Curly, the long-standing icon of the legendary comedy troupe The Three Stooges, is still a mystery to many—even those who knew him personally. Joan Howard Maurer, Curly’s niece, went about trying to figure out this complicated clown, one whose complexities were buried under a childlike sheen of simplicity and an ability to send people into stitches decades after his death. With Maurer’s special insider’s perspective on this topic, she uncovered and shared various truths and myths about the troubled life of “the superstooge”, and the most surprising discovery is that those who read this book will know Curly as well as anybody else. Which is to say: a little bit, but you’ll have adequate ammo for analysis.
Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge is a compelling, informative, exceptionally insightful look at a Jewish family during the first half of 20th Century America, first and foremost, with the spotlight on this particular Stooge allowing for a behind the scenes glimpse of show business at the same time. The focus on Curly is a narrative hub for bigger topics: business, family, expectations, dependency, self-destruction, comedy, isolation, social status, and depression (both financially and psychologically). The familial affection and admiration for Curly is felt on each page, with Maurer’s yearning to know more being a delightful driving thrust to the narrative.
Complete with reprinted interviews and dozens of rare photos—and coming it just shy of two-hundred pages—the book has a work-in-progress, homemade scrapbook charm to it. It’s a bit cobbled together, but with great care, complete with a personal touch and (mostly) straight-to-the-point prose. The reader experiences the same sense of discovery as the author. Instead of merely presenting the research, Maurer takes us through the process of gathering the research as well, which makes it a very open, honest, and welcoming read. It’s the kind of thing you would be shown if you were friends with her, the stories you would hear, and the discussions you would have. As a result, you become a participant as you read, pondering the same questions about Curly that are put forth and never fully answered (as they shouldn’t be). Questions like: how was Curly impacted by shooting his own foot as a young man? Did having to shave his head to join the troupe only add to his misfit feelings? Did his mother’s over-protectiveness hold him back? How did he survive all those stunts? Why couldn’t he hold down a marriage? Why didn’t he have any close friends? What is it about him that continues to appeal to so many? And so on.
The attempt to understand Curly is perhaps most revealing during the portion of the book called “What Made Curly Tick?” Here, Maurer interviews a therapist about Curly’s psychology, and much of the information found in the book is used as the basis for this analysis. Its placement towards the end of the book works as a sort of summary of the read, but through a new pair of eyes.
Granted, this is a reprinting of a near thirty-year-old book, but it’s as relevant now to any fan of the Three Stooges as it’ll ever be. And if the Stooges aren’t your cup of tea, you may be able to find interest in the historical or analytical elements of the book, which make it more than merely a “book about Curly”. One thing’s for certain, you’ll never look at the ninety-seven short films starring Curly the same way again—which, for some, might be a bad thing. It does, however, make it clear that there’s a human being suffering those comical blows, turning Curly into a person instead of a “commodity”. And for that, it’s a real gem of a book that you’ll be reminded of every time you experience anything Stooge-related. It also features a loving tribute by none other than Michael Jackson. So, if you’re curious about what “the King of Pop” has to say about the Three Stooges, you can find it here, along with plenty more food for thought.