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Monday, December 26, 2011

3988. Larry Fine

He was born Louis Feinberg to a Jewish family (his father a jeweler) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the corner of 3rd and South Streets. The building there is now a restaurant, and it houses a small Stooge museum. When Louis was a child, he burned his arm with some of his father's acid, which was used to test whether or not gold was real, mistaking it for a cool drink (The child had the bottle to his lips when the father noticed. In a panic, the father slapped the bottle from Larry's hand, splashing the child's forearm with acid). He received violin training to help strengthen his damaged muscles. This talent would be observed in many of the Stooges' films; in fact, when all three are seen playing fiddles onscreen, only Larry is actually playing his instrument, while the others are pantomiming. To further strengthen his arm, Larry took up boxing as a teenager. He fought and won one professional bout, but this career was put to an immediate stop by his father, who was opposed to Larry's fighting in public 1. His experience in boxing, however, no doubt served him well in his later career as a Stooge.

As Larry Fine, he first performed as a violinist in vaudeville at an early age. In 1925, he met Moe Howard and Ted Healy. Howard and his brother, Shemp, had been working as audience stooges for Healy. Shemp left soon after to attempt a solo career and was in turn replaced by another brother, Curly. Larry's trademark bushy hair came out, according to rumor, from his first meeting with Healy, in which he had just wet his hair in a basin, and as they talked, it dried oddly. Healy told him, according to the story, to keep the zany hairstyle and lose the violin. (He would later play the violin again in a handful of Stooges shorts.)

Beginning in 1933, The Three Stooges made 190 short films, and several features, with their most prolific period featuring the characters of Larry, Moe and Curly. Their career with Healy was marked by disputes over pay, film contracts, and Healy's drinking and abuse. They left Healy for good in 1934. Fine consistently played the straight man, staying in the background, and providing the voice of reason between the extreme characterizations of Moe and Curly. However, in the short Three Loan Wolves (1946), Larry was pressed into service to replace an ailing Curly, who was unable to perform as the lead stooge. Larry attempted to carry much of the film himself, including performing the physical comedy. Many fans rank this as one of the Stooges poorest pre-Besser outings. The reality was that Larry was a better reactor than an actor. After Curly left the act, however, Larry was given equal screen time between Moe and the "third" stooge.

It was also said that Larry had developed a callus on one side of his face from being slapped innumerable times by Moe over the years.

They became a big hit in 1959 on television, when Columbia Pictures released a batch of the trio's films. The popularity brought the Stooges to a new audience and revitalized their careers.

Offstage, Larry was a social butterfly. He liked a good time and surrounded himself with friends. Larry and his wife, Mabel, loved having parties and every Christmas threw lavish midnight suppers. Larry was what some friends have called a "yes man," since he was always so agreeable, no matter what the circumstances. As film director Charles Lamont recalled after directing Fine in two Stooges comedies, "Larry was a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper."

Larry's devil-may-care personality carried over to the world of finance. He was a terrible businessman and spent his money as soon as he earned it. He would either gamble it away at the track or at high-stakes gin rummy games. In an interview, Fine even admitted that he often gave money to actors and friends who needed help and never asked to be reimbursed. Joe Besser and director Edward Bernds remember that because of his free spending, Larry was almost forced into bankruptcy when Columbia terminated the Three Stooges comedies in December 1957.

Because of his prodigal ways and his wife's dislike for housekeeping, Larry and his family lived in hotels-first in the President Hotel in Atlantic City, where his daughter Phyllis was raised, then the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. Not until the late 1940s did Larry buy a wonderful Mediterranean home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.

In May 1967, Fine's wife, Mabel, died of a sudden heart attack, a blow that abruptly ended 40 years of marriage. Her shocking death had come nearly six years after another family tragedy: the death of their only son, John, in a car accident on November 16, 1961. The couple's daughter, Phyllis, died of cancer at the age of 60 in 1988.

Returning to work, Fine and the Stooges were working on a new TV series entitled Kook's Tour in January, 1970, when Larry suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He eventually moved to the Motion Picture House, an industry retirement community in Woodland Hills, where he spent his remaining years.

Fine was confined to a wheelchair during the last five years of his life. Like Curly Howard, Fine suffered several additional strokes before passing away at age 72 on January 24, 1975. He is interred in the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, in the Freedom Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Liberation.

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