Shemp Howard: Oh Lucky Man

By Clarence George on August 28, 2014
Shemp Howard: Oh Lucky Man
How can a lifelong boxing fan, which Shemp Howard was, die better than that? (Joe Palma)

While never as popular as Curly, Shemp was incomparably superior to the two men who replaced him…

“Bee-bee-bee-bee-bee-bee-bee”—Shemp Howard

Who doesn’t remember Shemp Howard? Well, my sister-in-law. But she’s equally stumped by Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and Henny Youngman, among others. She’s also under the impression that Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali aren’t one and the same.

It was in the 1920s that the act started with Ted Healy, brothers Moe and Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine. Shemp left, and was replaced by brother Curly. Moe, Larry, and Curly separated from Healy to become the immortal Three Stooges.

Curly suffered a stroke in 1946, dying in 1952, and was replaced by Shemp, who remained until his own death in 1955. While never as popular as Curly, Shemp was pretty good, and was incomparably superior to the two men who replaced him, first Joe Besser and then Joe DeRita. Me, I would have gone with Emil Sitka, famous for his “Hold hands, you lovebirds!” in the Stooges classic, Brideless Groom. Both Moe and Larry died in 1975.

Shemp died of a heart attack late on the night of November 22, 1955, lighting a cigar while riding in a cab. He didn’t have “white horses and ladies by the score all dressed in satin and waiting by the door.” No, what made him lucky is that the last event of his life was a boxing card at the Hollywood Legion Stadium. One of 4,900 people in attendance, Shemp enjoyed watching Cisco Andrade vs. Kenny Davis (Mushy Callahan the referee), Vince Delgado vs. Cleo Lane, Dave Cochran vs. Joey Brooks, Eddie Asti vs. Forrest Davis, and Jesse Resendez vs. Joe Smyer. Never heard of any of these boyos, except for lightweight Andrade, the “Compton Comet,” who won by seventh-round TKO. Delgado won by fifth-round TKO, Cochran by second-round TKO, Asti-Davis was a draw, and Resendez won by fourth-round TKO.

How can a lifelong boxing fan, which Shemp was, die better than that?

As for the Hollywood Legion Stadium, it opened in 1921, closing 38 years later. Last I heard, it’s now a Bally Total Fitness “gym,” which is really the only depressing part of the story.

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  1. Dave 05:28am, 08/06/2015

    Shemp was a true legend!! Knobby Walsh (Joe Palooka series), he loved his boxing…

  2. Clarence George 07:03pm, 08/31/2014

    Couldn’t agree more, Beaujack.  My favorite movies are from the ‘30s and ‘40s, when everything was in black-and-white—as it should be.

    Fredric March was indeed a great actor, but one who’s totally forgotten today, as you point out.  Dana Andrews—not great, granted, but better than most.  No one remembers him either.

  3. beaujack 05:48pm, 08/31/2014

    Clarence, speaking of Hollywood, I loved the old black and white pictures of yesterday, because of the great scripts they had, unlike most of the
    “action” pictures of today…Those movies stimulated your mind unlike
    today’s movies…One of my favorite movies was The Best Years of Our Lives, which depicted life in America after WW2…So sentimental and true, and it never fails to put a lump in my throat..It also starred the
    great underrated actor Frederic March, so forgotten today…But what a
    great actor he was !.

  4. Eric 02:33pm, 08/30/2014

    Clarence…Your father was a lucky man. Gina was a beauty back in her day. But we only have two choices in this world and that is to die young or grow old. So she was in her early-thirties when she was cast in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Damn shame that we all can’t stay in our early-thirties forever, but what the hell are you going to do.

  5. Clarence George 02:19pm, 08/30/2014

    You may recall, Eric, that my father was acquainted with Gina.  Hard to believe, but the lady is approaching 90.

  6. Eric 02:03pm, 08/30/2014

    Clarence….It definitely comes down to a battle between Lugosi and Lee for the top 2 spots for best Dracula. I just could never get into “The Mummy,” although I liked “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Loved seeing Gina Lolabrigida in a remake of, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  Sexy lady in her day.

  7. Clarence George 12:59pm, 08/30/2014

    Sounds like they were evenly matched, Frank.  I gather Sam Langford was the referee?

  8. FrankinDallas 12:41pm, 08/30/2014

    Nat Fleischer once told me that Lon Chaney Sr brutalized
    Greb in an exhibition match in LA. Chaney was wearing his Quasimodo
    makeup and Greb couldn’t look him in the eye….his only eye.

  9. Clarence George 12:24pm, 08/30/2014

    If I may chime in:  Lee is indeed alive, but quite elderly.  He, a teenager at the time, was present at the last public execution to take place in France, which was in 1939!

