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On this Day in Movie History, May 4, 1975 : Moe Howard Dies

It was on this day, May 4, 1975, Moe Howard of the Three Stooges died. He was 78.

Moe Howard, the “Boss Stooge” and brother of Stooges Curly Howard and Shemp Howard, began his acting career in 1909 by playing bit roles in silent Vitagraph films.

Determined to get into movies, Moe (then going by his middle name, Harry) went to the Brooklyn-based American Vitagraph studios in May, 1909, and volunteered to run errands for the stars and crews without charging for the service. This impressed Maurice Costello, who brought Moe inside and introduced him to the company. Soon, he was appearing in dramas with Costello and comedies with John Bunny and Flora Finch.

At first, he didn’t tell his family about his movie work. But, when they thought he was losing his mind because he was acting like his characters at home, he told them about his extracurricular activities. Most of his films from this period were lost when the Vitagraph film library burned on 2 July 1910.

In 1922 he, brother Shemp and Larry Fine joined roughhouse vaudeville comic Ted Healy, forming the act that would become The Three Stooges. They started as “Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen” which comprised Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard. This original trio did one feature film entitled Soup to Nuts after which Shemp left the group to pursue a solo career, and was replaced by his brother Curly Howard. This incarnation of the team was the first to be known on film as The Three Stooges.

Howard toured vaudeville and appeared in films with Healy for ten years before the Stooges left to pursue a separate career. Right after The Three Stooges’ breakup with Ted Healy, Moe signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. Unknown to him, Larry Fine had signed with Carl Laemmle at Universal Pictures. The next morning Moe asked to see Columbia boss Harry Cohn and explained the situation to him. Cohn called up his legal department, which called up Universal’s legal department to check the date and time of the contract signing. According to Moe, Cohn hung up the phone and said, “You boys belong to Columbia”.

In the 23 years The Three Stooges worked for Columbia Pictures, they were never completely aware of how popular or how financially successful they were. It was only after the group stopped making shorts that Moe discovered how much more money the act could have earned.

Moe appeared in more than 250 films during his 66-year career, including 190 Three Stooges shorts. Over the act’s 50-year history, the Stooges went through several personnel changes; when Moe died, the act ended.

1909 – Howard Da Silva (Silverblatt) (actor: The Lost Weekend, The Great Gatsby, Mommie Dearest, Abe Lincoln in Illinois; died Feb 16, 1986)

1929 – Audrey (Edda Kathleen) Hepburn (van Heemstra) (Academy award-winning actress: Roman Holiday [1953]; Gigi, War and Peace, Love in the Afternoon, The Unforgiven, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Children’s Hour, Charade, My Fair Lady; died Jan 20, 1993)

1939 – Paul Gleason (actor: The Book of Caleb, Abominable, Van Wilder, Not Another Teen Movie, The Myersons, Social Misfits, The Organization, The Giving Tree, No Code of Conduct)

1947 – Richard Jenkins (actor: Darling Companion, Liberal Arts, The Cabin in the Woods, The Rum Diary, Friends with Benefits, Eat Pray Love, Waiting for Forever, Burn After Reading, Step Brothers, Rumor Has It… others)

1954 – Pia Zadora (Schipani) (actress: Hairspray, Voyage of the Rock Aliens, Pajama Tops, The Lonely Lady, Fakeout, Butterfly, Naked Gun 33 1/3)

1967 – Ana Gasteyer (actress: Fully Loaded, Dare, The Women, Finn on the Fly, Mean Girls, What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, What Women Want, Woman on Top, Dick, others)

1970 – Will Arnett (actor: Despicable Me (voice), Jonah Hex, When in Rome, G-Force, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Spring Breakdown, The Rocker, Semi-Pro, The Comebacks, The Brothers Solomon, Hot Rod, On Broadway, others)

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