Friday, January 15, 2010
The Three Stooges: A Personal History
If you're male and grew up anytime between the 1950s and 1980s, the Three Stooges were a part of your regular television viewing. The Stooges--meaning Moe, Larry, and Curly, no other incarnation matters--were usually on your local independent station at 3pm--just after school. In my neck of the woods, it was probably WCIX Channel 6. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, independent stations were a veritable dumping ground for classic A and B movies, cartoons, movie shorts, memorable and obscure TV shows, and the late and lamented "Late Night Movie" often hosted by a local TV or radio "personality." In looking back, it was a bountiful treasure trove. Whether or not I naturally gravitated towards ancient pop culture or was just brainwashed by local programming directors is up for debate, but I like to think that I just loved old shows.
But back to the Three Stooges-- they were an institution. Moe, Larry, and (especially) Curly were here before me, and will be around long after I'm gone. My grandfather loved them and my dad watched them whenever possible. I remember the family driving to my grandparents' house one weekend in 1978 or so and WCIX's audio signal was on the far left side of the radio dial. So we got to hear the Stooges poke each other's eyes out as we pulled up into the driveway. Much to my mother's chagrin--I'll avoid the "Women Hate the Stooges" topic.
The Stooges were every bit a part of a kid's TV habits as cartoons were. Curly's genius was every bit as brilliant as Bugs Bunny's. The guy seemed like he was from another planet, not a Vaudeville veteran. And most of my friends watched them, too. And as much as we liked the boys' antics, we never once gouged each other's eyes out or crunched one another's skulls in an industrial-strength vise; though I'm sure it was tempting in our sillier moments. I'll sheepsishly admit that as a kid, I believed that the Stooges, with their rooming together and drifting from odd job to odd job was how all bachelor men were supposed to live. Your buddies were more important than any old gal, right? And even in the stories where the boys have wives, the six of them all shack up in some dump, with the wives badgering them to get decent jobs instead of sleeping in all day while they, the women, worked. What role models!
When those local stations were absorbed by media conglomerates, fare like the Three Stooges were only found on "Superstations" and then just as quickly, bounced from everyone's TV schedule, at least here in Miami. It would be more than a decade before I'd see them crop up on AMC--formerly "American Movie Classics; now "A Million Commercials"--hosted by Leslie Nielsen. I hadn't seen or even thought about the Stooges since their ignominious departure from local television and wondered if their brand of comedy still resonated. It did, but as an adult, I picked up on the then-popular references and witty one liners. The slapstick was still great, too. I was relieved that something from my childhood didn't look awkward and stupid (Dif'rent Strokes and Galactica 1980, anyone?). So when the DVDs came out a couple of years ago, it was wonderful to see the boys uncut and with "politically incorrect" humor intact.
In viewing the Three Stooges today, it's amazing how well the stuff holds up. The boys are nothing less than brilliantly timed, sound effects dubbed perfectly, and "special effects" which while not better than your average backyard production, are meant to be funny. Every time I see the credits for a Stooges short, I think to myself, "Grown men thought of this!"
And for the record, my all-time favorite Three Stooges short: 1937's Three Dumb Clucks.