We Interview Three Stooges Expert David J. Hogan about the Upcoming Movie and all Things Stooges

Recently I spoke with David J. Hogan about the upcoming Three Stooges movie and all things Stooges. David is a Stooges expert and author of Three Stooges FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Eye-Poking, Face-Slapping, Head-Thumping Geniuses.

I want to thank him for answering our questions and to Jaime for arranging the interview for us.

How did you get into the Stooges and become an expert on them?

Like a lot of Baby Boomers, I became a second-generation Stooges fan when the boys’ shorts (two-reelers) were sold to television by Columbia in the very late 1950s. Over the years, my interest in film grew. I’ve worked in Los Angeles as an entertainment journalist (spent many hours on film sets and locations), and have written three other film-related books besides THREE STOOGES FAQ.

(I’m at work now on another.) Published hundreds of film reviews and articles in various magazines for more than 35 years. Along with all of that, I guess my interest in the Stooges, and in the finer points of comedy, continued to grow and evolve.I struck up correspondences with Moe Howard and Larry Fine in the early ’70s, and began to watch their films very closely, from a fan’s perspective, and from that of a film & cultural historian.

What are your thoughts on the new film as well as the casting choices?

The very idea that the Farrelly Bros. would even attempt a new-version Stooges film is ballsy–and I give them credit for it. From what I can judge after seeing the trailers, the principal casting looks pretty inspired. I like the fact that none of the actors are established stars. Audiences will be better able to buy them as the Stooges than if some earlier casting notions, such as Sean Penn, had been pursued.

Since slapstick is considered a faded form of comedy, to what to you attribute the continued appeal of the Stooges?

I disagree that slapstick has faded. The term itself is a little antiquated, but there’s been no lack of outlandish physical humor in movies of the past 30 years. The Stooges’ continued appeal has to do with a lot of things: the boys’ impeccable professionalism (I never saw any of them turn in a lazy performance), their wonderfully individuated personas, the contributions of hugely experienced comedy writers and directors, the boys’ physicality and sheer enthusiasm, the slickness provided by Columbia, a large studio–and the fact that we still call these comics, who reached their peak as middle-aged men, and who continued to work into their golden years, the boys!

Who is your favorite Stooge, your least favorite, and why?

Larry is my favorite. He had that great look, of course, and although he seldom instigated action or was the center of attention, he was a great reactive comic who knew how to keep a scene moving. He never purposely stole a scene but he was always doing something amusing, often the middle-ground or background: leaning asleep on a piano, arranging Shemp’s hair (for no good reason), or just making horrified faces as the other boys are going at each other. I also get a kick out of the way Larry could put on a look of injured indignation when he felt Moe had done him wrong.

I have no least- favorite Stooge from the two-reel years of 1934-57. Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, Joe Besser–each was unique and came to the act after many years of stage experience. I will put in special plugs for Shemp, who was one of screen comedy’s greatest ad libbers, and for Joe, whose mastery of the “priss” character never fails to put me on the floor.

The feature films of the late 1950s and ’60s aren’t up to the standard of the shorts. Joe DeRita was the “third stooge” in those, and although he came into the act at the eleventh hour, and had to work with inferior material, his experience and physicality helped pull him through. Kids certainly enjoyed him.

Who and what makes you laugh amongst modern comedians, films, and shows?
Today I laugh at comedy that offers something fresh and unexpected. TV’s Big Bang Theory delivers on that account. I also get a kick out of the Christopher Guest satires (Best in Show, etc.) and a comedy like Anchorman, which defies audience expectations, goes a step further than you’d think possible, and gets away with it. And sharp wit counts for a lot, too, as on Tina Fey’s amazing 30 Rock.

What would you say are some of the least know facts about the Stooges on and off screen?

The Stooges always had a professional manager, but Moe was the de facto day to day manager, and was keenly interested in the business side of the act. Not surprisingly, he ended up with a mansion that overlooked Sunset Boulevard.

Larry was an incurable clothes horse and loved to play the ponies. For decades, he and his wife lived in L.A.’s beautiful Knickerbocker Hotel, where they allowed themselves to be pampered with room service and other amenities.

Curly’s greatest enthusiasms were dogs and women. Before he joined brother Moe in the Stooges, Curly did a stage act as the comic conductor–with a mustache and full head of hair–of a full orchestra.

Shemp was one of the original Stooges but left to pursue a solo career. He was hugely successful, and co-starred opposite such giants as W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello. Shemp didn’t return to the act until 1947, after brother Curly fell ill.

Joe Besser also had a very successful solo career, before and after his two-year tenure as a Stooge. He became a big hit as Stinky, the rotten little kid, on Abbott & Costello’s TV show in the early ’50s.After leaving the Stooges, Joe continued on as a solo, and even did dramatic parts, such as a show business manager opposite Marilyn Monroe in the 1961 romantic drama, Let’s Make Love. (No, Joe wasn’t involved in the romance.)

Joe De Rita, like Shemp and Joe Besser, starred in his own series of Columbia two-reelers before becoming a Stooge.

Finally, some general stuff: The boys filmed their shorts during about 40 weeks of every year. The rest of the year belonged to them, and they used it to go on tour across the country. They were well paid for their shorts but made their real money while touring. And after the shorts went to TV and the Stooges picked up a whole new generation of fans, their personal-appearance fees went through the roof. In the early 1960s, for instance, a supermarket promoter paid them $25,000 for an afternoon’s work.

If you could be any Stooge for a week, who would it be and why?
If I could be a Stooge for a week, I think I’d like to be Shemp, because everybody would think I was incredibly clever.

Shemp was such a great storyteller that big stars who saw him in restaurants demanded to be seated near him, so they could listen in to his stories.

What are your favorite Stooge films and shorts?

Favorite short with Curly: Hoi Polloi (1935), in which a professor wagers that he can take “three men from the lowest strata of society” and teach them to be gentlemen. Uh oh.

With Shemp: Brideless Groom (1947), in which Shemp is besieged by former girlfriends who discover he has to get married within hours or lose a fat inheritance.

With Joe: Outer Space Jitters (1957), in which the Stooges accompany a scientist to the planet Sunev, where they discover electrically charged schemers who want to take over Earth with atomic zombies.

I’m less fond of the boys’ feature-length comedies, but the one I like best is Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), a cute sci-fi spoof that doesn’t have one of those inane and bothersome romantic sub-plots that cluttered up the later features.

What are your expectations for the film and future Stooge projects?

I love the Stooges as much as anybody, but I’ll say this: When I saw the trailers for the new film, I laughed. A lot. I expect to be entertained. If the film is a hit, we’ll surely see more. In the meantime, all the boys’ original shorts and features are available on DVD.

Check out David’s book here.