Pies, pokes in the eyes, knocks on the noggin, hair-pulling — The Three Stooges truly put the “slap” in slapstick comedy. It was a physical as physical humor gets. Unsurprisingly, considering the wild west days of Hollywood in which they worked, the trio suffered injuries on the set.
Perhaps most famously, while filming 3 Dumb Clucks in 1937, Curly Howard took a vicious hit to the head. In a stunt-heavy scene, henchmen toss Curly down an elevator shaft. The actor smacked into a 2″ x 4″, which ripped his scalp open. A studio doctor quickly stitched up the gash. According to Moe Howard’s biography Moe Howard and the Three Stooges, “fresh hair” was glued over the wound and Curly was back to work.
A decade later, in 1947, Curly had stepped away, and the new threesome of Moe, Larry and Shemp were doing press for a fresh slate of two-reelers for Columbia Pictures. Journalist Erskine Johnson sat down with The Three Stooges to promote the upcoming comedies.
“Beating up each other is the Stooges’ chief stock in trade. But, they never seem to get hurt,” the reporter wrote. He must not have heard about the stitches.
Still, there are some interesting anecdotes about injuries sustained by The Stooges, as seen in the Statesville Daily Record on October 11, 1947.
“I got a broken nose once,” Shemp admitted. Moe was quick to point out that it was an accident not from stuntwork, but rather… taking a bow during applause.
“Larry was taking a bow on the stage of the theater and his elbow came up and hit Shemp’s nose,” Moe explained. “Even when it started to bleed we didn’t believe it — we thought it was a gag and the blood was only chocolate.” Shemp’s howls of pain proved it was no gag.
Even stranger was when the trio was attacked by, well, a stranger. A strange child, to be exact. The author noted this was fairly common, that children expected The Three Stooges to not only endure but welcome physical attacks in public.
The three were walking down the Atlantic City boardwalk when a starstruck nine-year-old recognized them, strolled up, and “cracked them over the head with a heavy cane.”
“If that kid had been an inch taller,” Moe joked. “I would have kicked his teeth right down his throat.”