Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Trio: The Three Stooges

[purchase The Ultimate Three Stooges Collection]
[purchase The Curly Shuffle]

When I was a kid, I was not allowed to watch The Three Stooges, or their cartoon analogue, Tom and Jerry, because my mother thought that they were too violent. I’m fine with that, and while I was generally aware of the Stooges, and probably saw bits and pieces of their lunacy over the years, my first real, sustained exposure to them was when the Mets started to play a video of “The Curly Shuffle,” by the otherwise forgotten (!) Jump ‘N the Saddle Band during games. The song was released in 1984, as a tribute to the Stooges, particularly Curly, the most bizarre member of the team.

As I have noted, I’ve been a Mets fan since 1968, and while I exulted in the 1969 championship, I also had to live through the terrible teams of the late 70s and early 1980s (and most years after that, sadly). But from 1984-1986, I was living in New York, going to law school and working at law firms during the summers and after graduation. I had time, disposable income, the Mets started to get interesting, and tickets were not outrageously priced. I went to many games during this period, and while they fell short in 1984 and 1985, the team was exciting and won regularly, often coming from behind. At some point, possibly in 1985, the Mets started playing the “Curly Shuffle” video late in games, energizing the crowd, and somehow it seemed to lead to victories. The “Curly Shuffle” became a crowd favorite, and this continued through the championship year of 1986.

At some point, though, the team stopped playing the video—I’ve read that there was some sort of copyright dispute, or for other reasons, and the Mets began a long decline. Although I do remember that the song made at least a cameo appearance during the 2015 season, when the Mets got to the World Series, only to fall short of ultimate glory.

The Jump ‘N the Saddle Band was a true one-hit wonder—an average western swing revival band from Chicago who hit paydirt with a novelty hit (although props to them for covering Nick Lowe’s “Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)” on their only album). When it became time to do a follow up album, they met with Atlantic Records president Doug Morris (who shortly before this was briefly my boss). His first suggestion was to write another novelty song about the Marx Brothers, but then insisted that they cover a 1940’s song by Benny Bell, “Shaving Cream,“ in which the gimmick was that instead of saying the word “shit,” the lyrics substituted “shaving cream.” The band didn’t want to do it, but Morris was (and continued to be) a powerful guy in the industry, so they did. But, in what amounted to career suicide, they added their own final verse to the demo (which they never intended to release):

We rewrote this song for Atlantic 
They wanted us to deliver a hit 
Instead we put this thing together 
And sent them a big pile of…..shaving cream.

Apparently, Morris didn’t get the joke—or more likely, he got the joke and didn’t like it. Jump ‘N the Saddle Band was tossed from the label, and were never heard from again.


The Three Stooges, of course, were far from a one-hit wonder—whether you count that by their successes, or by the number of times they whacked each other. The three original Stooges, Moe, his older brother Shemp, and Larry, three Jewish boys, two from Brooklyn and one from Philadelphia, came together as part of a vaudeville act supporting Ted Healy in the 1920s. In 1933, Shemp decided to go off on his own, and he was replaced by Curly, who was his and Moe’s younger brother.

For the next 12 years, this group of Three Stooges created their classic works, with Moe as the bossy “leader,” Curly as the child-like fool, and Larry, who was also a talented violinist, as the supposed voice of “reason.” With slapping, pies, and seltzer bottles. Curly’s health deteriorated, and after he had a stroke in 1946, Shemp was lured back into the fold. This changed the dynamic of the group, but they continued to be popular and successful, although not consistently.

The advent of television led to a resurgence of Stooge popularity, even if it might have resulted in lower quality productions. Shemp died in 1955 (resulting in the use of a stand-in, Joe Palma, to permit completion of four films—this led to the “Fake Shemp” trope.). Shemp was replaced by Joe Besser for a couple of years, and then by Joe DeRita, dubbed “Curly Joe,” and this group continued to produce shorts and films until 1970, when Larry had a stroke, and that was pretty much it for the team. So, essentially, there were six Three Stooges.

As my team, the Mets, continue to stumble, Stooge-like, to the end of another season—sort of a Joe Besser type of season---maybe they need to bring back the “Curly Shuffle.” As Jerome Lester Horwitz, a/k/a Yehudah Lev ben Shlomo Natan ha Levi, a/k/a Curly, might have said---“Soitenly!!

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