For decades, Eric Lamond had a front-row seat to a cherished, long-gone Hollywood. His grandfather Larry Fine was one of the original Three Stooges, and his father was a top 10 disc jockey in Los Angeles and host of the Three Stooges comedies on KTTV.
“My family’s connections were double-dipped. My dad hosted the Three Stooges TV show, and I got to work a little bit with the guys themselves,” says Lamond, 69. He worked with “the boys” (as they were known) in 1965 to produce the live-action wraparounds that started and ended each animated cartoon. “For me, the Three Stooges was kind of family and table talk. It was part of our lives.”
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Stooges were Larry, Moe and Curly, a bumbling trio whose comedic escapades were punctuated by slaps, eye pokes and cream pies in the face. “Moe was kind of the leader of the pack and dished out the punishment. Curly did crazy stuff. If you really watch Larry, you could see him trying to keep the peace and reacting,” Lamond says.
Larry Fine and Moe Howard were the mainstays of the trio. The third member was played at various times by Samuel (Shemp) Howard and Jerome (Curly) Howard — Moe’s brothers — as well as Joe Besser (Curly) and Joe DeRita (Curly Joe). The group made slapstick and shtick an art beginning in the 1930s, and their comedic chops were recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Men in Black for Best Short Subject (Comedy) in 1935. With their 190 film shorts, live acts, cartoons and even a 2012 movie, the Three Stooges have entertained generation after generation.
Despite Fine’s fame, “he was my grandfather first and a member of the Three Stooges second. So it was just the normal family interaction,” Lamond says. That interaction included frequent socializing with Moe’s family.
“My dad was Larry’s son-in-law, and he and Norman Maurer, who was Moe’s son-in-law, did a lot of work together, mostly related to the Three Stooges and other stuff,” he says. “We didn’t live very far apart. They were up off of Vermont, above [Sunset] Boulevard. I grew up in Los Feliz Hills, on Commonwealth, above the Boulevard,” says the retired marketing executive, who now lives in Burbank.
Lamond’s dad, Don, had another serendipitous Stooges connection. Don had been asked by KTTV, which was “owned by the L.A. Times back then,” to audition for a new television show. “A couple of weeks later, they call him, ‘Don, you’ve got the show. We’ll start in a couple of weeks, Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 8 at night. You’re going to be hosting the Three Stooges show.’ He had no idea what he was auditioning for, nor did they know that he was Larry’s son-in-law at the time,” Lamond points out.
“He spent about 20 years doing this,” he says proudly. And when the boys — wearing white jackets and boutonnieres — performed at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Hollywood in later years, “part of the deal was that Dad would do the announcing, the introducing and all that.”
Despite their celebrity, the Stooges were “normal family guys, homeowners. They could do all that stuff you do at home. ‘Oh, the pipe’s broken. Oh, you’ve gotta fix this.’ A lot of people have a tough time putting those two [images, of real-life capable handymen and their onscreen disastrous efforts] together,” Lamond says. “Yeah, [the boys] went to work like everybody else. It’s just what they did that was somewhat different from what everybody else did.”
Family was a big deal for “all the guys — Moe, Curly Joe, Larry, Besser and Shemp — because they traveled a lot [for shows]. They were either working or doing something family related — running errands, hosting a party,” says Lamond, who vaguely remembers visiting Moe’s Toluca Lake home. For Lamond, life imitated art and work and family blended together once for 20 glorious, uproarious minutes in a performance he says no one else saw but him.
“Better Than Any Show”
“I can’t remember how old I was. My mom [Phyllis, daughter of Larry and Mabel Fine] and I went over to visit my grandparents. Larry had a very large home in Los Feliz Hills,” and he had received estimates from a contractor to redo the upstairs bathroom, Lamond begins.
“Moe convinced Larry that he didn’t need a contractor, that they could do this. So they got all the material: new cabinetry, new fixtures, new tile and the wallpaper. Remember, this is back in the ’50s, so wallpapering back then was different. You laid the stuff out, you had the big brushes with the chemical treatment stuff,” he continues.
“I’m up in the den — which has a clear view of the bathroom — to watch TV, and Moe and Larry come up and they’re in painter’s outfits and hats, and they’re in this huge bathroom. They’d done some of the prep work of the walls and they’re going to wallpaper. The sawhorses were laid out. The guys are standing side by side. Larry is going this way with the big brushes, and he rolls right over Moe’s hand. Without even looking up, Moe takes his wallpaper brush and, whap, hits Larry in the face with it.
“They went right into character,” Lamond says, snapping his fingers. “It took them about 20 minutes to basically destroy everything. They did every Three Stooges bit you can imagine, the shtick, the slapstick, and just destroyed it. They’re laughing and they just kept going. It was better than any show I’d ever seen. It was hilarious,” he says, still chuckling at the memory.
His mom and grandmother returned home.
“Moe says to Larry, ‘Well, I guess you’d better call the contractor back.’
“‘Yep, I guess so.’
“God, to have had a camera,” Lamond says.
Physical Art, Critical Timing
As much as it may have appeared to be fun and games, the Stooges’ comedy did not come easily. “Larry and Moe would get together at least one weekend out of three,” Lamond says. “They’re practicing routines they’ve been doing 30 or 40 years. As they explained it: ‘We have to practice like this because the timing is so critical. Otherwise we’ll flub it and beat the hell out of each other.’ Because the art was so physical, the timing was also critical.”
