The Jerusalem Post

From boxing to eye-poking for Larry Fine


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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