Brooklyn-born comedian Shemp Howard was the oldest of five sons of a Lithuanian immigrant couple. Shemp was a prankish kid who used humor to obscure the fact that he lived in mortal fear of practically everything, from automobiles to oceans. It is fortunate that he chose show business as profession, since he proved time and again to be utterly incapable of succeeding in any other line of work. Following the lead of his younger brother Moe, Shemp went into vaudeville with a blackface act. In 1922, Shemp and Moe were hired as stooges for comedian Ted Healy; three years later, Larry Fine joined the act, which graduated from vaudeville to Broadway. Since Healy liked his stooges to look as ridiculous as possible, he insisted that they each adopt an eccentric hairstyle. Shemp chose to part his hair down the middle and slick it into place with vaseline, a style he'd retain for the rest of his career. Shemp struck out on his own in 1932. Throughout the '30s, he was starred or featured in dozens of Vitaphone 2-reel comedies, where his growly delivery of lines, his incessant adlibbing and his homely "kisser" never failed to elicit loud laughter. In 1940, he signed a contract with Universal pictures, appearing in such films as Hellzapoppin' (1941), Pittsburgh (1942) and Arabian Nights (1942). Shemp was invariably hilarious in these films -- too hilarious for the tastes of such comedians as W.C. Fields and Lou Costello, who insisted that many of Shemp's best bits be consigned to the cutting room floor. While headlining his own series of Columbia 2-reelers in 1946, Shemp was asked by his brother Moe and Larry Fine to rejoin their old act, which by now had gained fame as The Three Stooges. Shemp's replacement in the act, his kid brother Curly, had suffered a stroke, and a new "patsy" was required to act as the target of Moe's physical assaults. Shemp remained with the Three Stooges from 1946 thorugh 1955, appearing in two-reelers, stage presentations, TV guest spots, and one feature film (Gold Raiders ). Shemp Howard died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 60; even after his death, Shemp "starred" in four Three Stooges comedies, courtesy of stock footage from earlier films and a stand-in by the name of Joe Palma.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Parents were Lithuanian immigrants.
- Got the nickname "Shemp" when his mother had trouble saying "Sam" in her Lithuanian accent.
- Began his show-business career performing in a vaudeville act.
- Was one of the original Three Stooges.
- Used Vaseline to achieve his trademark slicked-down hairstyle.
- Died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 60.