The boys also practiced dance steps regularly. “A lot of their movements were very fluid. There’s a lot of dancing in their shorts. Curly was a phenomenal ballroom dancer. He’d shot himself in the leg as a kid,” and dance helped to restrengthen it, Lamond says. “If you look at a lot of his funny bits — how he’d spin around on the floor, how he’d kind of hop backwards — he was able to perfect those slapstick moves because of his dancing ability. He had wonderful control of his body movements. The things he did were not normal.”
Eye Pokes and Injuries
Considering the eye pokes, hammer hits and hair-pulling Moe meted out on the shows, one might think that injuries on the set were common. Not really, Lamond says.
Sure, “there was the occasional injury. Moe broke a wrist filming a short. The table collapsed. He finished the scene, then went to the hospital. Larry lost a tooth,” he says. Curly “got clobbered” in a short where he falls down a dumbwaiter.
“They did over 300 films. For the amount of films they made, the amount of shtick they made, it’s amazing how little physical harm came their way. It truly is,” Lamond says. “That’s part of why they practiced: the timing, the timing, the timing. Rarely did Moe make a mistake with the eye poke. Watch it onscreen. It looks like he’s getting [his fingers into the guys’ eyes]; he never touched their eyes. The techniques that he used and the reaction of the guys, it looked like he got them right there.”
A Lasting, Laughing Appeal
Generations later, audiences still get the Stooges’ comedy. Maybe that’s why the trio is still revered for their crazy antics and why their popularity endures.
Or, perhaps, more simply: “What they did was funny and they did it incredibly well. Once something is funny, it pretty much stays funny,” Lamond says. “These guys were masters of their craft. They were unique, the blending of the absolute best slapstick comedy. Nobody could do what they did.”
The Stooges never stopped working, until Larry suffered a stroke in 1970 while filming Kook’s Tour. Unfortunately, it ended his career and what was to have been a new Stooges TV series. Fine died in 1975.
Their form of comedy made casting for the 2012 movie The Three Stooges “a nightmare,” Lamond says. Nearly 600 people auditioned for the roles. It was difficult to find three actors who could be easily identifiable as one of the Stooges and then “get the three of them to pull off the timing” critical to the boys’ brand of slapstick humor, he says. But they did, and another film script is in the works.
With such an appeal, one would think that the Stooges laughed all the way to the bank. Lamond acknowledges that the boys were hugely successful and earned a “tremendous amount” during the Depression, but they received little in the way of residuals, he says. “There was a deal cut between studios and all of the appropriate unions — SAG [Screen Actors Guild], at the time,” Lamond says. “A deal was cut that anything made before 1949 that went to television would be residual-free. Remember, the studios and the TV networks didn’t cooperate very much. The motion picture industry looked at television as a big threat in the ’50s.”
Because the “bulk of the 190 shorts was made prior to that,” there were no residuals, Lamond says. “Nobody made anything. Not a nickel. The stuff from the ’50s was very minimal and short-term.”
The boys all handled their finances differently. “Curly didn’t do a good job with his money. Moe was a very good investor. (Read “Three Stooges Walk Into a Bar in Toluca Lake…” to learn about one of those investments, the Money Tree.) Larry was a horrible investor.” In fact, he once asked Lamond, who was in the financial services industry, to look into the worthiness of “stock certificates from the Wyoming Nuclear Power Corp. that he’d bought.” A nuclear power corporation? “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Larry “did some oddball things,” Lamond continues, adding that Larry had once invested in a company that made flocked wallpaper — for bathrooms.
Plus, Larry had a “terrible gambling problem,” his grandson says. “Larry loved the track and he was a lot of fun to go to the track with. Everyone knew Larry. Yeah, he gambled a lot but he was a $2 bettor. A big loss for Larry at the track was $20,” he says.
As an entity, the Stooges were way ahead of the game when it came to preserving and licensing their brand. They started their company, now called C3 Entertainment, in 1959, and it is owned and operated by the heirs of the Three Stooges. They include Moe’s two children and two grandsons, Larry’s five grandchildren, Besser’s niece, Shemp’s daughter and granddaughters, and DeRita’s two stepsons, who run C3.
An official Stooges site, threestooges.com, and an online gift shop, shopknuckleheads.com, provide a constant digital presence. Everything from Three Stooges casino slot machines and Monopoly games to coffee mugs and T-shirts have been sold. Plus, every fall, the Alex Film Society pays homage to the comedians with its Three Stooges Film Festival at the Alex Theater in Glendale. This year’s double showings of six shorts are scheduled for November 24.
Those showings harken to a nostalgic era in Hollywood. The Times eventually sold KTTV to Metromedia, which “became the genesis for Fox,” Lamond says. “Obviously where Columbia used to be, down in Gower Gulch — it’s all gone. KTTV studios is gone. I drive down Sunset, down on that corner, KTTV on one side of the street, KTLA on the other. NBC, the old complex they had that looked like a 1920s building out of New York, it’s all gone. But when I drive through there, I can remember what all that looked like.”
For bonus content about the Stooges, including what their most requested act was, what the boys had in common with Joe DiMaggio, how Larry made a drink and Lamond’s favorite memories of Larry, check out “More About the Three Stooges and Me.”