February 26, 2018


(CBS, January 28-March 18, 1978)

Hanna-Barbera Productions, Norman Maurer Productions, Inc.

Paul WinchellMoe, various
Frank WelkerCurly, Narrator, various
Ross Martin – Agent 000

            The Three Stooges were a vaudeville and comedy team known for physical farce and slapstick. The act began in 1922 as “Ted Healy and His Stooges” (aka “Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen” and “Ted Healy and His Racketeers”). The titular Ted Healy was joined by Moe Howard and, a few months later, his brother Shemp. Violinist-comedian Larry Fine joined the act in 1925. Their primary routine would have Healy attempt to sing or tell jokes with his assistants, the Stooges, constantly interrupting him resulting in his angrily retaliating with physical abuse.

The original act: Larry, Moe, Shemp and Ted.

            Their big break came in 1930 when they starred in Fox Film Corporation’s film Soup to Nuts. Although the film was a flop, the Stooges were regarded as the highlights. Fox wanted to sign the Stooges to a contract without Healy, but Healy held to the fact that they were his employees and the offer was withdrawn. When the Stooges learned of the failed offer, they broke off to form their own act as “Howard, Fine & Howard” or “Three Lost Souls.” Because their routine remained essentially the same, Healy attempted to stop their act with litigation and personal threats. After failing to find suitable replacements, Healy came to an agreement with the Stooges that reunited the act.

Title card for Columbia's Stooges shorts.

            After Shemp, tired of dealing with Healy’s abusive attitude, left to pursue a solo career in 1932, Moe’s other brother Jerry joined the act as the shaven-headed “Curly.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed the act to a year-long contract and they appeared in a number of films for the studio. When their contract expired in 1934, the Stooges and Healy parted once again. Now known as The Three Stooges, they signed on with Columbia Pictures with an annual contract. Within the first year of Columbia-produced shorts, the trio became extremely popular; a fact that escaped them for their two decades of employment as Columbia president Harry Cohn deliberately kept them in the dark in order to keep them loyal to the studio and hesitant to renegotiate for better pay.

The actual Fake Shemp: Joe Palma standing in and looking away.

            The Stooges appeared in 90 shorts and 5 feature-length films for Columbia. Curly became the breakout member of the ensemble due to his childlike mannerisms and comedic charm. Unfortunately, Curly’s insecurities about his appearance led him to compensate with an unhealthy lifestyle that finally took its toll with a debilitating stroke in 1946. Curly eventually died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1952. Shemp reluctantly returned to the act as a temporary replacement so as not to jeopardize Moe and Larry’s careers. Shemp ended up staying for nearly a decade until his own death of a sudden heart attack in 1955. Joe Palma would fill in for Shemp where needed in the final four films contracted by Columbia, leading to the term “Fake Shemp” (covering up the fact an unavailable actor is replaced in a production by a body double). Needing a new Stooge, Columbia outfitted the act with one of their other contracted talents: Joe Besser. Despite his own prolific career, Besser proved an ill fit with the rest of the act and his shorts were often considered the weakest of the team’s library.

Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.

            With the market for short films having dried up, Columbia decided not to renew their contracts in 1957 and closed their shorts division; leaving the Stooges to become solely a traveling stage act. By the end of their tenure with the studio, the Stooges had appeared in 190 shorts. With the rise of television during that decade, movie studios had a new place to air their backlog of short films leading to the revival of once popular franchises. In 1958, Screen Gems, Columbia’s television subsidiary, offered a package of 78 Stooge shorts primarily from the Curly-era. The shorts were well-received, leading to the entire catalogue of shorts being released for airing by the end of 1959. Playing on the popularity of the Curly shorts, new Stooge Joe DeRita shaved his head to accentuate his slight resemblance to Curly and adopted the stage name of “Curly Joe.” During this era, Moe’s son-in-law, Norman Maurer, became their manager and a producer on most of their future projects.

            The Stooges experienced a revival in the 60s, becoming one of the highest-paid live acts in America. They starred in six full-length feature films and appeared in two others, while also making regular appearances on various television programs. Although their two initial attempts at a television series failed, the Stooges finally got their own show with the animated series, The New 3 Stooges. Produced by Cambria Productions, the syndicated series ran for a year and 156 cartoons. The Stooges also recorded 40 brand-new live-action wraparounds for the show. Because those live segments were reused for the entire run of the series, viewers tended to tune out thinking the show was a rerun causing the ratings to plummet and the show to be cancelled. While filming another pilot for another potential series in 1970, Larry suffered a paralyzing stroke that ended his career. Attempts were made to continue on with a replacement Larry and new projects, but ultimately the Stooges ended with the 1975 deaths of Larry and Moe. The final Stooge performance was Kook’s Tour; an unfinished pilot episode edited by Maurer into a 52-minute film.

