Young Joe, The Forgotten Stooge

Joe Besser: The Three Stooges Think it’s not easy to replace a legend? Try having to stand in the shadows of two successive legends. It’s a hazardous experience that some manage to pull off (Jim Rice playing left field for the Boston Red Sox after Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski) and some don’t (Gary Cherone following David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar as Van Halen’s lead singer). A cinematic example of this dilemma can be found in the rotund form of veteran stage and screen funnyman Joe Besser, who was tapped in 1956 to join Moe Howard and Larry Fine as one-third of the Three Stooges and co-starred in the team’s final 16 two-reel comedies for Columbia Pictures.

As evidenced in a poll featured on this site, Joe’s tenure with the slapstick trio is hardly held in the same regard as those of the two men he replaced, Moe’s brothers Curly and Shemp. Most fans, in fact, consider the Besser era beneath their notice, and non-fans (as well as self-confessed aficionados like Howard Stern) often wind up confusing him with ’60s member “Curly Joe” DeRita. With this week’s debut of the Farrelly Brothers’ The Three Stooges (in my biased opinion, less an homage than an act of cinematic grave-robbing) and Sony/Columbia’s planned June release of The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection–featuring all 190 Stooges shorts as well as examples of Besser’s pre-Stooges solo work–it’s a good time to ask if the Moe, Larry and Joe teaming truly deserves its bad reputation.

First, for those non-fans out there, some background is in order. In 1934, Moe, Larry and Curly split with straight man Ted Healy–who brought the boys in to serve as his “stooges” in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in the movies–and signed with Columbia to star in their own two-reelers. That line-up remained stable for 12 years and nearly 100 shorts, until a debilitating stroke on the set forced Curly to retire from the act (he would die in 1952). Older Howard sibling Shemp, who left the team to work solo in the early ’30s, came back in 1947 to join Larry and Moe for over 70 films. In November, 1955, however, Shemp would pass away from a heart attack after attending a boxing exhibition. Still owing Columbia four pictures for the coming year, Moe and Larry considered working as a duo, then opted to finish them with stock footage and actor Joe Palma, his back to the camera, as a stand-in Shemp. When the time came to find a new third member, the search didn’t have to go any farther that the studio’s own short subjects department and the dressing room of one Joe Besser.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1907, Besser caught the show business bug early. At age 12, he  followed renowned stage magician Howard Thurston by stowing away on a train (and sleeping on top of a lion cage!) and wound up joining the act in Detroit. When his attempts at legitimate legerdemain led to failure, young Joe became Thurston’s comedic foil. Striking out on his own in 1923, Besser found success on vaudeville circuits across the country, where he would crystallize his persona of a petulant and easily exasperated man-child who would cry out “Not so haaarrrd!” and “You crazy, you!” at those who annoyed him. He also caught the eye of  popular funnymen Olsen and Johnson, who hired him to join their latest frenetic Broadway revue, Sons of Fun. Columbia executives noticed Besser, and he made his big-screen debut in 1938′s Cuckoorancho, the first of 11 solo shorts he’d star in for the studio. Joe could also be seen in several features, from 1944′s Hey, Rookie! with Ann Miller and the Bud Abbott/Lou Costello 1949 film Africa Screams (which counted Shemp Howard in its cast) to the 1950 Rock Hudson costume actioner The Desert Hawk. His long friendship with Bud and Lou won Joe a recurring role on their 1952-54 TV series The Abbott and Costello Show as Stinky, a bratty kid dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit (no one back then apparently questioned a man in his late 40s playing a child).

Joe Besser1So it was that Besser, with decades of experience and a well-established character, would sign on with the Stooges in early 1956. Things were going to be different from the team’s heyday, though. First, the budget for Columbia’s shorts department was smaller, which meant more remakes of older films and more use of stock footage. For another, the fellas were getting up in years and weren’t able to take all the slaphappy mistreatment of days gone by. Joe, in fact, had a stipulation in his contract that kept Moe or Larry from “slapping or causing him bodily harm” (he later said that Larry told him, “Don’t worry. If you don’t want Moe to hit you, I’ll take all the belts.”). And the madcap storylines of their ’30s and ’40s films were toned down to more closely match the style of  the TV situation comedies that were coming into vogue. Larry and Moe even changed their distinctive hairstyles in several of the Besser shorts, combing them back in a less wild manner that befit their older appearances.