    I love the Hammer films, and Lee and Peter Cushing made a great team.  But I prefer Lugosi’s Dracula.  Besides, you can’t go wrong with any movie featuring Dwight Frye, and his always wonderful scenery-chewing performances.

    I share your admiration, Eric, for Universal Pictures’ monsters, but that must include the Mummy.  I mean, come on, what’s the first thing he does?  Why, drive a guy insane with fear.

  10. Eric 10:22am, 08/30/2014

    Steve…Christopher Lee is no doubt the most recognized “Dracula” out there and most people would choose him as the best. Visually, at least in my mind, I picture Dracula looking like Jack Palance, who only played the “Prince of Darkness” once. Lee is definitely more identified with the character than the other 21 actors who have portrayed the “Prince of Darkness.” Boris Karloff is the best Frankenstein/Frankenstein’s monster in my opinion. Those old school monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc., stomp Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, and ole Leather Face any day of the week. Although the old school Mummy was quite lame.

  11. Steve 09:55am, 08/30/2014

    Eric, I agree that Vincent Price would have made a fine Dracula. However, Christopher Lee played The Count quite nicely in those Hammer films of the late fifties and early sixties. Incidentally, Mr. Lee is still alive!

  12. Clarence George 08:59am, 08/30/2014

    Eric:  You’re right about Price never portraying Dracula, but he did play a suspected vampire in an “F Troop” episode and a relatively innocuous vampire in the entertaining (however little-known) film, “The Monster Club.”

  13. Eric 08:39am, 08/30/2014

    A prime Greb was capable of beating Hercules, the Hulk, both Klitschkos, Dempsey, Ali, and Superman in or out of the ring. Suprised Vincent Price was never cast as Dracula, who would have thought that Price would’ve been an obvious choice back in the day.

  14. Clarence George 07:46pm, 08/29/2014

    My favorite line, Pete, is when Bela Lugosi says something like,” Ah, you young people, enjoying life…while you can,” to which Lou Costello responds, “Thank you,” as though it’d been a compliment!

    You are quite incorrigible, Frank.

  15. FrankinDallas 07:11pm, 08/29/2014

    Greb couldn’t carry Vincent Prices’ make up kit.
    I heard that Price roughed up Greb real bad in a sparring
    session. Had a huge reach advantage that the crude Greb
    couldn’t handle. But then Price was a HW with a lot of power.

  16. Pete The Sneak 06:56pm, 08/29/2014

    CG…You are correct. That was Vincent Price’s voice there at the end of Meets Frankenstein (“oh too bad, I was hoping to get in on the fun”)...Great Movie Indeed. I bring it out every year for my kids on Halloween, and they love it… Great Line: Wilbur (Costello) telling Sandra and Frankenstein the following: Frankie, don’t let them do it Frankie, I’ve had this brain for 30 Years and it hasn’t worked right since…lol…You can go on and on with that one…Peace.

  17. Clarence George 05:59pm, 08/29/2014

    Ha!  Maybe so, but the voice is that of Vincent Price.  Excellent movie, by the way.

  18. FrankinDallas 03:36pm, 08/29/2014

    No, Greb wasn’t in that movie, but he did play
    the part of the Invisible Man in Abbott and Costello
    meet Frankenstein.

  19. Clarence George 05:59pm, 08/28/2014

    In which Harry Greb had a walk-on, no?

  20. FrankinDallas 05:47pm, 08/28/2014

    The Three Stooges meet Hercules was a great movie.
    Top ten all time flick.

  21. Clarence George 01:24pm, 08/28/2014

    A lot of these has-beens, such as Leif Garrett, wind up on truTV.

    You mentioned jumping the shark.  Interesting to note that the Stooges gave birth to another such term, the Fake Shemp.

    By the way, there was another “Seinfeld” reference to the Stooges:

    Gina:  Who are these Stooges you speak of?

    Jerry:  They’re a comedy team.

    Gina:  Tell me about them.  Everything.

    Jerry:  Well, they’re three kind of funny-looking guys, and they hit each other a lot.

    Gina:  You will show me the Stooges?

    Jerry:  I will show you the Stooges.

  22. Eric 11:00am, 08/28/2014

    “The Three Stooges” just didn’t know when or how to shut it down when it was time. Kind of thing happens all the time with acts, sitcoms, entertainers, athletes, etc. They “jumped the shark” like others before and well after them. The worst perp of this group appears to be all those old ‘70’s/80’s rock stars who still are out there performing. My gawd, some of those guys and gals need a reality check.

