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The Fourth Stooge: Memories Of 'Uncle Shemp'
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The Fourth Stooge: Memories Of 'Uncle Shemp'



This weekend, The Three Stooges once again make their way to the big screen. Modern day versions of Larry, Moe and Curly pull off classic Stooge moves: pokes in the eye, slaps on the face and falling over just about everything. What you will not see is the fourth Stooge.

NPR's Sue Goodwin calls him Uncle Shemp.

SUE GOODWIN, BYLINE: In the world of Stooge fans, most everyone has their favorite. For me, there's no doubt about which one it is.


SHEMP HOWARD: (as Shemp) No. No. No. You are too fortissimo, too allegro, too Cointreau.

DEE GREEN: (as Miss Dinkelmeyer) Oh, is that bad?

HOWARD: (as Shemp) It ain't good. You're supposed to be singing about the voices of spring, not the eruption of a volcano...

GOODWIN: That's Shemp Howard, playing a voice instructor in the 1947 film "Brideless Groom," one of many films he made with The Three Stooges. Their madcap antics and bruising physical humor made them a box office hit from the earliest days of film. Think slapstick, extreme edition.

In this film, called "For Crimin' Out Loud," Shemp drinks some poison and responds in classic Stooge style.


HOWARD: (as Shemp) I never felt better in my life. I'll never forget that...


GOODWIN: First, he's yanking hair off his head.


GOODWIN: Then he's bouncing up and down on the couch.


GOODWIN: And finally, he's jumps off the couch, does three full body flips, landing flat on his back each time.

Shemp was one of the original Stooges, along with his brother Moe Howard and Larry Fine, they played the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s in an act called "Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen." To his fans, Shemp was a goofy looking master of wisecracks and quick-witted improv. To me, he is Uncle Shemp, great uncle to be exact. Shemp married the love of his life, my father's Aunt Gertrude. Dad's family hit a rough spot when he eight, so Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Shemp took him in as one of their own.

BILL GOODWIN: Well, I remember once he came home with a black eye. And I asked him what had happened and he told me - I forget which one - Moe or Larry that did it. But he accidentally got hit very hard when he was supposed to, you know, not get hit hard. It just happened in slapstick comedy.

GOODWIN: My dad, Bill Goodwin also remembers when Shemp was proud to be promoted as The Ugliest Man in Hollywood. He was also known for his humility and kindness. In the midst of the Depression, Shemp could always be counted on for a loan. As film began to take over vaudeville, Shemp left the trio to pursue a successful career in Hollywood. The act went on with another Howard brother, Curly.

When Curly fell ill, Shemp returned until he died in 1955. I was born too late to meet him, but I can't remember a time when I didn't know about Uncle Shemp. Just being related made me feel a little bit famous myself.

WERTHEIMER: Our own Sue Goodwin, she's the executive producer of NPR's TALK OF THE NATION.

This is NPR News.

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