The revamped trio’s first effort, 1957′s Hoofs and Goofs, found them playing siblings trying to cope with their late sister Birdie’s reincarnation as a horse…a horse about to have a foal, at that! Someone at Columbia found this horseplay amusing, because they shot a follow-up short, Horsing Around, later that year. Among the other films they made in ’57, the boys tracked down Joe’s fiancée’s stolen engagement ring in Muscle Up a Little Closer; they played three sets of triplets, with a string of confused wives and girlfriends, in the trick photography spectacle A Merry Mix-Up; they went into the cosmos with two different mad scientists (Benny Rubin and Stooge regular Emil Sitka, respectively) in the sci-fi spoofs Space Ship Sappy and Outer Space Jitters; the Curly short Idiots Deluxe was recycled as Guns A-Poppin; and Rusty Romeos reworked the Shemp comedy Corny Casanovas (you can even see a tabletop photo of Shemp in a stock shot).

The repetition continued in 1958′s output, as Joe reprised Curly’s roles in Pies and Guys (based on Half-Wits Holiday) and Oil’s Well That Ends Well (Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise). The fellas played adopted “children” in Quiz Whizz; reunited Besser with his French wartime sweetheart in Fifi Blows Her Top; help Joe’s sister Tiny get over her stage fright in Sweet and Hot; and had one more “close encounter”–well, Joe did, even if no one believed him at first–in Flying Saucer Daffy. The fellas’ final two shorts,  the remakes Triple Crossed (He Cooked His Goose with Shemp) and Sappy Bullfighters (Curly’s What’s the Matador) reached theaters in 1959, more than a year after Columbia had shut down its short subjects branch and given the boys an unceremonious goodbye. Okay, so much for background.

Joe-Besser2So, what was so terrible about the Joe Besser Three Stooges shorts? Obviously, the frenetic, anything-goes pace of the ’30s Curly era films was gone, with the boys playing in mostly domestic situations that often seemed to take place in the same apartment. Joe’s rather prissy persona, as the one who would get on Larry’s and (especially) Moe’s nerves, also rubbed fans the wrong way. What worked during his Stinky stint with Abbott and Costello, apparently, didn’t come across with the Stooges. That said, the interaction between the trio was perhaps better than it was at times with Shemp, who was also used to working solo. Muscle Up a Little Closer and Fifi Blows Her Top, along with the first two space comedies, had some fine sight gags (Joe’s trying to ship a crate of eggs in Muscle Up, for example) and wordplay that made them stand out (I, for one, always liked Larry’s throw-away plug in Outer Space Jitters when he tells the audience “And don’t forget to see [Columbia's] Pal Joey, folks.”). With more original stories and fewer remakes, the Moe-Larry-Joe combo might have had a chance to stand out more, but due to money constraints and the series’s imminent demise we’ll never know.

After the Stooges were given the gate by Columbia, the sudden popularity of their earlier shorts on TV in the late ’50s renewed interest in the act, but Joe begged off a planned personal appearance tour to look after his ailing wife. Moe and Larry would convince roly-poly comic Joe DeRita, another Columbia veteran who was briefly considered as Shemp’s replacement, to join them for their ’60s small-screen and feature film renaissance…but that’s another story. As for Besser, he’d eventually get back into acting, with turns in movies starring the likes of Bing Crosby (Say One for Me), Marilyn Monroe (Let’s Make Love) and Jerry Lewis (The Errand Boy, Which Way to the Front); TV guest spots and a recurring role on The Joey Bishop Show; and even cartoon voice work for Hanna-Barbera (Jeannie, Yogi’s Space Race). It was Joe who represented the team when the Stooges finally got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1983, and he continued to welcome fan mail up until his death in 1988.

While his 1984 autobiography was originally entitled Not Just a Stooge, Besser later changed it to Once a Stooge, Always a Stooge, and of his time with the beloved knuckleheads he said, “I’m glad I did join the Stooges and I have never regretted it.”  Three Stooges devotees shouldn’t regret it, either.

  • BRIAN

    He had a bit in Woman In Hiding(1949)
    Ida Lupino,Steven McNally,Howard Duff,etc
    Good Film Noir

  • BRIAN

    Also had bits in
    Outside The Wall(1950)
    I The Jury(1953)
    Helen Morgan Story(1959)

  • Bare

    Anyone who came after Shemp is best forgotten as a Stooge.

