Do you remember watching The Three Stooges? If so, you’ll remember one of the stooges – Larry played by the late actor Larry Fine. Larry began his show business career as a violin player in vaudeville theaters.
But he became an icon of American comedy by playing Larry in over 200 short films, feature films, and TV episodes. His life is one that anyone can gain inspiration from.
But how did Larry Fine get his start in life? What was his journey to becoming one of The Three Stooges? And why did he sadly live out his final years in a wheelchair?
Let’s look back at Larry Fine’s life and career and remember his incredible legacy…
LARRY FINE’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Larry Fine was born as Louis Feinberg into a Russian Jewish family on October 5th, 1902, in Philadelphia. His parents ran a jewelry and watch repair shop where young Larry spent much of his time.
During his childhood, he had accidentally burned his arm with acid. This acid uses to test a piece of jewelry for its gold purity. Larry mistook the acid bottle for a drink and picked it up to drink it. Before he could drink the acid, his father knocked the bottle away and some of the acid burned Larry’s arm.
This caused severe damage to his arm and weakened his mobility. The muscles in Larry’s arm had become weak and this had taken its toll on his overall health.
His parents decided that he should take up violin lessons to improve his muscle strength. He took regular violin lessons and became incredibly proficient with the instrument. Larry fell in love with playing the violin and decided to become a professional violinist.
While still in his teens, he began performing violin in vaudeville theatres. He began working up the ranks of performing in vaudeville and soon began a prominent figure in the industry. By the time the 1920s came around, he graduated to becoming a Master of Ceremonies for vaudeville performances and live music performances.
In the mid-1920s, he served as Master of Ceremonies at the Rainbo Gardens in Chicago. It was here where he met Shemp Howard and Ted Healy. These gentlemen were prominent vaudeville figures and soon, they’d work together to create some of the most iconic characters in American comedy!
As the 1930s approached, Larry also began appearing in films. He had a small role as a Fireman in the film Soup to Nuts which also starred Ted Healy and Shemp Howard. Three years later, he had a small role in the short film Nerstery Rhymes and an uncredited role as a wedding singer in the feature film Turn Back The Clock.
But his big break was to come when he re-united with Ted Healy and Shemp Howard to create The Three Stooges…
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THE THREE STOOGES AND LARRY’S CAREER
In 1933, Larry Fine starred as a character also named ‘Larry’ in a short film titled Beer and Pretzels. This was the first time that the world was introduced to the show manager Ted Healy and the hapless Three Stooges.
The film follows Ted Healy and The Three Stooges who get thrown out of a theater due to Ted’s behavior annoying the ladies. They then get a job at a restaurant and all hell breaks loose due to their silly antics. The short film was a hit, and this was the launch of The Three Stooges.
For the next 37 years, Larry would appear in over 200 short, feature, and TV episodes featuring The Three Stooges. His role as ‘Larry’ is what made him a huge star and took him to heights that his career as a violinist couldn’t – though he did play the violin in a few of The Three Stooges productions!
While Ted Healy and The Three Stooges all became stars, Larry had a special place in the audience’s hearts.
Larry was the “straight man” among The Three Stooges. He was the middle brother of the stooges and remained in the role throughout his career – as the third stooge changed throughout the history of the troupe.
The character of Larry was much like Larry Fine himself. He was seen as a goofy yet affable fellow whom everyone loved. He acted in several short and feature films throughout 1933 – which was the year that he became a star.
A mention should be made of his few roles outside of The Three Stooges following his step into the limelight.
He and other members of The Three Stooges, as well as Ted Healy, often acted together and there were a few times when they played characters with different names. However, these characters were often heavily inspired by the Stooges and their unique acting style.
Larry Fine played a piano player named Harry in the feature film Dancing Lady. This was a hit romantic comedy musical that starred Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. While these were two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, this didn’t stop Larry and the other ‘stooges’ from also getting widespread attention.
He also starred alongside the stooges in the feature film Myrt and Marge where they also played a different version of their now-famous characters. This time, the stooges were ‘Mullin’s Helpers!’ This was followed up by playing The Three Julians in the 1934 comedy crime film Fugitive Lovers.
But it was clear that Larry Fine was best known as playing the character ‘Larry’ – one of the Three Stooges. He played Larry in several short films for the remainder of the 1930s. Most of his appearances with The Three Stooges were in short films with the occasional feature film – most notably Swing Parade of 1946 and the film Gold Raiders – released in 1951. The Three Stooges also made occasional TV appearances in their characters on popular shows such as The Ed Wynn Show and The Eddie Cantor Comedy Show.
They also each played a servant on one episode of the variety show The Frank Sinatra Show.
Larry also had a small role as a Fireman in the hit feature film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. In the 1960s, the troupe starred in their own TV show The New Three Stooges.
Larry Fine’s final acting role was in the TV pilot Kook’s Tour. In this pilot, The Three Stooges decide to retire. And as fate had it, this would be the time when Larry himself had no choice, but to retire from acting.
LARRY’S LIFE AND FINAL YEARS
Larry Fine lived a great life outside of his show business career. He met his wife Mabel in the early 1920s when he began his career in vaudeville.
She too was a performer in vaudeville, and they were married in 1926. They often went out and enjoyed the excitement that a life in show business promised. They often lived in hotels and didn’t settle into a house until the 1940s! Also, they enjoyed fine dining and had a rich social life.
One of Larry’s challenges was that he had a troubled addiction to gambling. He would often gamble huge sums of money at the horse races or even try his hand at playing gin-rummy. Often, this was to no avail and his gambling debts almost forced him to declare bankruptcy. He was also known to be generous with lending his money to other actors – never requesting them to repay him!
There were many harrowing events in Larry’s life as well. His son John died in a car crash at the age of 24 in 1961. Almost six years later, Mabel died of a heart attack – when she was only 63 years old. This left Larry and his daughter Phyllis who was in her late 30s.
Larry’s health began to decline shortly after his wife’s death. In 1970, while working on Kook’s Tour he suffered a stroke. This paralyzed the left side of his body and all of a sudden, his performing career had come to an end…
He spent his final years living in the Motion Picture Country House – a retirement community for professionals in the motion picture industry. His health had declined so severely that his paralysis traveled throughout his body.
He spent the last 5 years of his life in a wheelchair. While this was a sad state for Larry and for his fans, he still tried to entertain his fellow patients at the retirement community. During this time, he also spoke to writer James Carone who wrote Larry’s autobiography – aptly named Stroke of Luck. Even in this harrowing state, Larry Fine never lost his sense of humor.
He would occasionally get visits from fans of The Three Stooges and was always welcoming to them. He stated later in life that though working on The Three Stooges was hard work he was grateful for it and enjoyed it.
Sadly, he suffered a few more strokes throughout the early 1970s. He died on January 24, 1975, at the age of 72. While it’s been over half a century since we’ve lost Larry Fine, he’s still remembered as one of the greatest performers in American comedy!
Now, let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Larry Fine? Do you have a favorite episode of The Three Stooges?
In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:
Do you think that people still remember Larry Fine as one of the great comic geniuses of his generation?
Or does his legacy need to be revived for a new generation of fans?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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