“Hellooooo, hellooooo, hellooooooo. HELLO!” Tomorrow the Farrelly Brother’s Three Stooges movie hits the big screen so I though it would be appropriate to take a look at a couple of the classic shorts from the original Three Stooges that featured beer within the story. For the record, I’m not in favor of the movie. And it’s not because I”m some ubber purist that believes that no one could top the original (I am), but instead it’s due to a distinction I make about the type of act they were verses other actors playing “roles”.
While actors change in roles all the time, the Stooges weren’t just actors in a role. Ted Healy started what would be called “Ted Healy and his Southern Gentleman” in 1922 when his friend Moe Howard joined Healy’s vaudeville act. Moe’s brother Shemp would join the act a year later with Larry Fine being added two years after that. From that moment they began honing their particular brand of slap stick comedy, working with Healy under several different line ups (Moe’s brother Curly joined when Shemp left) in several different films. In 1934, the group – minus Healy – signed a contract with Columbia to star in a series of two-reel shorts. From those early times, to the signing of that contract that finally dubbed Moe, Larry, and Curly officially The Three Stooges, to Moe’s (the last Stooge) death in 1975 they were always The Three Stooges.
According to Widipedia, the Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia. During that span, Shemp (having left the group to pursue a solo career) was the only Stooge to appear in more than a couple of movies outside his “Stooges” character; appearing in such ventures as the Charlie Chan movies and The Thin Man series. They were the Stooges. They had not been hired by casting call. They were not trying to be someone who had come before them. And in that sense to me, no one can ever take their place. So while I wish the Farrellys and the actors in the new movie well with their endeavor (I don’t wish failure on people just because I’m not on board with their ideas), I hope they forgive me if I don’t run down to the cinema to see it.
As I said, the Stooges started out as a vaudeville team with Ted Healy. With Healy, they recorded 11 shorts of which you can still find clips floating around the internet. Their second short Beer and Pretzels finds the guys ending up as waiters in a high end restaurant, only to wreck the place in true Stooge fashion. One scene consists of a musical number that includes singing bartenders performing while pouring beers and ending in a tap dance routine on top of beer barrels. The scene shows Curly playing the spoons along with the music.
In the 1935 short Three Little Beers, The Panther Brewery (a play off of bad beer tasting like Panther Piss) hires the boys to help improve their deliveries. After some typical Stooge like mayhem loading the truck they discover that the company is holding a golf tournament. As luck would have it their first stop is the local golf course so they decided to get in a little “practice”. What follows is face slapping, eye gouging Stoogery at its best. After destroying the course, the boys are chased away in the overload beer truck only to end up dealing with rolling beer barrels on a busy hill street. This episode also has the distinction of giving us one of the most iconic Stooges photos from the trio. A production shot from Three Little Beers with the Stooges posing in their golf outfits and clubs hangs in probably 7 out of every 10 sports bars throughout America.
But without a doubt the best example of beer in the Three Stooges comes during the 1946 short Beer Barrel Polecats. After striking out in 16 bars while looking for beer, the boys decide to brew their own. Every home brewer should watch this scene, it will make any disasters you had during your first batch look tame in comparison. After a miscommunication leaves all three Stooges each putting in three cakes of yeast into the beer, it foams up like an over soaped washing machine. Stoogery unfolds as they struggle to contain the foaming beer into everything from a sack, a suitcase and a bathtub Curly drags into the kitchen. One of the funnier brewing lines happens as the boys try to figure out why their beer had issues. As each one assures the others that he put the yeast in, the trio flinches, looks up and says in unison, “We ALL put the yeast in!” The short switches focus as the boys end up in jail due to what’s explained as Curly having sold a bottle of their home made beer to an under cover policeman. While in jail the boys give us another valuable beer lesson, never put a barrel of beer under a hot light. A lesson thoroughly learned by everyone in the room with them when the barrel explodes.
This short is bittersweet in that I really enjoy its focus on beer in the beginning. But sadly at the time of filming, Curly had already suffered several of the strokes that would debilitate and eventually kill him. He’s leaner in the beer scenes and you can tell he’s slower and struggling with the timing in some of the gags. Unable to rely on Curly for the whole short the planned shot was canned, and scenes from two other shorts So Long, Mister Chumps and In The Sweet Pie and Pie, were used to finish the film [Note: I found one reference that suggested this was not the reason for using the two other shorts to finish BBPs, but couldn’t find more information on it. Many Stooge related sites list this as the cause, so I’m going with it for now]. Only a few years later, Curly would suffer a career ending stroke while filming, necessitating Moe to once again turn to his brother Shemp to return as the third Stooge.
Even though the Stooges only focused on beer in a couple of their shorts, Panther Brewing became immediately recognizable with them. So much so that early in the 2000s Three Stooges Beer from the Panther Brewing company started hitting the shelves. I of course bought some, and from what I remember it wasn’t very good. The brewery was listed as being from Utica NY, and one old link I found rerouted me to Saranac Brewing. Now if you want to try it, you’ll have to out bid collectors on EBay.
As a long time Stooges fan I know that their particular style of humor is not everyone’s cup of tea (the delineation seems to be largely along the X/Y chromosome lines) so I’m not going to end with any kind of statement that you should go watch them. No, you have probably made the decision on whether-or-not you’re a fan a long time ago and and have adjusted your viewing habits accordingly. If you are, I hope you enjoyed this little toast to the boys and their escapades in beer. If you’re not a fan – well then “pick two fingers.”
Time for another beer….