Louis Feinberg (October 5, 1902 – January 24, 1975), known professionally as Larry Fine, was an American actor, comedian, musician, and boxer, best known as a member of the comedy act the Three Stooges.
Fine was born to a Russian Jewish family at 3rd and South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 5, 1902. His father, Joseph Feinberg, and mother, Fanny Lieberman, owned a watch-repair and jewelry shop.
In his early childhood, Fine’s arm was accidentally burned with acid that his father used to test jewelry for its gold content. On this occasion, the young Fine mistook the acid for a beverage and raised the bottle to his lips. Before he could drink any, his father knocked the bottle from his hand, splashing the boy’s forearm with acid and causing extensive damage to it.
His parents later gave Fine violin lessons to help strengthen the damaged muscles in his forearm. He became so proficient on the violin that his parents wanted to send him to a European music conservatory, but that plan was thwarted by the outbreak of World War I. Fine later played the violin in the Stooge films, and was the only Stooge who actually played in any scenes that showed all three of them doing so; the other two were miming.
To further strengthen his damaged arm, Fine took up boxing in his teens, winning one professional bout. His father, opposed to Larry’s fighting in public, put an end to his brief career as a boxer.
At an early age, Fine started performing as a violinist in vaudeville. In between 1925 and 1928, while starring as the master of ceremonies at Chicago’s Rainbo Gardens, Fine met Shemp Howard and Ted Healy. At the time, Healy and Howard were performing in the Shubert Brothers’ A Night in Spain. Since Howard was leaving the play for a few months, they asked him to be a replacement “stooge”. Fine joined Ted’s other stooges, Bobby Pinkus and Sam “Moody” Braun. Howard returned in September 1928 to finish Spain’s national tour.
In early 1929, Healy signed a contract to perform in the Shuberts’ new revue A Night in Venice. Healy brought Fine, Shemp Howard, and Moe Howard together for the first time as a trio. “Moe, Larry, and Shemp”, with Fred Sanborn, appeared in Venice from 1929 through March 1930. Fine, Shemp Howard, and Moe Howard toured as “Ted Healy & His Racketeers” that spring and summer, then went to Hollywood in the summer to film Fox Studio’s Soup to Nuts (1930).
Fine and the Howard brothers broke up with Healy after Soup to Nuts and toured as “Howard, Fine, and Howard: Three Lost Soles” from the fall of 1930 to the summer of 1932. In July 1932, Fine and Moe Howard teamed up with Healy again, adding Curly Howard (real first name Jerome) to the group. The new lineup premiered at Cleveland’s RKO Palace Theatre on August 27, 1932. Shemp Howard split off to pursue a solo career.
Fine was easily recognized in the Stooge features by his hairdo, bald on top with much thick, bushy, curly auburn hair around the sides and back; Moe called him “Porcupine”. His trademark auburn hair had its origin, according to rumor, from his first meeting with Healy. Fine had just wet his hair in a sink, and it dried oddly as they talked. Healy encouraged Fine to keep the hairstyle.
Three Stooges features
Beginning in 1934, the Three Stooges made 206 short films and several features, their most prolific period starring Fine, Moe Howard, and Curly Howard. Their career with Healy was marked by disputes over pay, film contracts, and Healy’s drinking and verbal abuse. Fine and the Howard brothers finally left Healy for good in 1934.
In films from the Curly era, the Larry character did more reacting than acting, staying in the background and serving as the voice of reason in contrast to the zany antics of Moe and Curly. He was a surrealistic foil and the middle ground between Moe’s gruffly “bossy” and Curly’s childish personae. Like the other Stooges, Larry was often on the receiving end of Moe’s abuse. His reasonableness was the perfect foil to Moe’s brusque bluntness and Curly’s or Shemp’s boyish immaturity, but Larry sometimes proposed something impossible or illogical and was quickly put down verbally and physically by Moe, who often pulled a handful of hair out of Larry’s head. Film critic Leonard Maltin wrote, “Larry is the least distinctive character of the trio, but he adds a pleasing touch by siding with either Moe or Curly, depending on the situation, thereby enabling him to show moments of lucidity as well as lunacy.”
