving both her husband and son. She was still alive when she got to witness her cousin Barney Frank become a US Congressman in 1981. A year later on May 17, 1982, Frank passed away at the age of 77.
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And don’t go anywhere just yet. Keep watching to learn all about the remaining 4 Stooges’ wives.
Larry Fine’s Wife – Mabel Haney Fine
Larry and his wife Mabel met in 1922 while they both working in the vaudeville scene. They married four years later in 1926. As a married couple, they had a very busy and full social life. Each Christmas they would serve up a lavish midnight dinner to all of their family and friends.
Being an ever-agreeable person, Fine was what some people call a ‘yes man’. This carefree approach to life, unfortunately, carried over to his personal finances. Fine was a pretty lousy businessman and would often frivolously spend his money as soon as it was in his bank account.
He developed a severe gambling addiction which led him to squander away most of his money at card tables and racetracks. Genuinely good-hearted – perhaps to a fault – Fine would regularly give money to struggling actors without ever asking for repayment.
Due to the mismanagement of his funds, after Columbia stopped producing Three Stooges films in 1957, Fine was nearly forced into bankruptcy.
Due to Fine’s wasteful approach to money management and his wife Mabel’s disdain for housekeeping, Larry and his family lived in hotels. His daughter Phyllis was raised at the President Hotel in Atlantic City. The Fine family would later move to the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.
Fine and Mabel didn’t have their own house to live in until the late 40s, when they purchased a home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA.
On November 17, 1961, tragedy struck the Fine family when their son. John, was killed in a car accident at the age of 24. Their daughter Phyllis died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 60.
Mabel sadly died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 63 on May 30, 1967. When he got the tragic news that his wife had passed. Larry was on the road about to perform a live show at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Rhode Island.
He promptly flew home, leaving the other two Stooges on their own to improvise the remaining leg of the tour.
Curly Howard’s Four Wives
Haward’s first marriage was to Julia Rosenthal whom he exchanged marriage vows with on August 5, 1930. That marriage ended in divorce just five months later before Howard achieved fame as one of the Three Stooges.
He married his second wife, Elaine Ackerman on the 7th of June, 1937. Howard and Ackerman had one child together, a daughter whom they named Marilyn. The couple filed for divorce the following year in June of 1940.
After that marriage fell apart, Howard put on quite a bit of weight and developed hypertension. He also became very insecure about his shaved head, thinking that it made him unattractive to women. He would even say that he felt like a little kid with his hair shaved off as it was. No doubt fueled by his insecurities, Howard developed a drinking problem and started wearing hats while out in public to project an image of masculinity.
The son=in-law of Moe, Norman Maurer, would note that Howard was a push-over when it came to women. If a beautiful lady came up to him with some kind of sad story or spiel, Howard would marry her immediately, only for her to run off with his money.
Throughout the Second World War, when the Stooges were entertaining servicemen nearly constantly. This non-stop work schedule took a heavy toll on Howard’s health. At the end of each workday, he would spend his evenings out at nightclubs where he would eat and drink in excess while spending all of his earnings on his vices. He was on the verge of bankruptcy when Moe stepped in to help him learn how to manage his finances and file his taxes.
Moe eventually convinced Howard to find himself another wife, hoping that he would finally settle down. More than anything, Moe wanted his friend’s health to improve.
After dating for two weeks, Howard married Marion Buxbaum on the 17th of October in 1945. That marriage would once again be short-lived as just nine months later, they had already divorced. The divorce proceedings were rather bitter. Matters were made worse by the constant sensational media coverage which effectively worsened Howard’s already feeble health. Two weeks after the divorce was finalized in July of 1946, Howard suffered a massive stroke that ultimately ended his career.
In July of 1947, Howard married his third wife, Valerie Newman. The following year, Newman gave birth to a daughter whom they named Janie. Newman and Howard remained married until Curly’s death on January 18, 1952.
Joe Besser’s Wife – Ema Kay
Besser and Kay, who was born Ernestine Dora Kretschmer, got married in 1932. Before she married Besser, Kay worked as a dancer.
The couple didn’t have any children but remained married until Besser’s death in 1988.
Besser and Kay were neighbors and good friends of Lou Costello of the famed Abbott and Costello comedy team.
Joe DeRita’s Two Wives
Curly Joe’s first wife was a chorus girl named Bonnie Brooks. The two got married on July 13, 1935. They remained happily married until Brooks’s death on September 6, 1965.
DeRita married his second wife, Jean Sullivan, a year after Brooks passed away, on December 28, 1966. While they never had any children of their own together, Sullivan had two children from a previous marriage, Earl and Robert Benjamin.
Sullivan remained by DeRita’s side until his death on July 3, 1993.
Finding lasting love in show business is never an easy task. Most Hollywood marriages end in disaster, so it’s not very surprising to learn that some of the actors that played The Three Stooges over the years struggled to keep their marriages alive. That being said, quite a few of the Stooges eventually found partners that would stick by their side until their deaths.
Did you know that there were six actors who played the Three Stooges throughout their 50-year run? Which Stooge was your favorite? Let us know in the comments.
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