  23. Clarence George 10:25am, 08/28/2014

    In my opinion, Eric, Moe and Larry should have given up after the death of Shemp.  Besser is almost universally regarded as awful.  That sissy act of his was unfunny and embarrassing—e.g., “I’ll give you such a pinch!”  DeRita was just a cypher.  Most fans have tried to forget them, sort of like Tara King (Linda Thorson) in “The Avengers.”  For me, The Three Stooges at its best comprised Moe, Larry, and Curly.  Hard to believe about Jack the Ripper, but, well, the name meant nothing to her.

    What I’ve heard, Chuck, is that Larry had one pro bout.  But I have no idea under what name he fought.  I remember that episode.  It’s when the character portrayed by Tierney says to George, “Pipe down, chorus boy.”

  24. ch. 08:56am, 08/28/2014

    Clarence, pleased to know Shemp was a big boxing fan and regular at Legion Stadium. I always enjoyed Shemp, but there was only one “Curley.” I have often heard that Larry Fine had boxed as a pro in Philly before show biz. Still trying to track down some of his bouts but trying to decipher the real names of most of the Jewish and Italians fighters in the prelims of that era is almost an impossible task.
    I remember an episode on Seinfeld when George and Jerry are being terrified by Elaine’s father (Lawrence Tierney) and Jerry said “he’d clunk our heads together like ‘Moe.’

  25. Eric 07:42am, 08/28/2014

    It would be a good bet that at least a quarter of the population out there couldn’t name at least 2 of the characters portrayed in, “The Three Stooges.” I never knew of anyone other than Moe, Larry, Curly, & Shemp, and have never seen any of the episodes that featured DeRita or Besser. Matter of fact, naming all of the characters who performed in, “The Three Stooges” would be prove to be as difficult as naming the “fifth Beetle” or naming all of, “The Three Musketeers” for most people. I’m guessing Curly and Moe would be the most well known, followed by Larry and then Shemp. Jack The Ripper? Now that is one name I would think most would have heard or read about, given all the movies, books, documentaries, etc., that have been made on the killer. I can’t remember where I read it but it said perhaps the three most recognizable names associated with evil were Jack The Ripper, Hitler, and Manson. There have been those who I consider more “evil” like Stalin, Mao, Dahmer, Bundy, Ramirez, Panzram, etc., but according to the author those are the three most recognizable names associated with “evil.”

  26. Clarence George 07:26am, 08/28/2014

    I think it’s less that Shemp is poorly regarded, Steve, and more that Curly is almost universally preferred.  In fact, he’s almost everyone’s favorite Stooge.  As for Larry, I found him very funny.  I remember when he accidentally removes a guy’s wig with the bow of his violin, looks at it in horror, and exclaims, “A tarantula!”

  27. Steve 07:04am, 08/28/2014

    Shemp was an underrated Stooge.  So was Larry. Some of his “throwaway” lines are small gems, eg. (while Moe is bopping Curly) “Leave him alone”, or “Where’s your dignity.” My favorite line (when referring to Moe) is “What a brain”.

  28. Clarence George 06:14am, 08/28/2014

    Thank you, Irish!  And right you are—Andrade was indeed managed by Sinatra.  Lupe was a few years older than Frank, but nothing significant.  By the way, it was our exchange over at Ernie Vigh that gave me the idea for this one.

    You are so right, Bob.  Fortunately, as you may know, the Lexington Candy Shop (established in 1925) is still with us.  I had breakfast there this morning, including a freshly made and delicious lime rickey.

    Delighted you liked it, Pete.  I gather you’re a fellow Three Stooges fan.  Well, they were hard to beat.

  29. Pete The Sneak 05:44am, 08/28/2014

    One of my best stooges scenes and lines…All three stooges are sleeping on the same bed, Curly (and Shemp did it as well when he replaced Curly) is snoring loudly. Moe wakes up due to the loud snoring, whacks curly off side the head and says. “Hey, wake up and go to sleep.”...Man, you don’t know how many times I considered doing that to my wife… Another awesome/informative write up CG…Was not aware Shemp was such a big fight fan…Peace.

  30. Bob 04:42am, 08/28/2014

    In New York the Hollywood Legion Stadium would probably be a Duane Reade, which is no longer just a drug store but a supermarket.

  31. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:26am, 08/28/2014

    Clarence George-Another gem! Cisco was Sinatra’s fighter….I guess kinda like Frankie Crawford was Bob Conrad’s fighter later on….. this was all after Lupe Velez’s time ringside at the Legion…..Lupe may have been a couple of years older than Frank….or was she….  I don’t think that would have stopped him….word has it he boinked Marlene Dietrich who had a couple of years on him as well.

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