  • John

    They should’ve stopped after Shemp as they were too old by then for slapstick. This is not a dig at either Joe but there’s something sad about senior citizens engaged in such foolishness-remember the latter-day Lucy?

  • FCB

    Being a long time fan of the Stooges,I always loved the ones with Curly. Shemp was never a fave,could always spot him in movies(a Charlie Chan movie stick out in my mind) but Joe Besser was a hoot,Moe could never get the best of him….if your a true Stoogist give the man his props

  • David J. Hogan

    By the time he came to the Stooges, Joe Besser was an experienced, very talented comic actor. This seems to be forgotten in discussions that ultimately revolve around the question of whether one cares for his on-screen persona. Besser was a thorough pro, and on that score alone he deserves our compliments. As for his tenure with the Stooges, we have to keep in mind that he had nothing to do with the shorts’ diminishing budgets and shooting schedules, or the ever-more liberal use of stock footage. I find him completely delightful with Moe and Larry, and three of the Besser shorts–FLYING SAUCER DAFFY, OUTER SPACE JITTERS, and SPACE SHIP SAPPY–are terrific sendups of the then-current science-fiction craze. Joe makes me laugh.

    John’s comment about the boys’ ages is thoughtful, but what it misses is that the Stooges–unlike a lot of other comics–never were dependent on youthful innocence for their appeal. Harry Langdon, Jerry Lewis, and a lot of other comics graded on that, and seemed a little lost as they grew older, but the Stooges only grew funnier as they morphed into late middle age. Their carryings-on only became funnier.

    And thanks to FCB for his kind remarks about Joe.

  • John Roach

    Hi Gary Cahall! After watching the last chronological volume of The Three Stooges I found myself laughing out loud at “the new stooge” and his interactions with the “regular stooges”. I found Joe to be a pretty funny guy when removed from the glare of Curly and Shemp. A very nice article about him too. I enjoyed it very much.

  • Chazz

    As a youngster growing up in the 40,s, the Three Stooges were Moe, Curly and Larry. Their antics and talents were the best.
    To say that Shemp or Joe Besser were less funny would not be fair.The chemistry was different. Curly was the best in my mind, but I never got tired of watching the boys…………whatever the combination.

  • Charlie Miller

    Joe Besser, while a good comedian in his own right, just was not a Good “fit” with the Stooges. He always seemed that he would rather do it by himself.I pitied Moe and Larry for having to do those shorts, but the “show must go on.” Shemp was great, so was Curly-Joe, but in the end, give me Curly, Curly and more Curly. Not Joe Besser!

  • Sky

    I always liked Joe Besser, even as a Stooge, but I feel that the series was weary by the time he arrived, thus appearing limp as compared to the earlier films. I wish circumstances allowed him to stay with the Stooges during their renaissance. Nothing against Joe De Rita the performer, but I just never cared for him as a Stooge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000774489675 Ted Okuda

    Thanks for the even-handed assessment of Joe Besser’s Stooge shorts. Many dismiss all of these later efforts, but there are some underrated and pretty funny entries in this group.

    The Besser Stooge shorts weren’t released in the order they were made, so while HOOFS AND GOOFS was the first one issued, MUSCLE UP A LITTLE CLOSER was the first one produced. (In MUSCLE, there’s even a reference to their new hairstyles.) Modifying their appearances was a novel experiment, but it also made them look less zany and more “normal.” Plus, as producer-director Jules White told me, they couldn’t use those altered hairstyles for the shorts that relied heavily on stock footage from the earlier films.

    Some Stooge fans resent Besser’s alleged unwillingness to take his fair share of the slaps and hits. This has been blown way out of proportion; all one has to do is view the films to see that Joe certainly took his lumps. What Besser wanted no part of was hazardous stunts, which is understandable. His concern stemmed from an accident that occurred during the filming of MUSCLE UP A LITTLE CLOSER, in a scene where Moe ignited Joe’s (padded) rear end with a flame thrower. As Moe lowered the flame thrower, the cuff of Joe’s pant leg caught fire. (This bit is in the film–watch how Larry quickly steps in to help Joe.)

