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Jules White: A Short Take

On Three Stooges

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Jules White, Head Of Columbia Studios’ Short Subject Department — And The Man Who Produced The Majority Of The Most Memorable Of Stooge Shorts — Discusses Which Of The Three He Thought Was Funniest And More

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By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 6, 2014 — There’s only been one Larry Moe and Curly.

Sure, the Farrellys and a gallant group of fans and actors did a heck of a job in paying homage to the three nimrods a few years ago, but only Moe could get a laugh out of saying, ”Remind me to murder you later!” to which Curly replies, “I’ll make a note of it.”

Such dialogue is usually followed by a combination of two-fingered eye pokes, face slaps and hair pulls to the sound effects of a plucked violin and whip-crack.

Ladies and gentlemen: presenting the Three Stooges!

Jules White, head of Columbia Studios’ short subject department and the Three Stooges’ producer-director in dozens of films in the 1930s and 1940s, summated for us when we interviewed him in the 1980s what made Moe (Howard), Larry (Fine) and Curly (Howard) comically tick.

“My theory is that those pictures were so fast and furious the Stooges didn’t give time for audiences to think, so people didn’t feel guilty about letting out a laugh,” White said.

The universality of outrageous sight gags which rarely become ‘old’ or ‘dated’ with time (unlike verbal comedy which tends to be more trend-driven and topical) has continued to keep the Stooges’ in the comedy equation long after their deaths. Just two years ago, the eponymous feature film directed by a couple of other brothers – the Farrellys – introduced a new generation to the slapstick mayhem of the Stooges. And then there is always that best-selling t-shirt “Just Say Moe!” emblazoned with Moe Howard’s stern face and signature soupbowl haircut.

In fact, just this past September, the Warner Archive Collection made available for order Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume 3 featuring Howard, Fine and Howard. The collection showcases six of the Stooges’ short subjects from the 1930s.

As the head of the short subject film department at Columbia Studios, White directed over 500 comedy films starring Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Charley Chase, Chester Conklin and the Three Stooges, among others.

Harry Cohn, boss of Columbia, saw one of White’s films (a Pete Smith Specialty) at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. “He just happened to be sitting with my agent and I was hired,” White told us. “Cohn and I had a good rapport which he didn’t have with everyone. I cried when he died; I was one of the few who did.”

The secrets of White’s prolific success in an industry not particularly known for career longevity can be attributed to economy and resourcefulness.

“I knew how to chisel dollars. That’s why I stayed around longer than anyone else (White was producing comedy compilation films in the 1970s). I also knew how to deal with adversity. In 1946, when Curly had a stroke on the set of Half Wit’s Holiday, I was shocked. I had just come back from lunch and we had six hours of filming left to do. Luckily I found a double to stand in for him and we weathered the storm.”

What made the short list of White’s favorite short subjects?

“All of them are wonderful in one way or another,” he said. “Like a loaf of fresh bread, each slice is as delicious as the next. I will say that Charlie Chaplin was, by far, the greatest comedian. Laurel and Hardy were second best. I do think Curly was very funny. He had a Chaplinesque technique, although the Stooges’ pictures were rowdy. They were living caricatures and I don’t think they ever realized it.”

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at www.reeltoreal.com
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