Larry Fine

Active - 1930 - 2001  |   Born - Oct 4, 1902 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States  |   Died - Jan 24, 1975   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Bruce Eder

The "middle stooge" in the various incarnations of the Three Stooges, Larry Fine was most recognizable across his four decades in show business by his eccentric frizzed out hair. He occupied the awkward and often ill-defined position of "middle man," his presence necessary to give a gag body and a boost of action, and to keep it going to its conclusion. As an actor in the group's sketches, he was most often characterized as the wide-eyed nebbish, often nearly as surprised as any by-stander character by the physical comedy (and mayhem) taking place. His most memorable catch-phrases included "Moe, I didn't mean it" (usually followed by a slap from Moe), and "I'm a victim of circumstance" (which was used by Curly on occasion as well).

And "victim of circumstance" might define his whole entre to the world of performing. He was born Louis Feinberg in Philadelphia, the son of a jeweler. One day while at his father's shop, an accident took place that resulted in his forearm being badly burned with aqua regia, the acid used to test the purity of gold. The doctor who treated him warned his parents that he would have to do something to strengthen the arm or he would lose it. That led to his taking up the violin, an instrument at which he became so proficient that the family considered sending him to Europe for advanced study, a plan that fell apart with the advent of the First World War He began playing the violin in vaudeville under the name Larry Fine, developing a routine in which he would play from a nearly sitting, knees-bent position, kicking his legs alternately. In 1925, he crossed paths with Moe Howard, who was already working, in tandem with his brother Shemp Howard as part of a comedy act with Ted Healy. He became part of the act and remained when Shemp left, to be replaced by another Howard brother, Curly (aka Jerome). The trio eventually left Healy's employ and struck out on their own as the Three Stooges. Over the course of 25 years and 190 short films at Columbia Pictures, they became one of the longest running movie comedy acts (if not always the most respected or beloved, especially by women) in history.

Larry Fine's contribution was a mix of violin virtuosity (on display at various times across their history, from Punch Drunks, Disorder In The Court, and "Violent Is The Word For Curly" in the early/middle 1930s to Sweet And Hot in the late 1950s) and zany cluelessness, mixed with an occasional out-of-left-field ad-lib. Larry usually played the wide-eyed middle-stooge, but occasionally the plots of the trio's movies would allow him some variation on this characterization. In "Sweet And Hot," he plays a small-town boy who has made good as a stage producer, and whose intervention sets the plot (focused on characters played by Muriel Landers and Joe Besser) in motion; and in Rockin' In The Rockies, a full-length feature, as a result of a plot that split Moe Howard's character off from the trio, Larry plays the aggressive "head stooge," and is surprisingly good at it. But he was best known as the clueless middle stooge, often referred to by Moe as "porcupine" because of his hair-style. He kept on with the Stooges into the 1960s, but was forced to retire as his health -- damaged by a series of strokes -- deteriorated later in the decade. He passed away in 1975.

He was so familiar, that in 1980, five years after his death, his name still turned up in popular culture. In episode two of the sitcom Bosom Buddies, when women's hotel manager Lucille Benson finds Tom Hanks' Kip Wilson in a female tenant's room, she pulls him by the ear down the hall, causing him to exclaim, "Who am I -- Larry Fine?" And in 1983, SCTV presented "Give 'Em Hell, Larry," a short bit (done as a TV promo spot) in which Joe Flaherty portrays James Whitmore (who had previously enjoyed major success playing President Harry Truman in the one-man show "Give 'Em Hell, Harry") performing the one-man show as Larry Fine -- it was among the funniest 60 seconds of television that season.

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  • Learned to play the violin as a child as therapy for a badly burned arm.
  • Fought more than 40 bouts as a lightweight boxer.
  • Lived in hotels as an adult largely due to the fact that he and his wife despised housekeeping.
  • Inducted into the Central High School Hall of Fame despite not having received a diploma from the school.
  • Lent and spent money recklessly, never asked to be repaid.
  • A mural of the Stooges is painted on a building on South Street in Philadelphia close to Fine's boyhood home.