    For the record, SAPPY BULL FIGHTERS was the last Stooge short released. But the last one produced was FLYING SAUCER DAFFY, one of the better Besser efforts and a satisfying way to conclude a remarkable output.

  • jim

    He was a great Actor.

  • John “You Crazy, You!” Field

    Most 3 Stooges Fans have this utter hatred towards Joe Besser. Joe came in to the Stooges at a very difficult time. Shemp Howard, beloved brother of Moe had unexpectedly died. Shemp had replaced the ailing Curly Howard, the most popular of the three funnymen. Moe had known of Joe and was happy that he agreed to join the team. Most fans feel that Joe’s sissy character that he had created years before joining the team didn’t quite “Fit in” with the already established style set forth by Moe & Larry. I disagree and am very thankful that we have 16 additional shorts to watch. In fact, OILS WELL THAT ENDS WELL’57 is one of my all time favorite in the 198 series of films. Now a personal story that should shed some light as to why Joe left the boys in 1959. Joe was married to a woman who was just more then slightly protective of her husband’s well being. Ernie Besser made it clear that she did not like the violent slapstick that Moe doled out to his partners. She insisted that Joe quit the team in order to avoid personal injury! And timid Joe, in order to save face, made up a story that his wife was ill and needed his full time care. When my friend Mark Lyons and myself visited Joe and Ernie back in the 80′s right after the Stooges had received their much deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Joe related this story to us both. Ernie was in the other room. Joe explained his leaving the Stooges story to us and then lowered his head and said very seriously, “She cost me Millions!”.

    • simgershon@aol.com

      Hi John, please contacrt me. I would like to discuss your comment. simgershon@aol.com

  • Pratha Scullion

    This was a nice,well written article.I’ve seen virtually all of the original Stooges shorts,most of the ones with Shemp in them and many with Joe DeRita and Joe Besser in them.While it wouldn’t be fair or right to say that one was ‘better’ than the other,I agree with what some of the other viewers have said — that the fit or chemistry just wasn’t there as it was in the original Stooges shorts.It’s hard to replace an original — in fact,it CAN’T be done! I’m glad though that they continued on for as long as they did — they enjoyed it and so did their fans! Be thankful that we have the films that we DO have!

  • deborah

    i loved all the stooges. they made me laugh

  • Eve

    Anybody have a copy of the short, ‘Cuckoorancho’ (Columbia;1938), or know from where I can obtain it?

    evedemian@verizon.net

  • Cody

    Joe is by far the most underrated stooge, yeah sure, he replaced the funniest stooges but the hate that Joe gets is very underserving. I thought Joe was pretty funny and did a good job at what he had to work with. I actually liked him better then Curly Joe, who didn’t seem to even try to be funny.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Gary Cahall

    Sorry, Eve, but “Cuckoorancho,” like Joe’s other Columbia shorts, has never received an official home video release. Now that Columbia is joining Warner and other studios in releasing video-on-demand titles, perhaps somewhere down the line they’ll do a collection of Bessser’s shorts, along with other comics like El Brendel, Andy Clyde and Hugh Herbert. You can check at http://www.moviesunlimited.com.

    • simgershon@aol.com

      The Joe Besser shorts are here. Check out The Three Stoogesrecent release by Columbia Studios of all his shorts except Cucaroochoo

  • David

    I think Joe’s a fine comedian and find his Stooge comedies easier to take than the last dozen or so with Curly. Curly’s illness overtakes all else with me and, because of that, he just can’t seem to get out of second gear. Actually, it’s certainly to Larry & Moe’s credit that they had 4 different ‘Third Stooge’ performers and adapted to them all. None tried to copy from the others’ all were distinctively different and were right for their time. The Stooges in the 60′s weren’t the same as in the 30′s and there was no way they COULD be. However, the Larry, Moe, Curly-Joe trio was more subdued and I enjoy them. They WERE older, after all, and just couldn’t do the same shtick anymore.

  • Blair Kramer.

    I remember being surprised to see Joe Besser play a small part in the 1971 Jerry Lewis film “Which Way To The Front?” I guess he and Jerry were pals because it wasn’t the first Jerry Lewis film in which he appeared.

    • simgershon@aol.com

      They were friend. Check out Joe Besser’s autobiography. He was a gag writer for Cinderfella and had a bit part int ehErrand Boy as well as Jerry’s Tv Show.

