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‘Much More Than A Stooge: Shemp Howard’ (review)

Written by Geoff Dale
Foreword by Geri Howard Greenbaum,
Jill Howard Marcus, Sandie Howard Isaac.

Published by Bear Manor Media

 

When I was four years old, my very favorite TV show was The Three Stooges (or, as my dad called them, “The Three Stoogies.”)

I couldn’t tell the difference between Curly in the old films and Curly Joe in their new TV appearances, mind you. I was a kid!

In fact, my biggest memory of the 1963 JFK assassination was that the news coverage preempted my early evening Three Stooges show that night!

How dare they? Priorities, people!

But boy, did I love those three guys!

Shemp? Who?

What’s a Shemp?

Never heard of him. Never saw him.

In fact, I can tell you almost exactly when I first knew Shemp existed and that was about a decade later when I saw an ad in Famous Monsters magazine with a couple of photos of the Three Stooges’ 3-D films from the 1950s. Larry, Moe, and…another Moe?

A bigger, uglier Moe? What th…??!!

Stooge films were rarely shown anymore in the 1970s due to concerns about violence. In 1977, though, Moe Howard’s posthumous autobiography came out from my beloved Citadel Press and I finally learned who Shemp was!

Having been a film buff already, I suddenly began seeing Shemp Howard in old movies, both on TV and in the several local revival theaters around in the late 1970s/early 1980s. While I still loved Larry, Moe, and Curly (yes, and Curly Joe), I came to realize that I found Shemp to be the funniest Stooge of them all…as well as the best actor…only NOT in his Three Stooges appearances!

A proliferation of Three Stooges books and articles gave me more info about Shemp but as Curly, Moe, Larry, and even Joe Besser, had books written about them Shemp was surprisingly ignored.

Now comes Geoff Dale to finally rectify that situation with Much More Than a Stooge: Shemp Howard.

Over nearly 400 pages, the author shows us the depth and breadth of Shemp Howard’s show business career over and above his involvement with the Stooges and makes me wonder how I missed ever seeing him for as long as I did.

The Howards’ background has now been covered in detail in various books over the years and it necessarily shows up here, too, but it’s the step-by-step summary of Shemp’s career that wowed me, complete with review snippets all along the way. Although he fronted his own series of comedy shorts, it’s his career as a character actor that remains severely underrated. It seemed like he was in everything, from every studio, and worked alongside such comedy luminaries as Roscoe Arbuckle, W.C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, and Olsen and Johnson.

This book follows his career from starting the Stooges to ending up with the Stooges. Author Bill Cassara’s relatively recent book on Stooge-founder Ted Healy (which I also just read) is extensively quoted, as are sources as diverse as the Howard family and Stooges fan publications and websites. No less than sixteen of my personal friends and acquaintances are thanked in the acknowledgements or quoted within the text itself. My people!

The book’s biggest problem—its only  real problem other than some typos— is repetition, with a number of stories, observations, and quotations turning up twice, but the information itself is all well-researched and offers a long-needed addition to Stooges history and to classic Hollywood film history in general.

Oh, and what a great cover!

Booksteve recommends.

 

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