Model sheet from the first Stooges episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.

            Maurer went on to have a career in the animation industry, working primarily for Hanna-Barbera Productions as a writer. One of the series on which he worked was The New Scooby-Doo Movies and wrote their two Three Stooges episodes. Maurer attempted to resurrect a failed cartoon pitch of his involving the Stooges called “Super Stooges”, which saw the Stooges as superheroes (and was also done as an episode in the previous cartoon). The resulting cartoon ended up becoming The Robonic Stooges.

The Robonic Stooges.

            The Robinic Stooges (either a play on robot/bionic or robot/moronic) reimagined Larry (Joe Baker), Moe (Paul Winchell) and the original Curly (Frank Welker) as crime-fighting robots in a similar vein to Inspector Gadget. Meant to be the most perfect inventions imaginable, they just so happened to possess the personalities of three bumbling nitwits. The Stooges were secret agents working under the leadership of the much-suffering Agent 000 (pronounced “Oh Oh Oh”, voiced by Ross Martin). They took on a variety of spies and monsters using various gadgets built into their bodies, such as extending limbs and rocket skates, often with hilarious results.  The insignias on their chests also served as openings to a storage compartment inside their body where they pulled even more items from. Interestingly enough, Besser, who was working for Hanna-Barbera at the time, wasn’t asked to participate in the series.

            The Robonic Stooges originally aired as a segment of The Skatebirds from September 10, 1977-January 21, 1978 on CBS. While the show proved a ratings flop, the Stooges segments garnered the most attention out of the bunch. When CBS cancelled The Skatebirds, the Stooges were quickly spun-off into their own series with fellow Skatebirds segment Woofer & Wimper, Dog Detectives (whittled-down episodes of Clue Club focusing on the dog characters) to air the remaining episodes. The new show debuted on January 28, taking over The Skatebirds timeslot along with reruns of Speed Buggy. Each episode featured two Stooges segments with a Woofer & Wimper in between. Maurer wrote all of their adventures as well as produced the show. Hoyt Curtin served as the show’s composer, carrying over from The Skatebirds. Welker provided the show’s introductory narration during the opening theme.

Nobody makes a monkey out of them! Except themselves...

            Parents weren’t thrilled with letting their kids be exposed to the kind of mindless buffoonery found in Stooges episodes and the ratings suffered. After the final episodes aired, the series went into reruns before being booted off by the new season’s schedule. Just a few short years later, the Stooges experienced another popularity surge as their routines began to receive critical recognition and were released on home video. When Turner Broadcasting acquired the Hanna-Barbera library and created their own all-cartoon cable channel, Cartoon Network, the Robonic Stooges found a brief second life. Individual segments were often shown as interstitial segments during the Boomerang programming block (before it was spun-off into its own channel). 

These are the episodes that aired as part of the separated Robonic Stooges show without the Clue Club segments.

“Bye Bye Blackbeard / The Silliest Show on Earth” (1/28/78) – The Stooges have to stop Blackbeard’s robbing of ships at sea. / The Bongo Brothers look for revenge on the circus that fired them.

“Mutiny on the Mountie / Woo Woo Wolfman” (2/4/78) – After being fired for his pranks, Pierre le Sly looks to ruin the reputation of the Mounties. / Count von Crankenstein accidentally merges himself with a dog while looking for revenge on a local village.

“Burgle Gurgle / Schoolhouse Mouse” (2/11/79) – Professor Hate steals the yachts of millionaires. / Mouse Louse takes over a junior high school with his Hypno-Harp.

“Rip Van Wrinkles / The Three Nutsketeers” (2/18/78) – When Curly accidentally makes a cake with sleeping powder, the Stooges end up sleeping until the year 2070. / The Stooges have to step in for the Musketeers to stop Cardinal Poreleau’s coup of France.

“Pest World Ain’t the Best World / Superkong” (2/25/78) – Robotic outlaw Yulesinner takes over a western-themed amusement park. / Aristotle Beastly uses a 20-story gorilla to commit his crimes.

“Dr. Jekyll and Hide Curly / Three Stooges and the Seven Dwarfs” (3/4/78) – Dr. Jekyll Hyde creates another side of himself to get revenge on the Stooges. / An evil queen puts Ebony Black to sleep to prevent her from finishing her castle that would compete with her own.

“Blooperman / Jerk in the Beanstalk” (3/11/78) – Unable to meet Blooperman’s demand for a raise, Agent 000 sends the Stooges to keep him from joining up with evil. / Curly accidentally causes a beanstalk to grow and envelope the city.

“Star Flaws / Stooges, You’re Fired” (3/18/78) – In the future, Galacto uses a laser to erase the cities of Earth in his plan for conquest. / Agent 111 tires of the Stooges’ bumbling and holds a trial to decide their fates.

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