  • Wayne

    Yes, I thought this blog was a reprint since had remembered reading the original when it first came out…its always tough following a legend…youre judged by an at least highly subjective standard based on the previous actors support, in addition to a critical comparison and how you do yourself in the same role may be the last criteria counted, but its all that should be!

  • Chris Mattson

    THE TOP THIRD STOOGE WAS CURLY JOE ( DE RITA)  I JUST HAD TROUBLE GETTING INTO JOE (BESSER) AND JUST THOUGH SHEMP WAS TOO MUCH LIKE MOE. I LOVED THE STOOGES BUT THE LINEUP HAD TO BE MOE, LARRY AND CURLY JOE. I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE UPCOMING NEW STOOGE MOVIE.

  • Maxfabien

    I was never amused by Joe Besser’s schtick. As a boy I remember watching him on Abbott&Costello’s tv show, and even then, I didn’t think it was funny. That whiny little boy act wears thin very quickly. And the whiny adult man even quicker. That was his only act, except for a brief appearance in the Marilyn Monroe film “Let’s Make Love”, in which he played it straight as an adult man with an adult mind and attitude. I love the Stooge films with Curly the best, even the latter ones. Second comes the ones with Shemp, which have a few gems among them (“Join hands you love birds”!!!!!), Third is Curly Joe who makes no attempt to imitate Curly but holds his own in all the full length feature films. But I just can’t watch any of the shorts with Joe Besser. He seems to have been a prima donna who wanted to make it all about him. In actuality, when making the Stooges films he would refuse to do them unless his demands were met.  He even refused to take a pie in the face.

    • simgershon@aol.com

      You obviously did not see the short with Joe and the the stooges Pies and Guys

  • chuckdb

    I thought Joe Besser was much better than Curly-Joe.  Didn’t think Curly-Joe was funny.  I enjoy the Stooges with Joe Besser, but it was tough to follow Curly and Shemp.  I have pre-ordered the Ultimate Stooges and await the June release.  I have always wanted the Stooges in my film library. 

  • Johnsmall_1

    Besser deserves to be the “forgotten Stooge.” His work with the group was awful, and teh stuff he did with Abbott & Costello wasn’t much better.

  • Zolok

    I always thought Joe Besser (like Shemp Howard) did his best work solo. I’ve seen some of his solo two reelers, they are pretty good IMHO.

  • Ofug

    I have my preferences, which agree with the majority, but I don’t feel right dissing Besser or De Rita.  “The Two Stooges” wouldn’t have worked, and when picking a replacement, they did the best they could.  I wish Curly could have been around for the feature films; “The Thee Stooges Meet Hercules” and “Have Rocket Will Travel” were my favorites.

    I was a kid in the late 50s, and I think I understand why the last 2 generations of kids grew up to be moody and depressed–they didn’t have the Stooges to make childhood fun.

    • Skybar2012

      I agree about not dissing them. I like Joe Besser but felt his shorts were sub standard. Also his not wanting to get slapped had short circuited many of the zany moments that could have continued in the classic Stooges style. With all due respect to Joe DeRita, I just didn’t find him funny.

  • Aldanoli

    I have to agree that Joe Besser was an underwhelming replacement for either Curly or Shemp (and I also agree that the new movie is itself much more of a joke than any “funny” lines you might see when it’s actually playing — the trailer quickly convinced me to stay away).  Besser’s “not so HARD” catch phrase was merely annoying when he wasn’t working with the Stooges; with a trio known for slapstick, it was downright paradoxical (he had a clause in his contract that he was never to get hit while with the Stooges), and the effect was apparently that Larry Fine instead got more than his share of the head-knocking, which may have helped contribute to the stroke that *he* suffered in the 1970s. Joe De Rita was a far better replacement, not only because he was willing to participate in the general mayhem that the group was known for . . . but also because he bore such a striking resemblance (pun intended) to the original Curly Joe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OCBND5C6EE5EVPF4CKVELWQOQ4 tomas moray

    Good story, thanks for writing it.  Curly rules, Shemp was okay, the rest were poor substitutes.  How could anyone ever replace Curly?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathleen-Lemm/1235521331 Kathleen Lemm

    Joe Besser was a very different character that’s for sure.  He did offer some funny bits.                    “Not so haaaard……” always made me chuckle. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Bees/648400542 Rich Bees

    I grew up in Philly watching “Pete’s Gang” on Saturday mornings.  Pete was Peter Boyle’s dad and had, in addition to his personal peanut gallery, a great collection of 3 Stooges and Little Rascals which were endlessly mined for our amusement.  Feel bad that the guys never got royalties and Larry died in a home for retired actors (they don’t need those any longer, do they?).

