Larry Fine (1902-1975)–Larry of The Three Stooges, was born Louis Feinberg in South Philadelphia, where his father and mother owned a jewelry shop. Larry’s childhood skills as a violinist were so impressive that he was asked to play professionally. A student at Southwark Grammar School, he soloed at a children’s concert at the Roseland Dance Hall.
While attending Central High School, at the time at Broad and Green Streets, Larry also played on the bill of local theater amateur nights and boxed as a lightweight fighter.
In 1921, Larry played violin, danced, and told jokes in Gus Edwards’ Newsboy Sextette. On the bill with him was Mabel Haney, who would later become his wife. She and her sister joined Larry in an act called “The Haney Sisters and Fine.” During one of their shows, in 1925 in Chicago, Larry was “discovered.” Ted Healy, Moe and Shemp Howard saw Larry performing the evening that Shemp told Healy that he planned to leave the act. Moe suggested that Larry could replace Shemp. Healy liked the idea and met Larry backstage, making Larry an offer that he accepted the next day.
This was the beginning of what would become The Three Stooges. The trio, Moe, Larry and Shemp, first opened on Broadway in “A Night in Venice” and later appeared in the comedy “Soup to Nuts” (1930). When the team left MGM in 1934, the Stooges were comprised of Moe, Larry, and Curly Howard. They went on to star in 2-reel comedies for Columbia Pictures, where they remained for 24 years.
Larry Fine suffered a debilitating stroke in 1970, thus putting an end to a comedy team that had lasted for almost 50 years. (The single most important factor that sets The Three Stooges apart from any other comedy team is their unequaled longevity.) He died in California on January of 1975, with Moe Howard soon following.
A large mural of Larry Fine appears on a wall at the busy intersection of Third and South Streets, at Jon’s Bar and Grill, near his birthplace in South Philadelphia. The effort to create a mural on that site began when the Philadelphia Weekly suggested that the city should somehow honor Fine. Dedicated on October 26, 1999, with Larry Fine’s sister in attendance, artist David McShane’s mural depicted Larry with his iconic dazed expression. In October 2005, McShane repainted a zanier Fine playing a violin. A sign reads “Birthplace of Larry Fine.”
On October 15, 2009, the Associated Alumni of Central High School in Philadelphia inducted Larry Fine in the illustrious school’s Hall of Fame, even though he never graduated. A member of the Central Alumni Hall of Fame Committee stated: “Many people are not even aware that Mr. Fine was a Philadelphian and that is a part of what we’re trying to do.”
It’s worth noting that replacement Stooge Curly-Joe DeRita (1909-1993) was also born in Philadelphia. Of French-Canadian and English ancestry, his real name was Joseph Wardell. Though DeRita had worked in Hollywood for several years, it was his 12-year association with The Three Stooges that brought him fame. He joined the Stooges in 1958 as “Curly-Joe” and is sometimes called “The Last Stooge.”
Says director Norman Maurer, “He was the best Curly replacement the Stooges ever had. Joe was great on adlibs. He was like Curly in several respects, with his weight and his ballet-like grace despite his weight. Joe could do a little shuffle–not quite like Curly–but just as graceful, and it was hard to believe a guy that big was doing it.”
You might visit the Stoogeum, the world’s first and only museum of Three Stooges memorabilia, in the Gwenedd Office Park off Route 309 in Gwenedd Valley, Pennsylvania. Containing some 100,000 pieces of Stoogeabilia, the place offers fans a chance to view a vast array of artifacts which celebrate the legacy of this legendary comedy team. The Stoogeum has served as the headquarters of the annual convention of the Three Stooges Fan Club, first held in 1987. Formed in 1974, the club has always been based in the Philadelphia area and brings together Stooges’ devotees from around the world. With 2,000 members worldwide, The Three Stooges Fan Club is one of the nation’s oldest and largest.