From box­ing to eye-pok­ing for Larry Fine

The Jerusalem Post - - ARTS&ENTERTAINMENT - • By GARY THOMPSON

About 90 years ago, a young Philadel­phia fighter billing him­self as Kid Roth won his first and only light­weight bout.

His real name was Larry Fein­berg, and he quit box­ing be­cause his par­ents didn’t like his be­ing in­volved in the rough stuff. It’s ironic be­cause when he changed his name to Larry Fine and ended up in a Vaude­ville act that would be­come known as the Three Stooges, he went on to lose his next 190 fights – all to Moe Howard.

The char­ac­ter of Larry takes his lumps again Fri­day in Hol­ly­wood’s big-screen re­vival The Three Stooges, di­rected by the Far­relly Broth­ers, two Stooge fa­nat­ics who wanted an ac­tor (Sean Hayes) who could mimic Fine’s Philadel­phia ac­cent, dis­tinct from the Brook­lyn-born Howard broth­ers.

Fine spent most of his first 18 years in Philadel­phia – he’s memo­ri­al­ized on a mu­ral at Third and South Streets, not far from where he grew up the son of a jew­eler.

“He grew up in a very happy, close- knit fam­ily, rea­son­ably pros­per­ous,” said David Ho­gan, au­thor of Three Stooges FAQ: Ev­ery­thing Left to Know About the Eye-pok­ing, Face-slap­ping, Head-thump­ing Ge­niuses, who said Fine’s brief ca­reer as Kid Roth re­flected his nat­u­ral ath­leti­cism.

“If you watch him closely in the short films, it’s quite ap­par­ent. He’s not a big man, but he’s ob­vi­ously ag­ile, and strong and fit.”

Too ath­letic, and too much the nat­u­ral ham, for his dad’s jew­elry busi­ness. Leg­end has it his fa­ther paid the show­biz­minded Larry to leave the busi­ness, know­ing he’d be hap­pier on stage. Dad gave Larry an­other, in­ad­ver­tent, gift – as a child, Larry’s hand was burned with acid in a re­pair-shop ac­ci­dent, and the doc­tor sug­gested he play vi­o­lin as a form of re­hab. Mu­sic helped give Larry a way into show­biz and be­came part of his Stooge sig­na­ture.

Through­out the Roar­ing Twen­ties, Fine toured Vaude­ville as part of an act called the Haney Sis­ters and landed a job as an em­cee at a club called the Rainbo Room in Chicago. While work­ing there, he was no­ticed by a young man named Shemp Howard.

“From Shemp’s per­spec­tive, I think, Larry was just a fun­ny­look­ing guy. He looked at him and thought, ‘This guy would make a good Stooge,’” said Jeff Lenburg, Stooge bi­og­ra­pher and coau­thor of The Three Stooges Scrap­book, newly reis­sued and up­dated, re­flect­ing Lenburg’s re­search into when Larry first be­came a Stooge (1928, not 1925, as is of­ten as­serted).

It hap­pened thanks to Pro­hi­bi­tion.

Shemp tried, and failed, to re­cruit Fine to join him as one of the side­kicks ( called Stooges) in the act of Vaude­ville leg­end Ted Healy. Fine at first de­clined. When a liquor raid shut down the Rainbo Room, he changed his mind. Job­less, Fine hus­tled across town to ac­cept Healy’s of­fer.

Fine first took the stage with Shemp in April 1928 – Moe wouldn’t join them un­til 1929. They made their first movie to­gether ( Soup to Nuts) in 1930. Lenburg, who in­ter­viewed the Stooges be­fore their deaths, said their mem­o­ries of the group’s ori­gins were con­flict­ing and faulty. Af­ter months doc­u­ment­ing the April 1928 date, Lenberg struck gold – a hand­writ­ten doc­u­ment in Moe Howard’s per­sonal records, con­firm­ing the ac­count.

With Healy, the Stooges be­came enor­mously pop­u­lar. His­to­ri­ans say the Stooges sub­verted the vaude­ville tra­di­tion of a head­line star sur­rounded by yes- men. The Stooges brought a com­bat­ive edge to their in­ter­ac­tion with Healy, and au­di­ences loved it.

“It was, frankly, an an­tag­o­nis­tic ap­proach,” au­thor Ho­gan said. “It was a big part of the bit and in­spired all of the vi­o­lence. That’s where all the slap­ping and eye-pok­ing started.”

Healy and the Stooges had a fall­ing out when dif­fer­ent stu­dios of­fered con­flict­ing con­tracts, but by then, the Stooges were their own brand. They went on to make nearly 200 short films be­fore their twodecade run came to an end, and of course, the shorts be­came pop­u­lar on tele­vi­sion.

Ho­gan said Larry’s Philadel­phia roots show up oc­ca­sion­ally in the films – an episode fea­tur­ing the Stooges as iron­work­ers, he said, is drawn from Larry’s brief stint at 18 as an iron­worker at Hog Is­land, just be­fore he de­voted him­self full time to show­biz.

– Philadel­phia Daily NEWS/MCT

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