    Unfortunately they jumped the shark with Joe, not that he wasn’t funny, he just wasn’t a good fit.  Lack of residuals probably drove them to keep working until they dropped.  They weren’t just a big part of my childhood, they’re still deep in my brain.

  • jumbybird

    I liked Joe on The Abbot and Costello Show… he drove Costello crazy, poor guy, but not so much as a stooge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/old.horseman.7 Old Horseman

    Always felt Joe was underrated.  A Joe-era short is a rare treat because the ARE different. After twenty years of production, a little change-up in the dynamic was refreshing.

    Seems kind of odd that, in the only era of the two-reelers when none of the Stooges were actually kin, they so-often played siblings, which rarely happened when there were actual brothers in the team.

  • simgershon@aol.com

    I also wanted to say in addition to my last comment asbout Joe Besser, if anyone has Joe Besser items for sale, please contacrt me at my email address. I hope every fan can come to the Joe Besser fil festival in June 2013 in St Louis wehre Joe is from.

  • simgershon@aol.com

    I see that my last post did not make it. I had a chance to correspond with Joe Besser from 1980 until 1987. He was funny individually as well as with the Three Stooges. One must remember that by the time he was filming the shorts there were huge budget cuts by Columbia Studios. Although the physical comedy was cut down a little in his shorts, they were still prevelant as well as funny. He was not Curly or Shemp but has his own unique humor. One short for example had him walk to the camera and say ” I hate him (Moe) ” after he was hit by him. Anyway to all fans we are doing a Joe Besser film festival in Saint Louis in June 2013 to promote him to get on the St. louis Walk of fame (similar to Hollywood’s). All fans are welcome.. If you want you can write me about it.

    One factual error about the above article. Joe De Rita was first asked to become a part of the three stooges in Octobwer 1958 and never before. The article suggested that Moe did ask him after Shemp died which is not true.

  • Kaitlin Hyndman

    Cool

  • Kaitlin Hyndman

    Shemp is funny

  • Gary Koca

    Let’s be honest here. Joe Besser was a fine comedian but a terrible stooge. He had a clause in his contract that he could not be slapped. What kind of B.S. is that? Plus Moe and Larry were older as not as energetic either. The shorts with Besser are easily forgotten. Let’s not call him under-rated, at least as a Stooge.

    • Charles M Lee

      I don’t think it was so much that Joe was a terrible stooge, as it was that the act had toned down so much and the times were changing. The Stooges had toned down and as the author said started mimicking the blossoming sitcoms. Also it was such an abrupt change of style from the Curly and Shemp days. I’ve seen Joe in his roles with Abbott and Costello and he was hilarious. I think if he had come alone earlier he would be just as beloved as Curly and Shemp. But he came too late.

  • Gary53

    I believe that Joe did allow himself to be slapped around a bit by Moe and Larry after his first year as a stooge. However it was nothing like what Curly or Shemp took.

  • tom

    i love joe besser,very underrated. he was alot better than joe de rita.

  • Gary Koca

    When Joe DeRita was a stooge, the Three Stooges were even older than when Besser was a stooge. Plus, the Stooges worked better as a 20 minute short than as a feature film, in my opinion. The best combination was Moe, Larry, and Curley, with Moe, Larry, and Shemp not far behind. The other combinations paled in comparison.

  • jumbybird

    He was great as “Stinky’ in the Abbot and Costello show.

  • Bruce Reber

    Does anyone besides me remember the 60′s cartoon version of “The Three Stooges”? I watched it on my local TV station weekday mornings before I went to school. Before and after the cartoon, the Stooges (Moe, Larry and Curly Joe De Rita I think) did a live action skit like they did in their movies.

  • TheShazam1959

    I couldn’t STAND Joe Besser. All that “Not so Harrrddd” crap wore thin QUICK with Me. I guess I’m A DIE HARD Three Stooges fan with THE ONLY REAL 3rd Stooge, CURLEY!

