Moe Howard (Moses Harry Horwitz), leader and main eye-gouger of the Three Stooges, died at 77 on this date in 1975. Howard caught the show biz bug in high school and became a vaudeville performer at 17. He attached his star to Ted Healey (Ernest Nash), a childhood friend and vaudevillian who would ultimately be best remembered for launching The Stooges. In 1934, the Three Stooges went their own way, and ultimately starred in 190 comedy shorts with Columbia Pictures, which were also broadcast for years on television, turning the Stooges into cultural icons of the baby-boom generation. The trio consisted of Moe as the bossy, violent, impatient fool of a leader; his real-life brother Jerry as Curly, as the irrepressible shlimazl who collects the most slaps; and Larry Fine as Larry the earnest nudnik. Moe’s older brother, Shemp, also worked in the troupe before Curly came on board and after Curly was temporarily sidelined by a stroke in 1946. (Shemp worked in 73 of the shorts before he died in 1955.) Moe, Larry, and Curly continued as the Three Stooges in films and other venues until 1965, when they were all nearly 70 and unable to handle the slapstick violence. Among their films were several with anti-Nazi themes, in which Moe impersonated Adolf Hitler.
“What’s that for? I didn’t do nuthin’!” “That’s in case ya do and I’m not around!” —Larry and Moe
Lorenz Hart, the lyricist in the great Broadway songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart, was born in Harlem, New York on this date in 1895. Hart’s enduring songs, many of which became jazz standards, include “Blue Moon,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Falling in Love with Love,” “I Could Write a Book,”"With a Song in My Heart,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” Rodgers and Hart had a twenty-year partnership that ended only because of Hart’s premature death in 1943. They created songs for 26 Broadway musicals, including Babes in Arms and Pal Joey. Hart was a closeted gay man and an alcoholic, under five feet tall, whose fundamental loneliness and self-loathing infused his songs, conveying a “heart-stopping sadness,” in the words of Stephen Holden. To see the great Barbra Streisand singing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” in 1963, look below.
“Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” —Lorenz Hart
Striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee (born Ellen June Hovick, renamed Rose Louise when her younger sister was born and given the name Ellen) died at 56 on this date in 1970. In the 1930s she became a burlesque queen at Minsky’s Burlesque, where she was arrested several times in police raids. In 1937 and ’38 she made five Hollywood films, and in the early 1940s she wrote a couple of mystery novels, but her claim to fame remained taking off her clothes onstage — slowly, even modestly, with wit and a “high-class” manner that led H.L. Mencken to coin the word “ecdysiast” (from the word ecdysis, meaning “to molt”) as a superior term to “stripper.” Gypsy’s mother, Rose Hovick, ran a lesbian boarding house in New York and shot and killed one of her lovers when she made a pass at Gypsy. Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1957 memoirinspired the creation of the Broadway musical, Gypsy, by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents.
“God is love — but get it in writing.” —Gypsy Rose Lee
The improvisational comedy pioneer Elaine May was born to theater professionals Jack and Ida Berlin in Philadelphia on this date in 1932. She performed in her father’s traveling Yiddish theater troupe from the age of 3, and spent time in 50 different elementary schools by the time she was 10. A high-school dropout, she studied acting with Maria Ouspenskaya, married three times (the second time to Sheldon Harnick, lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof), and found her stride as an improvisational actor with The Compass Players, a group she founded in Chicago, which was soon joined by Mike Nichols. Nichols and May formed an improv comedy duo in 1957 and had a meteoric rise to become stars of Broadway, radio, television, and nightclubs. “When we came to New York, we were practically barefoot,” May told Newsweek in 1960. “And I still can’t get used to walking in high heels.” After only four years of national renown, however, they went their separate ways, and would not work together again until 1996, when Nichols directed and May wrote the film The Birdcage, a reworking of the French gay comedy, La Cage aux Folles. May made her own directing debut in 1971 with A New Leaf, starring her and Walter Matthau, which was followed by The Heartbreak Kid, based on a screenplay by Neil Simon. To see Nichols and May performing, see below.
“Elaine would go on forever if you let her. She is insanely creative.” —Jack Rollins
C. Israel Lutsky, who held forth in Yiddish on WEVD as an advice-giver, folk philosopher, Talmudist, scold, and pitchman for Carnation’s Milk for more than thirty years into the 1960s, was born on this date in 1898. Although the letters he read and responded to were often written by his own cohort, such charlatanism, writes [...]
Elizabeth Taylor, a Hollywood star since adolescence for her roles in National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), Giant (1956), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and other movies, took the Hebrew name Elisheba Rachel and converted to Judaism at Hollywood’s Temple Israel on this date [...]
The first Hollywood cowboy, Gilbert Anderson (Maxwell Henry Aronson), who starred as “Broncho Billy” in 148 silent Western shorts beginning in 1907, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on this date in 1880. Anderson’s parents hailed from New York, where he moved at the age of 18 to attempt a career in vaudeville. In 1903, [...]
Jerome Kern, who wrote more than 700 songs for stage and film, including “Ol’ Man River,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and “A Fine Romance,” was born in New York on this date in 1885. In the course of a four-decade career, Kern created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood [...]
Lee Julian Pockriss, who wrote the melodies for three hit songs — “Catch a Falling Star” (Perry Como, 1957), “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (Brian Hyland, 1960), and “Johnny Angel” (Shelley Fabares, 1962) — was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1924. Pockriss served as an air force cryptographer during World [...]
Fashion photographer Herb Ritts, whose black-and-white photographs of Richard Gere, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Nicole Kidman, Michael Jordan, and many other celebrities became iconic, died of pneumonia at age 50 on this date in 2002. Ritts was HIV-positive for many years, and his appearance in an NBC News special about gay life in the [...]