After Curly suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1946, Shemp replaced him in the act. The Shemp era marked a period of increased onscreen presence for Larry, who had been relegated to a background role during the Curly era. Upon Shemp’s return, he was allotted equal onscreen time, even becoming the focus of several films, in particular Fuelin’ Around (1949) and He Cooked His Goose (1952).
On November 22, 1955, Shemp died of a heart attack. Joe Palma played a fake Shemp role in three previously contracted Stooges shorts, then Joe Besser succeeded him as the third Stooge. Joe DeRita replaced Besser in 1958 when the team was fired from Columbia Pictures.
In the earliest Stooge films, Larry frequently indulged in utterly nutty behavior. Fine livened scenes up with improvised remarks or ridiculous actions. In the hospital spoof Men in Black (1934), Larry, dressed as a surgeon and wielding a large kitchen knife, chortles: “Let’s pluck him… and see if he’s ripe!” In Disorder in the Court (1936), a tense courtroom scene is interrupted by Larry breaking into a wild Tarzan yell. Of course, after each of his outbursts, Moe would gruffly put him down. According to Fine’s brother, Fine developed a callus on one side of his face from being slapped so often by Moe.
Larry’s goofiness has been described as an extension of Fine’s own relaxed personality. Director Charles Lamont recalled: “Larry was a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper.” Writer-director Edward Bernds remembered that Fine’s suggestions for the scripts were often “flaky”, but occasionally contained good comic ideas.
The Three Stooges became a big hit on television in 1959, when Columbia Pictures released a batch of their films, whose popularity brought them to a new audience and revitalized their careers.
Fine met his wife, Mabel Haney, in 1922, when both were working in vaudeville. They married in 1926. The couple had a busy social life, and every Christmas served lavish midnight meals.
Fine was called a “yes man” since he was always so agreeable. His 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 had a significant gambling addiction, leading him to gamble his money away at racetracks or high-stakes gin rummy games. In an interview, Fine admitted that he often gave money to actors who needed help and never asked to be repaid. As Joe Besser and director Edward Bernds recall, because of his constant and free-spending and gambling, Fine was almost forced into bankruptcy when Columbia stopped filming Three Stooges films in December 1957.
Because of his profligate ways and Mabel’s dislike for housekeeping, Larry and his family lived in hotels—first the President Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where his daughter Phyllis was raised, then the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. He did not own a house until the late 1940s when he purchased one in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.
On May 30, 1967, Mabel died of a sudden heart attack at age 63. Larry was on the road and about to take the stage for a live show at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rhode Island when he heard the news. He immediately flew home to California, leaving the other two Stooges to improvise their remaining shows at the park.
Mabel’s death came nearly six years after the death of their only son, John, in a car crash on November 17, 1961, at age 24. Their daughter, Phyllis, died of cancer on April 3, 1989, at 60. Phyllis’s husband, Don Lamond, was a noted television personality in Los Angeles, best known for hosting the Stooges shorts on KTTV for many years; their son (Larry’s grandson) Eric Lamond represents the family in the Stooges’ holding company C3 Entertainment.
Fine is sometimes erroneously reported to be the father of sportscaster Warner Wolf, who is, in fact, the son of Jack Wolf, one of several other “stooges” who played in Ted Healy’s vaudeville act at one time or another.
Final acting years and death
In 1965, Fine, Moe Howard, and Joe DeRita started a new TV comedy show, The New 3 Stooges, a mixture of live and animated segments. The show produced good ratings, but the men were too old to do slapstick comedy well. Fine began showing signs of mental impairment, such as trouble delivering his lines.
A few years later, the men started working Kook’s Tour, a new TV series. On January 9, 1970, Fine suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body, which marked the end of his performing career.
Fine eventually moved to the Motion Picture Country House, an industry retirement community in Woodland Hills, where he spent his remaining years, and used a wheelchair during the last five. Even in his paralyzed state, Fine did what he could to entertain the other patients, and completed his “as told to” autobiography Stroke of Luck. He also received visits from Moe Howard. Fine remained accessible to Stooge fans, regularly hosting them despite his disability. When asked if spending his life as a Stooge was enjoyable, he answered, “it wasn’t fun: it was work—but it paid off good, so I enjoyed it.”
Like Curly Howard, Fine suffered several additional strokes before his death on January 24, 1975, at the nursing home in Woodland Hills, at age 72. He was interred with his wife and son in a crypt at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in the Freedom Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Liberation.