  • Bruce Reber

    I remember another one of their movies, “Three Stooges Around The World In A Daze” (1963), but I can’t remember if Joe Besser was in that one or not. They also had a cameo in “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (as the firemen, also in 1963), with Moe, Larry and “Curly” Joe De Rita if I remember correctly.

    • maxfabien

      “Around the World in a Daze” was with Joe De Rita. Joe Besser only made shorts with the group. The Three Stooges also had a cameo appearance in the Dean Martin-Frank Sinatra film, “4 for Texas”. In the 30′s and 40′s the Stooges made other cameos in major motion pictures such as “Mert & Marge”, “Dancing Lady” with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, and “My Sister Eileen” with Rosiland Russell, in which they got probably the biggest laugh in the entire film at the very end.

  • Boston Charlie

    As a child, I used to watch the “Stooges” every Sunday morning on channel 38 here in Boston.

    Now, I’m rediscovering the “Stooges” with my nine year old son who loves them, and we’ve been collecting the complete shorts collection on DVD, as well as, some of the movies, cartoons and even a documentary on how the Stooges got started and how their careers progressed.

    Indeed, I’m learning so much about the “Stooges” that I feel as though I could make what I know about them into a thesis paper for a master’s degree.

    My son and I even went to visit “Larry’s birthplace” while traveling through Philadelphia.

    Back to Joe Besser: I pondered long and hard over whether or not I should spend my money on Volume 8 of the Three Stooges shorts because I read so many negative reviews concerning the “Joe shorts”, as well as, the “Fake Shemps” which are part and parcel of those final shorts from the late 1950s.

    In this regard, I must say that Joe Besser wasn’t as bad a stooge as some people say. Joe did bring something new to the act; indeed, every one of the stooges had his own persona; Moe was the boss; Larry was the guy in the middle (the introvert); Curly was a man-child who was girl crazy; Shemp was the scaredy-cat; and Joe Besser was the sissy who was still man enough to hit Moe back (even if he didn’t hit back very hard). Finally, Curly-Joe was the dim-wit.

    As many here have already said; by the time Joe Besser had joined the act, the times and the Stooges themselves had changed. Moe’s persona sometimes took on the personality of a disgruntled and angry old man. To those who say that Joe Besser did not take his fair share of hits; they should watch “Quiz Wizz” and see how Moe gives Joe a good beating with both hands.

    Even before the infamous four “Fake Shemp” shorts; Moe, Larry and Shemp had been using a great deal of old footage in their shorts (sometimes more than 50%), and when one watches the shorts in sequence, it’s actually refreshing to hear Joe, Larry and Moe sing “Hello…Hello…Hello”, because you know that in for something different for a change.

    Along this line, I would rather watch a “Joe short” than a “Sick Curly” or a “Fake Shemp”.

    Joe Besser was an accomplished comedic actor of his time. Joe Besser excelled in vaudeville, radio, movies and TV. No, Joe Besser wasn’t Curly Howard; but nobody was; not Shemp or either of the two “Joe’s”. However, if you give the sixteen “Joe shorts” an even chance and take them on their own terms; I’ll think you’ll see that Joe Besser did his best…

    …and his best wasn’t really all that bad.

    As I say; each “Stooge” had his own persona.

  • http://joecorrao.blogspot.com/ Joe Corrao

    Joe Besser sucked

    • maxfabien

      I don’t care about his private life. I didn’t care for him as a Stooge. Or his ‘whiny little boy’ schtick either.

  • Alfred Moch

    Timing can be everything, to pull or dismiss a great team, yet alone a great act. During The Sen. Joe McCarthy era, Hollywood was being careful, and the classic roughness seemed a question of promoting possible violence. A form of censorship was in the undertow. Yes I agree that the timing was a bit off… no fault of Joe with More and Larry.
    Joe Besser’s family had connections that went back to Brooklyn, just as Moe, Larry, Curly, and Shemp.
    I myself was told of a Besser Family connection to ST. Louis, by way of My Grandmother, Hannah Besser, but it not been presently resolved to me if Grandma Hannah was Joe’s Aunt or a 1st. Elder Cousin? Nevertheless, the connection is there. Just a matter of time will tell ;)